Doing more with Windows 8 devices and apps in the manufacturing industry

Lindsay James finds out about the latest Windows 8 devices and apps that are making life easier for manufacturers the world over

Lindsay James
Lindsay James
By Lindsay James on 07 July 2014
Doing more with Windows 8 devices and apps in the manufacturing industry

This article was first published in the Summer 2014 issue of Prime

Ten years ago no one could have predicted the extent to which new devices would transform the way that manufacturers work. Today’s aircraft engineers, for example, can fine-tune designs while standing on the side of a wing 60 feet from the ground. Racing car manufacturers can monitor a driver’s timing and scoring metrics from the trackside. Production line robots can be programmed, controlled and analysed at the swipe of a screen. Delivery vehicles can be tracked at the touch of a button. And field workers can collaborate with colleagues quickly and efficiently, without even being in the same country. 

“Not all that long ago, the only mobile devices embraced by manufacturers were handheld solutions used by warehouse staff to scan pallets,” says Michal Piatkowski, senior product manager at Dassault Systèmes. “But, since the birth of new powerful devices equipped with modern touchscreens, new solutions have come to address many of the day-to-day challenges felt by the industry.” 

“It’s amazing what can be done in manufacturing today, thanks to the proliferation of new devices and apps,” adds Simon Floyd, Microsoft’s director of innovation and product lifecycle management solutions. “The Windows 8 platform is at the crux of these developments. It has proven to be really popular with manufacturers because it meets their unique requirements and enables them to take control and be more productive with their devices.”

Indeed, Windows 8 is built with a large number of features that are unseen on other platforms. “Take Device Manager, for example,” Floyd explains. “A standard feature of Windows 8, it allows manufacturers to ensure that workers have access to the apps they need and that they’re not unnecessarily downloading them at the company’s expense. Meanwhile, BitLocker will ensure that if a device is lost it will be remotely locked or wiped. This is crucial in an industry where there’s a huge amount of intellectual property.” 

“There are many advantages of using Windows 8 devices in manufacturing,” adds Piatkowski. “For me, one of the biggest benefits is the ability to have multiple users on a single device. You can add new users really easily and permit access to the apps and information they need. This is a major advantage over other platforms, which require companies to purchase a device per person.”

Another big advantage of Windows 8 is the number of different devices available. Microsoft partner Dell, for example, has launched the first eight-inch tablet on the platform, the Venue 8 Pro. At 9mm thick and weighing 394g, it is small enough to fit in a lab coat pocket. Meanwhile, the Dell Venue 11 Pro delivers the portability of a tablet, power of an Ultrabook and experience of a desktop when combined with a dock. “The Venue 11 Pro is an enterprise-class tablet, with an enterprise-level ecosystem to support it,” explains Anthony Sayers, Dell’s OEM mobility technologist lead. “Above and beyond the tablet itself, we can also deliver specialised applications, rugged cases, software security and device management. We make it a priority to address the niche demands of manufacturers.” 

Panasonic has also collaborated with Microsoft to create a series of devices that meet the exacting needs of the industry. The Toughpad FZ-G1 is a fully ruggedised Windows 8 tablet which has been designed for mobile workers who spend much of their time working outside or in vehicles. The device is dust, water, vibration and drop proof from a height of up to 180cm. “The Toughpad is a phenomenal piece of kit and can take a real beating,” says Floyd. “This is extremely important for factory workers, for example, and those on the production line.” 

Meanwhile, the Toughpad 4K is a 20-inch rugged Win8 device for business use. “As well as being highly durable, it’s a great size for collaboration,” says John Harris, Panasonic’s general manager for engineering. “The 20-inch screen is 95% of the size of an A3 piece of paper, which is a standard format when working in CAD systems. It’s also powerful enough to run even the most compute-intensive applications. This makes it perfect for when designers need to work together on a project.” One of the stand-out features of Windows 8 devices such as these is that there’s no need for skin-to-screen contact. “Unlike many other touchscreen devices, all of these products can be used by someone wearing gloves,” explains Floyd. “This shouldn’t be underestimated on the factory floor, where gloves are commonplace.” 

When more cumbersome, thick gloves prohibit natural finger gestures, there’s another solution. “Many of the Windows 8 devices – including the offerings from both Dell and Panasonic – also come with a pen,” Floyd explains. “As well as being advantageous for the factory floor, this also brings benefit to the field teams who will be able to take electronic signatures, sketch or draw. Using your finger isn’t always a natural way to interact with the device.”
Windows 8 devices are also easy to connect to peripherals. “Plug and play connectivity is flawless,” says Floyd. “You can plug a 3D printer into a Windows device, for example, and be confident that it will work without special drivers or other complexities.” 

As well as leading the way with devices, a number of Microsoft partners are developing apps that are leading to new efficiencies in the way that manufacturers work. Dassault Systèmes, for example, has recently announced the DELMIA Apriso Executive Intelligence Center app – a dashboard offering near real-time visibility to better manage, control and continuously improve global manufacturing operations. “This product aggregates data and presents it as meaningful intelligence so that industry executives can make quick, informed decisions,” explains Dassault Systèmes’ Piatkowski. “The dashboard can be configured easily for different roles and will display personalised KPIs based on information from production, inventory, quality, maintenance and labour activities.” 

ICONICS, meanwhile, has launched the MobileHMI series of real-time business and visual intelligence apps. The solutions allow executives, managers, engineers, operators and technicians to monitor their data and equipment from anywhere, reducing the time it takes for issues to be recognised and fixed. As well as a generic app there are also specific solutions for the oil and gas, water and energy industries. 

“The Mobile HMI series of apps really lights up Windows 8 devices,” says Russ Agrusa, ICONICS’ founder, president and CEO. “We’ve embraced the live tile experience and built on it to take it to another level. Our ‘Smart Tiles’ connect the tile to real-world manufacturing information, making users immediately aware of critical alerts. Leveraging the power of the cloud, the apps make use of the scalability of Microsoft Azure. Having such an elastic environment in which to work in is a huge benefit for us – if our customers need more storage space, CPU power or more users then this can be achieved really easily.”

As uptake of these devices and apps increases, Floyd believes the industry will realise significant returns. “As well as the obvious benefits that come with greater mobility and collaboration, Windows 8 devices and apps will help to create leaner, more efficient processes, enabling secure, real-time information authoring and consumption,” he says. “They will also help manufacturers advance further down the road to a paperless future. Overall, I truly believe that Windows 8 technology can mean the difference between a sustainable business model and one that is laden with inefficiencies and cost.”


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