A new component has been added to the ongoing turf war between corporate IT and manufacturing professionals who occupy the plant floor. It revolves around the growing popularity of tablets and other mobile devices.
That’s the gist of a story by Terry Costlow that was posted recently on automationworld.com . As tablets and smart phones become increasingly interwoven with the control and monitoring technologies in today’s plants, says Costlow, IT teams can’t help but worry about data security issues. After all, tablets and smart phones have many of the conventional security issues related to wireless networking and portable devices. Not to mention the fact that mobile devices connected to the corporate network are easily lost or stolen, which could lead to sensitive information falling into the wrong hands.
Costlow goes on to say that whether IT teams like it or not, the tablet trend is here to stay, so it will simply have to be dealt with. Many predict that equipment operators and technicians will hasten the advance by using their own devices instead of waiting for management to acquire tablets or phones. The latest generation of handhelds makes it even easier for operators and technicians to gather data without being physically tethered to a piece of equipment. Companies that embrace the use of tablets and smart phones feel they’re continuing a trend that took off when companies started using Ethernet.
Packaging machinery OEMs who resist this trend may find themselves in the uncomfortable position of swimming against the tide. It was interesting to see evidence at Pack Expo a week or so ago that some OEMs have heard the message loud and clear and are integrating tablet-based wireless technology into their offerings. A good example is CombiScale, which introduced at Pack Expo its Primo small-footprint combination scale designed for light-weight products like salty snacks, for example. By integrating tablet-based control, the CombiScale frees operators from an HMI that is mounted and stationary, so calibration and troubleshooting are always at their fingertips no matter where they stand in relation to the machine. No only is the tablet portable, it can also be used to operate not just one CombiScale unit but multiple scales if need be. And being Windows-based, says CombiScale, it creates a lot of flexibility in wireless opportunities.
Go here to see a video of this tablet-based development that I shot at Pack Expo.