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How do I keep iPads off of my factory floor?

December 17, 2010 - 2 Comments

This question was posed by the Manufacturing IT Director for a major Pharma producer, as part of an annual customer advisory board hosted jointly by Cisco and Rockwell Automation. One answer:  Good luck! …And why would you want to?


Chet Namboodri talks about how consumer products are entering production and maintenance workflows and how “Rockwell and Cisco are in the forefront of enabling those solutions” during a recent customer innovation council session.

The migration of technology and applications from Consumer to Business to Industrial has become a well worn path, and the use of Smart Phones, Tablets, Mobile Video and other Operator Interfaces powering work flows and industrial intelligence has become a mainstay for Manufacturers. 

At the recent SPS/IPC/DRIVES 2010 Show, new mobile management systems for the handheld visualization of machines and process controls  were on display, highlighting the operating efficiencies, throughput productivities and asset utilizations liberated by networking in such devices.  Even social media applications—assisting access to expertise—are making way to the factory floor.  You’re reading this blog, right?  Consumer  Industrial migration will continue to accelerate.

The basis for my customer’s query on how to keep consumer devices away from production relates more to security and architecture policies than it does to IT/computing device policy.  Protecting manufacturing assets and process uptime requires a “defense-in-depth” security approach, which utilizes multiple layers of defense (physical and electronic) at separate manufacturing levels by applying policies and procedures that address different types of threats.  No single technology or methodology can fully secure industrial control systems and the factory floor.  Multiple layers of network security are required to protect networked assets, data, and end points, and multiple layers of physical security to protect high value assets.

More than a tablet

As to devices for the manufacturing floor, Cisco recently announced a work tablet that business customers have been telling us they need: Cisco Cius. The multimedia voice-video-data solution has been designed for the business user.  For example, 24×7 manufacturers can’t afford a battery-powered device that must be charged after a few hours of use, and for that matter, nor can 8×5 manufacturers.  To be useful within a work flow or as part of daily tasks, you need to have it available for your knowledge and skilled workers constantly. The Cius’ live detachable and serviceable battery means that one shift can pass it on to the next.  With such availability, return on this asset is proving very favorable for manufacturers.


See  the new Cius in action – click on the play button above

Not just any phone

Cisco learned that lesson with Coca Cola Enterprises (CCE) when they needed 8 hour battery life for shiftworkers in their bottling warehouse and distribution centers who use Cisco 7900 series ip phones as part of the Warehouse Voice Picking with Unified Communications solution.  Return on investment proved less than 6 months for CCE.  Cisco’s 7900 series includes the hardened 7925G-EX, an example of a consumer/business product advanced with industrial ruggedness and resiliency requirements, and in this case, even certified for deployment in potentially explosive environments.

How about you?  Are you seeing the latest consumer devices make their way into the plant?  Are they being used within work flows, as operator interface, for supervisory controls or performance measures?  If so, how?   What about access to and collaboration with experts?  What benefits are you seeing?  Or are you on the side of banning the latest technology from your factory floor?  Please share your experiences and/or viewpoint with a Comment.

Happy Holidays!
Chet Namboodri


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  1. We’ve definitely seen this question come up more frequently of late. It’s easy to see why consumer products, such as iPads or iPhones, are making their way into the manufacturing environment – they are easy to use and usually a much smaller initial investment. However, although they might be cheaper up front, our Intermec customers have found there is still a very strong need for more ruggedized, fully featured end points in plant and warehouse environments. When it comes down to it, most consumer-grade products aren’t rugged enough (or at least aren’t designed to stand up to day-to-day wear and tear that includes being dropped from up to 4+ feet without breaking). They are also outdated almost as quickly as they are deployed, where as mobile computers are designed and manufactured to withstand daily rigors of use for years on end, with the most advanced technology keeping workforces in front of future competitive demands.

    -Dan Albaum, Intermec

    • Hi, Dan. Thanks for your comment! Intermec is a terrific partner for Cisco, as illustrated with our joint solution for Mobile Warehouse Management, among many others. One cannot argue that consumer devices lacking hardened ruggedization will not last long in most factory and plant environments, and Intermec has a successful history of mobile computing device offers for the the Industrial space, which you continue to broaden and deepen as technologies and applications advance. Thank you, Dan, for answering my question of “Why would you want to?”!