10 April 2018

In 2018, a unique mix of new technology, strategies and processes is offering opportunities to manufacturers that can significantly help to improve their operations.  

Innovation is driving improvements across the board, from warehouses and distribution centres to back offices and shop floors. In many cases, time-consuming processes can be streamlined and accuracy dramatically improved, meaning a higher standard of operation in a shorter amount of time.  

In order to realise these benefits and more, many manufacturers will turn to the latest mobile technology. Getting the right devices into the hands of the right people can often be the difference between a good strategy and a great strategy, so careful consideration of any implementation of new technology is critical.

The latest smart, connected devices should be at the heart of any strategy aimed at improving manufacturing operations. But they have to be able to handle the rigours of the environment they are used in.  

The rise of rugged devices shows the critical role resiliency plays as manufacturing seeks to get the most out of these versatile devices. Newer strategies, like ‘lean’ manufacturing which aims to remove unnecessary processes, requires devices that can not only deliver the latest productivity tools but are also robust and can be depended on in different situations.  

And it’s not just a rugged exterior that sets these devices apart. They are tailored to the situations they are used in, with long- or short-range scanners, different methods for data entry and even different form factors with tablets and wearables joining traditional handheld devices.  

With that in mind, here’s four of the key challenges that manufacturers face and the solutions that the latest rugged mobile devices can provide.    

Challenge one: Enabling a smart technology environment  

Achieving productivity goals and moving towards new strategies like lean manufacturing requires high levels of communication and real-time tracking. This means multiple staff in multiple locations from the floor to the administrative offices, all connected and working as one.  

For most managers, being well-connected and having visibility into all assets, people, and processes at all times is crucial to having an integrated, productive, profitable and compliant operation. It requires the right infrastructure in place to ensure connectivity, as well as the correct blend of devices depending on who will be using them and how they will be used.  

Communications across the business is essential to ensure all gears mesh with minimal waste or excess effort. It sounds simple, and it’s easy to see how mobile communication plays an important role. However, the limited durability of mobile devices has traditionally impacted their ability to survive under the rigorous conditions that exist in the manufacturing environment.  

Creating a smart operation with the latest technology can be tricky in an environment where delicate devices are susceptible to accidental damage. Rugged devices can solve this issue as they are just as powerful as their high-end consumer counterparts but built to withstand challenging environments.  

The ability to synchronise scanning data, spreadsheets, documents and other necessary business information can make a huge difference, but you need to know you can rely on the devices being used in your business.  

This doesn’t just mean accidental drop either, but vulnerability to dust and dampness or even extreme temperatures.  

If you’re unsure about the best device for your requirements or need advice on the latest technology, a trusted advisor can help to ensure that you invest in the right technology for your business and that it is set up correctly and functioning properly to maximise the return on your investment.    

Challenge two: Identifying and eliminating wasteful processes  

To create a more dynamic production cycle, a key target for many manufacturers is to improve efficiency by cutting down wasteful processes. Mobile, rugged smart devices offer the versatility required to tick all the boxes needed for this evolution.  

In many ways it’s like the theory of marginal gains used by the British cycling team in 2012. They believed that if the team broke down everything they could think of that goes into competing on a bike, and then improved each element by just 1%, they would achieve a significant increase in overall performance.  

That strategy led to Team GB taking seven out of ten available gold medals at the 2012 Olympic Games!  

So, think of that strategy in a manufacturing operation. Every process that isn’t optimised could potentially be multiplied hundreds of times every day, slowing down staff and restricting capacity.  

If you can identify where time is wasted and make improvements, even if they appear only marginal, the overall outcome could be a significant boost for your whole operation.  

The good news is that modern technology can not only help to speed up many warehouse processes, but it can also help identify where further gains can be made that may have initially been overlooked.  

Equipping staff with the rugged devices that they can depend on to get the job done also ensures better levels of accuracy and reduces the chances of downtime which can affect any drives towards efficiency.    

