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Mobilizing Manufacturing – Keys to a Successful Strategy

By Ron Watkins – August 11, 2011

I was recently camping on the Mogollon Rim in Arizona with some friends who worked in manufacturing operations at a major A&D manufacturer.  On Sunday afternoon, one of them pulled out his iPhone, logged into his secure mobile application, reviewed manufacturing operators and engineers’ time cards and approved them.  This allowed the manager to quickly fulfill his role of ensuring accuracy and compliance of manufacturing time charging and then get back to a round of horseshoes in the cool pines.

I was so impressed by this use of mobile technology that we started to talk more about the value of mobile devices in discrete manufacturing during the game of horseshoes.  An industry like A&D manufacturing has always been a ripe environment for mobile innovation with the focus being on increasing operational efficiencies, reducing cost and ensuring compliance.  Much of the products manufactured are large and geographically dispersed in huge manufacturing facilities like the Lockheed Martin Fort Worth plant which is a mile long under one roof.  When the SAP Complex Assembly Manufacturing Solution (CAMS) was first deployed there over ten years ago, they had various mobile devices in the cockpits of F-16s and fuselages of C-130s running the shop floor management system on a remote client.  This prevented the printing of excess work orders, drawings and work instruction packages and provided digital models at their fingertips.  The operators always had the latest revision of the work package and could buy off their work without leaving the work environment and returning to a tethered work station.

Mobile devices have been around for many years, but advances in web enabled devices and enabling technologies like SAP’s Sybase Unwired Platform and Afaria remove any of the technical and security barriers to going mobile.  With this SAP mobile platform, CAMS has been given new life and a prototype has been created (with product to follow) to bring much more of the shop execution capability to the mobile device.  SAP is partnering with several customers to bring this mobile application product into production to support some of the following value added use cases:

  • Shop Supervisors can view and manage employee work lists from a mobile device by assigning jobs to individuals based on certifications, skill sets and capacity
  • Quality Inspectors can carry the mobile device around and perform a shakedown inspection of a large assembly (fuselage, engine, wing, space craft, etc.).  This may involve recording squawks or defects, taking a picture of the affected area and including some text describing the problem
  • Quality Inspectors and other shop floor support staff that cover a large area of the plant can monitor an electronic callboard on a tablet and respond quickly to requests from the shop which will decrease cycle time by eliminating bottlenecks

Mobilization isn’t limited to just A&D and can be utilized in virtually any discrete production area including high tech, automotive, and IM&C where employees aren’t located next to a work station and need the freedom to roam around the shop to perform their role.  Value can be added by mobile applications in manufacturing in the areas of data collection, enterprise asset management, monitoring KPI dashboards, logging shift notes and creating preventive maintenance work orders.

One thing that hasn’t changed from 10 years ago when we were deploying mobile devices to the shop floor is that it is more than just a deployment of new technology to the end user.  When I asked my friends why they haven’t seen more mobile applications hit the shop floor until recent, they referenced the enabling technologies but also added that the business case just wasn’t there or attempts to do so in the past died on the vine.  So, a sexy application user interface on a sleek mobile device is great to get the initial attention of management, but it ultimately has to fulfill a business need and add value or it won’t be a sustainable solution.  That is why if you want to realize the full potential of mobility in manufacturing, it needs to be approached as a business transformation project. 

SAP’s Business Transformation Services (BTS) group provides a prepackaged service offering that targets mobility.  The first step in their successful business transformation process is to perform a business assessment and create a mobile strategy which encompasses the enterprises vision and fulfills key value areas.  The manufacturing organization needs to be assessed from a stand point of the need for the mobile devices in the shop and the readiness of the organization to actually change (transformation readiness).  A business case is also needed to quantify the value of the change versus the cost of the change so that the appropriate project can be established and properly funded.

Once the strategy and business case is prepared and alignment with the executive team is achieved, mobile technology consulting experts are required to design a secure mobile architecture that supports the necessary device types.  For SAP, the platform is the Sybase Unwired Platform and Afaria.  The initial deployment strategy should include the technology foundation as well as an initial set of a few high value-added mobile applications.  Follow-on phases can include additional areas in manufacturing that incorporate more user centric value-added applications.  Project metrics need to be created to evaluate progress and a road map established that charts the journey.  This enables the project to not only be on schedule and on budget, but more importantly, delivered “on value” and aligned with the business strategy and metrics.

SAP BTS can then provide business transformation assistance to put the strategy into play by assessing operational readiness, aligning processes and technology, managing change, and co-innovating the solutions.  This prepackaged BTS service encompasses everything that is required to successfully develop and execute a mobility transformation strategy and ensure that the value is achieved and sustainable. 

In conclusion, there is no question that mobile devices are changing the way we do business and where we do business (on a camping trip).  But after losing a few games of horseshoes, I had a lot more ideas and appreciation for how a well developed and executed mobile strategy can add value to discrete manufacturing.  As a consultant in SAP’s BTS organization, I also had a better appreciation for the value our business transformation services can add to a mobile project. 

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1 Comment

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  1. B. Krebbers

    Interesting subject but fully undocumented, I’m missing the link between several A&D solutions in SAP;

    1: Current DIMP add on in ECC6

    2: SAP Mobile Defense & Security (MDS)

    3: SAP CAMS

    4: HCL-Axon iMRO – SAP’s A&D partner for MRO and Airlines

    It looks as if everyone is doing their own thing, there seems to be no combined effort.

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