As automotive manufacturing continues to evolve alongside new technology solutions, determining the balance and relationship between automated systems and skilled, human workers remains a vital conversation. With workers and automated technology increasingly sharing the same factory floor, how can manufacturers ensure that human workers are best positioned to compliment an increasingly automated process?
As automated solutions become more commonplace in automotive manufacturing facilities, mobile technology has emerged as the bridge between humans and their mechanical counterparts — delivering insights into how efficiently a machine is working, providing warnings of potential failures and ensuring a remarkable level of quality control.
According to Ventana Research, 78 percent of manufacturing companies agree that mobile solutions provide their company with competitive advantages, such as predictive maintenance, inventory control, workforce management and energy efficiencies. Mobile devices are critical in helping automotive manufacturers maintain quality assurance, monitor equipment maintenance and heighten efficiency across the production line. As factory floors become increasingly automated, human workers need mobile, efficient and reliable interfaces that allow them to best take advantage of — and monitor — automated systems and equipment.
In facilities that have adopted mobile technology, factory supervisors and inspectors are better able to keep track of assembly line processes and can now pinpoint potential concerns before they affect productivity. With quick and direct access to real-time information, line managers are better equipped to streamline decision making and can more efficiently control the complex operations of the factory floor. Sensors on the assembly line are able to detect an issue and immediately send a quality control alert to a connected mobile device. Equipped with a mobile device in hand, workers throughout the assembly line have real-time visibility into production status and can help prevent defects before a product even leaves the facility.
When paired with the latest in connected technology and intelligent machine vision, workers are able to deliver higher levels of quality control. Using microscopic cameras and powerful sensors, workers can use mobile devices to proactively inspect, diagnose and catch quality control concerns that might either be missed, or require significant effort to catch without the use of this technology.
Beyond quality control, mobile devices are proving to be invaluable for the regular maintenance of manufacturing equipment. Traditionally, equipment maintenance is performed once a device stops working or on a previously decided fixed schedule. However, the implementation of increased connectivity within a facility has created the ability for condition-based maintenance in which mobile devices generate work orders and maintenance schedules through mobile service-monitoring applications, effectively identifying the units in need of service. This type of predictive maintenance system prevents unplanned downtime, ensuring that the right maintenance procedures are completed at the right time and only to the right units. With the use of these applications, plant managers now hold critical information in the palm of their hand through a mobile device.
Of course, not every mobile device is fit for the rigors of life on the factory floor. Environmental conditions in an auto-manufacturing atmosphere include vibration and exposure to oil, grease, fluids and dust particles, not to mention countless drops and bumps. For this reason, rugged durability is crucial when choosing a mobile solution. Battery life, connectivity and usability are other features to consider for a successful mobile device deployment. Implementation of a non-rugged device could lead to more complicated production-line communication and monitoring issues which can further impact productivity.
As technology and the automotive assembly line continue to evolve in tandem, there is no doubt that mobile solutions are critical to maintain control, monitor progress and streamline the auto-manufacturing production line. From the assembly line to the quality control center, production managers, engineers and line workers have more direct insight than ever before with the use of the latest rugged mobile hardware. With mobile technology adoption steadily on the rise, now is the time to invest in a rugged, agile and enterprise-grade mobile device to help make the most of the human-technology relationship and experience first-hand the rise in productivity.
Mike Smola is director of enterprise mobility sales for Panasonic System Communications Company of North America.