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The factory floor's handheld future
Mobile devices are transforming the art of the possible, says Jonathan Orme of Exel Computer Systems.
As industries go, manufacturing tends not to be an early adopter of emerging technologies, retailing and financial services are usually quicker off the mark, for instance. It's not difficult to see why, of course. With their eyes firmly focused on the bottom line, and being naturally conservative, manufacturing industry's IT directors prefer to let others blaze the trail, only shelling out on new technologies when the bugs have been fully understood and ironed out.
But there's one area where the manufacturing industry seems to be ahead of the pack, observes Jonathan Orme, sales and marketing manager at Exel Computer Systems, the company behind the popular EFACS E/8 ERP system – namely, the rollout of handheld devices and portable terminals to operatives on the factory floor.
"The companies that we see doing this are getting huge benefits," notes Orme. "Quite simply, it delivers a huge boost to the quality of the data that they can give to, and get from, the factory floor."
In one sense, he explains, it's the continuation of a trend that began over 30 years ago, when RS-232 Teletype and LA36 Decwriters began to appear in supervisors' offices and at data entry points, replacing physical job cards that formerly had to be taken back to the safe and controlled environment of production control offices, for batch-mode data-entry on a daily or weekly basis.
"Real time data entry, direct from the factory floor, was a huge step forward, and a real 'game-changer'," explains Orme. "That was the revolution: ruggedised PCs, fixed-point touch screens and SCADA terminals provided a more robust form factor, but the technology, and the benefits it delivered, was pretty much the same. And of course, so were the limitations."
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