Using mobile technology in manufacturing environments has a complicated back story. According to Automation World, tablets were introduced into production and distribution facilities roughly 10 years ago and the reception wasn't entirely warm. In many cases, manufacturers utilized these devices in scenarios involving production management and maintenance, but it took a lot of time and convincing for users to get used to integrating them into their workflows. Even today, a significant number of manufacturers still depend on manual, paper-based procedures for multiple aspects of their processes, including picking, transfers and inventory management.
However, today's mobile solutions for manufacturing environments far exceed the features available on the earliest models and software systems. Mobile data collection now involves the use of robust data capture software that integrates seamlessly with ERP software to help automate workflows for a more efficient manufacturing organization.
What to Look for in Mobile Technology
The Automation World article highlighted some of the more important aspects of mobile technology in manufacturing environments. The three main points are portability, availability and affordability. Given the nature of mobile devices, there likely shouldn't be any issue of portability except to the extent that facilities provide wireless access to help with data capture and transmission. Availability and affordability somewhat step on each other's toes in terms of importance because if a mobile device is too costly, a manufacturer won't be able to deploy them among across its workforce, making them a limited internal resource.
To get a handle on three components of mobile data collection, manufacturers need a solid strategy in place.
Ice Cream Maker Makes Mobile a Centerpiece of its Operations
Available in more than a quarter of grocery stores in the U.S., Blue Bell Creameries has a large manufacturing footprint. It operates four manufacturing facilities and 57 distribution centers with a substantial fleet of vehicles responsible for transporting goods throughout its supply chain. Meanwhile, Blue Bell made the decision to upgrade its ERP software from Oracle E-Business Suite 11i to Release 12, which was beneficial but also deleted many of the shop floor transactions the company used within its automated data collection solution.
Blue Bell also wanted a solution that offered mobile functionality, and this led the company to partner with RFgen. The ice cream maker chose the RFgen Mobile Foundations for Oracle E-Business Suite because of its flexibility, allowing workers in its cold storage facility, receiving dock, warehouse and shop floor to perform processes without any obstacles. Employees can also take advantage of multiple operating modes, such as real-time data collection with a thin client setup and high availability mode for batch transactions.
Because RFgen is built on an open source code, mobile app developers and programmers are able to create and customize transactions with a short turnaround.
"The ability to install RFgen and all of its transactions out of the box, test it, and get it running within two hours was a big deal for us," explained Vitalina Lisovaya, software analyst at Blue Bell.
The ice cream manufacturer has also been able to eliminate lost data when mobile device connections were interrupted, which happened regularly with its previous data capture solution. Employees use handheld barcode scanners to collect ingredient inputs from vendors when they arrive at loading docks. At the same time, information from purchase orders is quickly and accurately recorded. Workers can also quickly perform cycle counts and maintain real-time inventory information. The mobile solution helps in tracking and tracing food products so that Blue Bell can comply with government regulations.
With a mobile data collection solution, manufacturers have to consider a variety of aspects to make sure they select the right partner for their individual needs.