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The benefits of and best practices for creating a mobile app for manufacturing companies.

Mnet 191061 Tech Developments
​Dan Ward​Dan Ward

In the manufacturing industry, companies must constantly look for innovative ways to better leverage technology and enhance business operations. The key is to focus on quality and efficiency. One way manufacturing companies are doing this is by investing in mobile apps. When designed, implemented and utilized correctly, mobile apps can become a viable part of a company’s processes by streamlining — and even automating — manual tasks, ultimately resulting in improved quality and productivity.

For manufacturing companies, appreciating the potential power of a custom app (and understanding the process of designing and deploying it) begins with education and understanding. For decision-makers, it makes sense to familiarize themselves with the benefits of creating and deploying mobile apps, as well as the accepted best practices associated with creating a customized app that will add value to their business.

To get a better feel for the benefits and best practices of deploying a mobile app in a manufacturing context, it is helpful to look at the example of IDC Industries, Inc., a manufacturing company that recently created and deployed a custom mobile app internally. IDC’s experiences demonstrate some of the ways a well-designed app can address troublesome pain points in the manufacturing process, as well as facilitate an overview of the priorities, policies and practices that other manufacturers should be aware of when they invest in their own mobile app.

Gearing up

IDC is an innovative Gearbox manufacturer and gearbox repair facility that services steelmaking, mining, paper, pulp and power generation industries. The company’s service and repair department is one its highest revenue generator, and the company is to repair or rebuild any gearbox that comes to it — even outdated models that OEM’s have discontinued. The complexity of the repair process requires extensive documentation during disassembly. Technicians use paper checklists and notes, as well as computers and pictures, to record their progress.

With so many moving parts and pieces (no pun intended), the company sought an enhanced way to ensure its repairs were properly documented—and an app seemed like the perfect solution. The company decided to create an app for repair technicians to ensure parts were accounted for, repairs were properly documented and reports were generated in an easier, timelier manner. The goal for the app was to streamline and standardize the teardown and repair process, minimize human error, enhance efficiencies, simplify the reporting process and improve customer communication.

Streamline, simplify, standardize

Ultimately, the company was able to design a custom app that directly addressed their most pressing issues. The new app walks technicians through teardown and repair procedures, using step-dependent processes that make it impossible to move forward until the prior step is completed correctly. Strategically selected, predefined fields eliminate some of the potential for human error and minimize variability. The result has been fewer mistakes and more consistent language. The app not only helps to standardize the process itself, but also the communication around the process.

Because technicians use the app on iPads, they also use the tablets to take photos, integrate those photos into the app and consolidate all the information in a single place. Now, instead of scrambling to gather messy data from multiple sources when customers ask for details or reports, technicians can simply tap view report to generate a complete and detailed report that can be viewed or sent to clients directly.

Best practices

For manufacturers looking to leverage the benefits of implementing a mobile app, here are some tips and best practices to keep in mind to get the most out of your investment:

Commit

This may sound cliché, but to successfully deploy internal apps, you have to want it. Before you invest in an app, you have to be fully committed to changing your processes, getting employees to use the app correctly and consistently and to making it work. Apps can unlock exciting new efficiencies, but they are not magic. They are only as effective as the work and thought that goes into them. Part of that commitment is financial, but a large proportion of it is simply professional willpower that starts from the top down.

No half steps

Don’t just do it–do it right. Once you have committed to creating a custom app, make sure you take the time to design a reliable and easy-to-use app. The best apps actually solve your problems and enhance your efficiencies, instead of simply applying a veneer of technology. Every unresolved pain point or lingering inefficiency becomes another hurdle you will have to push through with your people. It can be tempting to select an app that seems like a quick and easy solution, but beware. Cheap or poorly designed apps are far more likely to break or experience problems down the road, increasing employee frustration and potentially leading to costly delays or redesigns.

Select the right partner

Selecting the right developer to create your company’s custom-designed mobile app is critical. Experience, references and work samples are all important, but one of the most frequently overlooked criteria is compatibility: Is your app developer partner a good communicator, and will that partner be available to work with you and provide technical support or guidance down the road (perhaps introducing new features as needed)?

While internal mobile app usage in the manufacturing industry is still in the relative early adoption stage, forward-thinking manufacturers have clearly demonstrated that these intriguing new tools can provide a meaningful and sustainable boost to their operational efficiency, productivity and performance. As adoption accelerates in the months and years ahead, more and more industry decision-makers will be looking to educate themselves on the potential benefits and best practices for designing their own custom app solution.

Dan Ward serves as co-founder of Detroit Labs, a Detroit-based mobile development company and maker of apps.

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