Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Mobile Moves to the Plant Floor: What’s Your Strategy?

Posted by John Harrington

Mobile technologies have exploded over the past few years with the advent of inexpensive and reliable mobile displays from Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Samsung (to name a few). They have also evolved from a simple 4 inch display on a phone to a 13” tablet to wearables in the form of watches or Google Glass. With these mobile displays, workers have found it easier to access their corporate information systems, first starting with email and then moving to cloud-based applications like CRM systems. Now they are looking for access to real-time systems like SCADA and HMI.34418904_Sm

Implementing mobile display access to the plant floor allows engineering, plant operations, and production personnel to check on the status of the plant floor equipment and respond to issues regardless of whether they are in front of the machine, on the other side of the plant, at lunch offsite, or even on the other side of the globe visiting another factory. This results in fewer work stoppages and increases plant uptime and production.

There are many different mobile applications and many different technology architectures. There are some applications and developer toolkits available that utilize the OPC UA protocol to communicate directly from the mobile application. There are other mobile applications that use web technologies to communicate from the device to an application on the webserver. Some solutions are not using applications at all and are simply accessing web pages through a common browser (which could be on the corporate intranet or on the public internet). Finally, some solutions are using remote desktop to connect to the work computer. Each architecture has its advantages and disadvantages, but each is easier to deploy and manage, is more secure and reliable, and has less impact on the automation sensors and controllers if it is used with a communications platform.

The communications platform provides a single hub to route all the communications, so a mobile display does not need to know the IP address and connection criteria for each device in the factory. This simplifies the deployment of the mobile display, allows for changes to be made to the automation network without impacting the mobile display, and—most importantly—provides a security layer to turn off access to the display if it is lost, stolen, or the employee leaves the company. The communications platform also handles all protocol translation. Chances are that the devices on the plant floor come from different vendors and speak different protocols. Even if the devices are from the same vendor, they may be different models and have different firmware—resulting in unique communication requirements.

Kepware’s strength and core competence is industrial communications. We built KEPServerEX into a communications platform designed to streamline the deployment, management, and real-time delivery of large amounts of information in a secure, scalable, and reliable solution. Kepware does not develop or sell client applications to view this information; we make it easy for these clients to get the information. So Kepware's strategy for mobile is simple: we enable it. We make your mobile strategy possible by providing a communications platform for robust, resilient, and secure real-time device communications.

We'd like to hear from you on how your plant floor has gone mobile. What's your mobile strategy? Are you using a communications platform to manage your data? What security concerns do you face? Please respond by submitting a comment below.

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