Challenge three: Minimising the cost of returns  

An untidy returns area is often considered a necessary evil by many manufacturers. It’s an area full of a mix of open and closed items that need to be identified and sorted and then repackaged or reworked to maximise the value of the returned product.  

The complexity of this process and low priority typically means little attention is given to improving the returns procedure. But a consistent application of identification technology and reorganisation of processes can make dealing with returns a simple task.  

After all, returns management is an important area that really shouldn’t be overlooked. It can make or break customer satisfaction and loyalty, as well as the bottom line if the products are not put back on the shelf fast enough or handled incorrectly.  

Rugged mobile devices can make the difference by using scanning technology to quickly identify the returned product and then relay information back to a warehouse management system (WMS) to enable real-time inventory control and allocation. In some cases, it may be possible to enable instant picking from the returns area if an item is able to be sent back out.  

Rugged devices are a perfect match for this process as they can be customised and enhanced with pistol grips, holsters and long-range scanners to enable quicker identification and relocation.    

Challenge four: Preparing for life after Windows  

Microsoft is winding down support for legacy operating systems, so 2018 will see many manufacturers considering their next mobile strategy move with an eye on Android devices.  

In some ways it’s little surprise that Android has emerged as a contender for an operating system compatible with the rugged environment. The ability to include custom security APIs, hardware integration APIs and more robust mobile device management features is a must for many enterprises.  

Staff members will also likely be familiar with the OS from their consumer devices, meaning increased speed due to familiarity and less training time.  

Rugged devices are well-known for their long shelf life. It’s not uncommon for rugged devices to be used up to three times longer than their consumer counterparts.  

But while many rugged devices still have years left in them, the lack of support from Microsoft and the evolving needs of manufacturers will make them increasingly difficult and expensive to maintain.  

Security is also a huge factor when it comes to maintaining devices on older operating systems.

Manufacturers reviewing their options around migrating to new hardware will find their decision is complicated by the investments required for updating mobile device management systems and implementing new support processes.  

A trusted advisor can help to weigh the costs of these efforts against the cost of supporting a legacy fleet of mobile devices. But, eventually, it is likely there will be a tipping point when it becomes clear that a transition needs to be made.    

Summary  

As manufacturers look towards implementing new strategies to boost efficiency, increase productivity and improve accuracy, many will turn to the latest technology and handheld devices to empower their staff.  

Powerful rugged devices will be critical to achieving these aims throughout the business, helping staff to complete tasks easier and more accurately whilst seamlessly updating management systems to make the whole operation flow.  

Even saving just a few seconds per task can translate into meaningful efficiency gains and can go a long way towards achieving new strategies such as lean manufacturing.  

But they have to be able to rely on their devices if new processes are to be successful. It’s vital that any investment in new technology will consistently help drive innovation and increase efficiency.  

A trusted technology partner can advise on these issues and provide bespoke solutions for an innovative and tailored approach to implementing real-time mobile computing solutions into any organisation.  

There’s no substitute for a partner taking you through the steps to create the ‘best fit’ mobile computing solution that will deliver real competitive advantage to your operational processes.      

Choosing the right partner

A trusted support partner can be the key to implementing new technology in a way that will benefit your business going forward.  

As well as advising on the best technology fit for your operation, a great partner will provide the on-going support needed to deal with any issues.  

A partner should offer a number of support services, such as next day ‘hot swapping’ of damaged devices as part of a standard support so you don’t have the stress of replacing a device. They should also ensure any device swapped will come pre-configured for your needs.  

On site problem solving during the life of the system should also be part of a standard support package, so users can rest assured that recently launched models will be supported for 10 years as a minimum.  

Managers should look for UK-based support services with dedicated mobile engineering teams to ensure quality repairs and effective support. A partner should provide a range of support services to back the optimised running of your business operation, including 24/7 UK-based support helpdesks, E-portal online booking systems for instant, online support and rapid response call out from a team of qualified mobile engineers.  

If you would like to discuss your current technology setup or if you are worried about how downtime may affect your business, don’t hesitate to call us on 01274 741860 or email to take advantage of our expert advice.