Driving Change in the Supply Chain…without Disruption (Part 2)

Some call them information workers. Others call them mobile workers. Most call them operations technicians. However you slice it, your workers – who are very much mobile either on foot or on forklift – need more immediate access to data than they most likely have today.

The era of workers reading tags on equipment is over

The era of workers reading tags on equipment, performing the noted maintenance, and signing name and date on the tag is over. Today’s equipment is too sophisticated, its function is too customizable, and its part in operations is too critical for old-school methods. You’re not paying them to waste time sifting through pages of work orders, reports, and inventory logs that were outdated soon after they were printed. You’re paying them to react immediately, and in concert with your operations, to keep them moving smoothly. You’re also expecting them to make smart decisions and take fast, well-informed actions that support the immediate business need. But do you think they can do that will just a barcode scanner in hand? A handheld PC with a 5” screen? A piece of paper? Or a fixed-terminal PC that is out of service – and disrupts worker productivity – when the forklift or cart is out of service? Just like equipment tags, those ideas are headed for a museum.

But that doesn’t mean you need to go all-in on the so-called “disruptive” technologies either. Just like you found and installed a better tool on the assembly line, you need to find and deploy better information tools whose reach can span the entire shop floor: mobile devices that run the software you have, the software that defines your work. That is how to avoid disruption while gaining the benefits of this new information age in manufacturing. As I mentioned last week, you don’t have to embrace “bleeding edge” technologies to effectively achieve your business goals as some “advisors” may suggest. Mobile technologies are no longer considered “bleeding edge”; they are among a handful of technology solutions proven to make a meaningful difference in supply chain performance.

Prematurely implementing any technology, before proving the business case in your manufacturing or supply chain environment, can cost you much more than you bargained. Even deploying mobile computing devices, which are proven to have significant performance impact, can backfire if you don’t deploy the right devices in combination with the right software, mounting systems, security tools, etc. That’s because every tech investment will carry some calculated risks, and the degree to which you embrace new technologies should be weighed using your company’s unique risk/reward scale – not one suggested in a business school.

In a recent survey by Automation Alley, 52% of manufacturers said that they “believe technological advancements are important, and have a dedicated budget and process to support the adoption.” But, honestly, that statement should apply to 100% of manufacturers. So how can mobility solutions providers help manufacturers move past the perceived barriers to entry and embrace technologies in a non-disruptive manner?

Manufacturers believe technological advancements are important

By advocating for best-in-class solutions that empower manufacturers – and multiple generations of highly-skilled workers – with the highest quality hardware, software, mounting solutions and accessories. By connecting manufacturers with solution provider partners, not just suppliers who try to sell “best price” bundles (read: “one size fits all”) that may or may not fit the customers’ best interests. And by helping customers align their IT roadmaps with mobile solution roadmaps to ensure they’re investing in a flexible and highly scalable PC platform that can interface with other digital technologies expected to increase customers’ competitiveness in the coming months and years, including:

Helping customers align their IT roadmaps with mobile solution roadmaps to ensure they’re investing in a flexible and highly scalable PC platform

As a manufacturer, you should always be considering whether or not your chosen solution for mobile workers has the ability to facilitate greater tech adoption or advancement across the breadth of your operations: production, R&D, distribution, procurement, supply chain, after sales/service and other key areas. Even if you’re not quite ready to expand your IT investments to the above technologies quite yet. For example, are you comfortable settling with a lower-caliber, lower-cost handheld PC that may need replacing in a year as data demands dictate workflow expansion or software re-writes? Or do you need a rugged tablet PC that, year after year, will still have the right ports, processing power, and software compatibility you need to deliver the goods and services driving business growth? Can you stretch end-of-life devices any longer even though they can’t do what workers need them to do on the shop floor? Or do you need a long-life rugged tablet that will do everything you need it to do now, and anything you ask it to do in the future?

These are just a few of the topline questions to ask when weighing the risk vs. reward of certain mobility solutions. Stay tuned in the next month for a step-by-step playbook that Xplore will be publishing to help you navigate the complexities of tech innovation and empower you to deploy a game-changing mobile technology solution without causing any disruptions in your workers’ days or your supply chain workflows.

In the meantime, check out this discussion about the how to decipher just “any mobile tool” that a supplier claims can work in manufacturing environments from “ A Tool Made for the Modern Factory – and for the People Who Support It”. And, remember, Big Data and Mobility area highly complementary tools that every supply chain will soon be using. But how well they’ll work together could depend on your mobile device choice.

After all, technology is the output of core scientific principles, which are applied to a market problem by engineers. For example, science says that electrical signals can be quickly turned on an off by changing the charge of a base material between conductors. An engineer designed the practical transistor and (skipping lots of steps) the modern computer was born. The application of technology to business problems is best seen as a better tool for work. So the pressure should be on using the best available technology to improve operations, or to create new business opportunities. Innovation should be the way your organization applies technology to real business needs.

Blog Author: Bob Ashenbrenner
President of Durable Mobility Technologies, LLC.