Adapting mobile devices for industrial applications – FM Magazine

A view on mobile devices from “across the pond.” The authors, who work for ABB, a multinational corporation headquartered in Zurich, operating in robotics and mainly in the power and automation technology areas, write about how mobile devices are and can be adapted to industrial applications. Highlights of the work include:

    • “Mobility can considerably increase the efficiency of field workers as they can access real-time information away from their workstations or control rooms, enabling greater independence. And yet, despite the obvious gains to be had, mobile devices in industrial settings are not being used to their fullest.
    • Through its research, ABB has discovered that rugged mobile devices are not wanted in locations where spark-free equipment is not a requirement (as, for example, in oil or gas platforms). Users prefer to replace broken or lost devices with new ones rather than pay extra for rugged options.
    • Users want well-designed back-up solutions that will keep the device content safe in case of an accident. The back-up solutions would automatically save the content of the mobile device to a secure server to prevent information from getting lost if an accident occurs.
    • Another important criterion is that the mobile device should fit into a pocket; otherwise, the device might stay on the work desk and not be carried along during assignments at the plant.
    • The ability to type with a full keyboard is not considered an issue, since the mobile device is not meant to replace a desktop computer – it is just a tool when a field worker is on the move.
    • Current mobile devices that have been specifically designed for industrial environments do not include the latest available interaction technologies such as multi-tasking or multi-touch, nor are they equipped with sensors for measuring the orientation (gyro, accelerometer), proximity of other objects and light conditions. However, the latest smartphones in consumer markets offer these capabilities and a superior user experience. Workers in industrial settings have the same expectations of mobile devices when used as a work tool.
    • The main advantage of a mobile device in an industrial setting is the real-time access to all information independent of a worker’s location. The information includes the process data, as well as manuals, blueprints and descriptions. Up-to-date information is vital for accessing process information. Today, this is accomplished by communicating via radio or phone with the operator in the control room.
    • For a mobile solution to work, it is important that everyone is included in mobile communication. All personnel should have a mobile device in order to be reachable. Otherwise, other communication methods are needed, which adds complexity to the communication.
    • The rapid development of web and mobile applications is very different from the traditional release cycle normally used for industrial systems. Mobile applications have adopted a release cycle of weeks and months, adding new functionality and features as they are updated.
    • … with a shift toward quick development cycles, it is possible to develop and release software for the industry that solves the most critical use cases, where mobile solutions will make a huge impact. Continuous updates to the industry applications will then improve and add requested features. Also, ‘rapid prototyping’ and mobile app development on mobile devices is inexpensive today, which makes the smartphone platforms attractive for industrial domains as well.ABB research shows that with custom-made apps for well-understood scenarios and use cases, mobile device usage in industrial automation can be taken to a completely new level. New developments such as augmented reality, pico projectors and sensors for detecting the environment can make mobile devices even more powerful in several ways.”


You can reach the full article here: Adapting mobile devices for industrial applications – FM Magazine. The article authors Fredrik Alfredsson, Jonas Brönmark, Elina Vartiainen and Magnus Larsson are all from ABB Corporate Research, while Petter Dahlstedt is from ABB Process Automation Control Technologies.