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IT Challenge: Using mobile ERP on the shop floor

In this IT Challenge of the Month, we'll explore ways to use mobile ERP and tablet computers in a manufacturing shop floor environment.

The IT Challenge of the Month for January 2011 is:

My company is exploring the idea of using tablet computers and mobile ERP, but we’re struggling to decide where they would be most useful on the shop floor. What areas of a manufacturing environment are best suited for tablet usage, or more specifically, what staff members should be given tablets for use in daily work?

Do you have a solution to this challenge? Have you encountered a similar issue at your business? If so, please contact the editors and share your suggestions or experiences. 

The first four respondents will receive a free copy of a new book from SAP Press - either A Practical Guide to SAP NetWeaver PI Development or ABAP Cookbook.

And be sure to check back here all this month -- we'll be posting solutions from experts and readers as we receive them.

From ERP and manufacturing industry expert Steve Phillips:

As a manufacturing IT director, I am always interested in optimizing information technology on the shop floor. Many companies are moving away from expensive desktop PCs, and even the standard desktop configurations and specifications are overkill for running today’s HTML or thin-client ERP applications. This is particularly true for tasks that require little if any processing on a PC.

Beyond simple data collection, mobility is important for some but not all, shop-floor functions. Many jobs are in fixed locations, and those that are mobile may require little real-time interaction with the network.

You need to analyze jobs and workflows to identify mobility requirements before you can determine if any process or data-integrity improvements are necessary. Shop-floor job tasks such as inspection, quality control, production reporting, cycle counting, material handling and inventory management normally yield benefits.

Finally, consider your requirements for durable or protected equipment. You do not want to constantly be replacing tablets and notebooks that can’t handle the environment.

From industry analyst and CEO of Constellation Research Ray Wang:

There are a few categories of tablet devices, ranging from consumer grade tablets like the iPad to some ruggedized ones coming out from traditional PC manufacturers. Usage scenarios are key when deciding how and where to use tablet computers:

1. Information delivery

Shop floor managers may need mobile status updates, dashboards or on-site monitoring.  While you could do this by screen placement on the floor, there may be cases where certain managers should have this information at all times.

2. Approvals and routing

Shipping and receiving is a place where handheld bar code readers won't be replaced anytime soon, but those who must make quick decisions and approvals can benefit from also having tablets.

3. Safety and compliance

Location-based systems tied to mobility could play a role in cases where food safety and traceability may require check-ins throughout the manufacturing process.

Next Steps

How Kawasaki Motors is using mobility on the shop floor

Dig Deeper on Mobile ERP

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It depends on the structure of the business, how mamu people are emplotted and how manu tables you pLan to use. Honeslty, managers should bexpect held accountable enough to log in and inputhe relevant information to the database ie. wages, ordering and such. Supervisors may have access to certain aspects such as inventory and scheduling. Regular employees could access POS and other pertinent HR related info.