November 11, 2014 | Written by: Abhishek Kaul
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Today mobile devices touch each individual. You can find an app for almost everything personal. Enterprises have been slow to adopt mobile applications at workplaces. We still see paper log sheets being filled by pen on shop floor of a traditional steel company. At best an operator reports shift wise tonnages, pieces on a computer terminal. Metals industry has been a slow adopter of Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) and machine integration is primitive. In this blog I provide insights on how mobile apps at workplace combined with Internet of Things (IOT) will transform this centuries old industry.
Initial use of mobile apps was limited to approvals, alerts, reports, associated workflows using mobile devices. Examples include leave approval, purchase approval, shipment alerts, daily production report.
Today we see sales reps are using mobile apps for customer, account information, capture lead, opportunity, view product catalog, quote price, see movement of metals on commodity markets, report order status, invoice payments etc.
In mills use of handhelds is limited to bar code readers typically for warehouse operations.
IOT refers to connect objects (machines; equipment – furnace, mill; products – coils, slabs, plates) over the internet by providing them with a unique identify. These objects can then sense and respond to environment and share data amongst themselves. Recently we have seen the emergence of low cost, low power single chip micro controllers with built in Wi-Fi, giving us the possibility to develop an entire application on a single chip. Enterprise applications have been fast to adopt and integrate with IOT devices. IBM Bluemix and SAP HANA platform device connector are offering developers the possibility to develop custom applications that interact with enterprise applications.
When we combine mobile applications with IOT devices we get an ever connected world. Sensors on mobile (camera, GPS, accelerometer, barometer) can interact with sensors on equipment’s, products (furnace, mill, plates, coils) and provide a seamless data flow between operator, equipment’s and products. Every computer terminal can be replaced with mobile devices where operators can directly record data like quality parameters, send instructions to machines for corrections, confirm yield, execute logistic movements, identify coils / plates, record visual inspection, trigger maintenance orders etc.
In future each machine will be an IOT device with people fulfilling their roles through apps on their mobile devices. Mobile apps will facilitate ways of working for an individual, role and can even act as the MES system integrating to IOT devices, machines with appropriately developed logic. Let us take one use case from plate mill operations.
Fig 1 – Role wise mobile application in plate mill
Fig 2 – Role played by production in-charge
Let us take another example of coil tracking. It has been difficult to deploy RFID tags since steel interferes with RF signals. Using IOT, we can now attach a single chip to coil for accurate identification – improves placement & retrieval in logistics & warehouse applications. A recent use case shown by SAP, included parrot drone being flown for visual inspection for difficult to reach areas and send GPS, sensory data back to enterprise application.
In Summary, mobile apps, combined IOT devices enables an integrated workplace on shop floor, improves productivity of workforce, deceases user errors and increases user adoption.
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