Recently, I was watching a movie from the 1970s and I couldn’t help but notice that in all the office settings there were no computers. The height of technology was a single typewriter, on a secretary’s desk, and a rotary dial phone on the boss’ desk. Watching this, it struck me just how far we have come in terms of technology and gadgets. If people 40 years ago were told that every person would most likely have not only a computer, but one that could provide wireless access to unlimited information and weigh less than five pounds, what would they say? After they ask, “What’s a computer?” they might ask, “But how does that help me?” This is exactly what I think some manufacturing companies ask today in regards to tablets: How does it help me?
The momentum to use tablets is very much like any piece of previous technology. For example, look at the history of the cell phone. What once was in a suitcase, and not very convenient, can now fit in a shirt pocket. Advancements and uses have also progressed along with portability. It wasn’t too long ago when I can remember protesting, “I don’t need a camera on my phone. I just need a phone.” And now? Well, when I was offered a phone replacement that didn’t have a camera, in all honesty, I thought that was more of a downgrade and declined. I don’t take a lot of pictures on my phone but because the functionality is there, I have grown accustomed to it being available and when I need it, I want it.
I have recently gotten a tablet myself and feared that it would be the most expensive solitaire game I ever bought. But reality has proven this false. I have added applications and games and music and photos. I have basically taken multiple computer/electronic devices and combined them into the tablet. Now I have one, convenient device that can provide me with most all the information I need and I find myself looking for additional ways to increase my usage!
But that is on the personal side. How does that help in the manufacturing environment? Essentially the same way. Because ERP applications are now available for use on the tablet, you provide convenience to those in your company. With one, lightweight device, I can be away from the office or just away from my desk and see how work centers are running, check inventory, review a customer order and so much more. ERP companies aren’t just hyping the use of these devices. There is real power in their use in the manufacturing facility. And those who are using them are seeking more ways to incorporate them into daily activities.
A common thought is that tablets will only be useful to high level executives. I think tablets are a definite plus for those critical decision makers, but should they be exclusive only to them? No! Shop floor supervisors can use tablets and no longer be tied to a computer. Quality inspection personnel can enter information from anywhere, with immediate results available to everyone. Customer service personnel can move within the facility and look at product while sending an email or a picture to a client. The ability to break free of a desk and yet still be more efficient and productive is exciting. The possibilities of this technology are limited only by us.
As prices drop on these devices, much like cell phones from years past, I believe more and more manufacturers will see the benefit from the portability, convenience and powerful tablet functionality. Combine multiple functions and requirements into one device, gain time and increase knowledge. I think this proves that the future of tablets is living up to the hype!
I would be curious to hear how many manufacturers are already using tablets and how many see the need in the near future?