Science Fact or Fiction

OK, now hands up all of you that use a tablet as part of your social life. Now hands down if you use a tablet at work on the shop floor. I expect most of you still have your hands in the air, so feel free to put them down, but know that you’re not alone. Walking the halls of PackExpo in Chicago I could count on one hand the number of vendors offering tablet-based mobile solutions. Why is that in this connected world? And, why is that about to change?

A couple of factors have slowed down the deployment of this technology, but as they say in that great song, “times they are a changing.” First, cost. As Apple created the market, they set the price and that has been one roadblock. As the iPad has been the main tablet of choice so far, GE has developed a range of apps that run on this platform. Now, with multiple vendors offering good 7-inch tablets for around $200 price, cost is not really an issue. Even if it does get dropped or stolen, the price compared with industrial devices is minimal.

Second is functionality. With tablet-capable cameras, barcode apps, location services, and the development of gloves that can be used with a capacitive screen, this too is becoming a non-issue. For me the biggest challenge I have seen has been with IT and the operating system not being Microsoft Windows-based. I have been working with a number of manufacturers piloting mobile rollouts but they have received push back from IT. Most of our industry is Microsoft- based from the shop floor control side so IT doesn’t want to support a non-Windows app, through I have seen some flexibility for corporate users. Well, now we have Windows 8 RT and a plethora of tablets on the horizon supporting this new operating system.

So what’s the future in my eyes? Well the operator walks towards the machine, 7-inch tablet in hand, or undocks it from the local cradle. They hold it up to the machine, and based on location the tablet is fed set up tasks and streamed video guidance to the device. They use multi-touch gestures to set up the machine via electrical servos without even opening the doors. They scan in QR codes from inventory to be used for track and trace records, and then they move on to the next machine. Proximity sensors switch the operator rights from control to view only once they move away from the machine.

Science fiction or science fact? What do you think?

Barry Lynch

Barry, Global Marketing Director – Automation Hardware at GE's Automation & Controls business, passionately believes that connected machines, mobile data analytics and workforce enablement don’t have to be hurdles in business today. He leads the strategic direction of the company’s automation and information systems programs to help customers apply the power of the Industrial Internet to their businesses. By connecting machines, data, insights and people, our technology solutions deliver critical insight for greater operational efficiency, effectiveness and optimization. Learn more about how Barry works at GE on LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter at @BarryLynchGE.

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