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Is BYOD The Right Choice In Manufacturing?

Thu, 08/15/2013 - 3:18pm
Jon Minnick, Associate Editor, Manufacturing Business Technology

Manufacturing Business Technology recently talked to Mike Lanciloti, vice president of product management and marketing for Spectralink. The company specializes in purpose-built devices, which are specifically designed to take on the challenges of the healthcare, retail and manufacturing industries. Lanciloti discusses some of the potential problems with BYOD and how purpose-built devices can solve those issues.

Manufacturing Business Technology: Why is BYOD such a hot topic in manufacturing right now and why have companies moved toward this model of doing business?

Mike Lanciloti: Many people use smartphones in their personal life and see the opportunity to use them at work to be more productive or make their jobs easier. Companies are getting demand from employees who want to bring their own devices, but think that maybe there are more effective devices suited for a manufacturing environment.

MBT: What are the biggest issues with BYOD?

Lanciloti: In the manufacturing world, there are several issues that we see. One of them is that smartphones are designed as consumer devices, not as workplace devices—and there are some significant differences there. A big difference is durability. Smartphones are used for about an hour a day and designed for one person to use in a home environment. That’s very different from the potentially harsh manufacturing environment with concrete floors and machinery.

Devices for manufacturing are in-use for hours and are often shared. Factories with shift environments require more than one person to use a device over and over, on multiple shifts. With some devices, like an iPhone, you can’t replace the battery. Employees are going to have to charge it at some point, so the device isn’t available over the course of the entire shift.

With purpose-built devices, like what we do, it is very easy to replace the battery. They’re designed to be used by multiple people and can be customized with things like ringtones and phonebooks for each user.  When you have a device that’s going to be used by multiple people, customization, battery life and durability become very important.

Another concern about BYOD is product lifecycle. Consumer smartphones are always being replaced with newer and better smartphones which can cause problems for IT dealing with corporate security issues. One of the good things about newer smartphones is that they can run lots of applications, but on the downside, some of those applications have nothing to do with a work environment. Applications like Facebook and ESPN can be very distracting for people at work, but purpose-built devices remedy those distractions by focusing on job-specific applications.

Cell coverage can also be problematic in a big manufacturing plant. Some plants can be quite large with unreliable service and coverage, especially with factory machines creating electrical interference. Purpose-built devices communicate with the company’s call control platform over a dedicated 900 MHz wireless network to avoid these issues.  

MBT: How are manufacturers addressing the problems of BYOD?

Lanciloti: We see some companies coming to us for trials with purpose-built devices. We’re also getting lots of questions on the pros and cons of purpose-built devices.  Companies are researching, gathering information and trying to learn from other companies.

Our focus is purpose-built devices. They have many characteristics of a smartphone, but are designed from the ground up to be used in a potentially harsh work environment. These devices have features like active noise cancellation, which is handy in very noisy environments. They integrate extremely well into a company’s phone system, because, after all, people are using this at their work and they want to be able to do things like transfer a call or engage in a conference call. So it has all the necessary business phone features.

Purpose-built devices are designed to have long lifecycles so that they can be used for multiple years. There’s also some other things in terms of application support — our phones are designed to not just be a telephone, but also support the kinds of applications that are needed in a manufacturing environment. They have a web browser and an applications interface — so companies or their software partners can create customized software that will run on the phones.

Our approach focuses on manufacturers picking the right device for their environment. It is a tool, afterall. There are instances where a smartphone or BYOD policy would be the right thing to do. But our point of view is that there are many instances in manufacturing where it’s not the right choice, like out on the harsh factory floor.

MBT: In regards to applications, what are some of the typical applications companies will use or ask for? Can companies integrate their ERP software with purpose-built devices?

Lanciloti: For manufacturing environments, we see a lot of applications for machine alerts or alarms that indicate that there is some condition that needs attention. Manufacturers also use messaging from one person to another — if it’s not appropriate to call or it’s too noisy. Other applications are along the lines of team status, being able to send schedule notifications, tasks that need to be assigned, and then being able to close the loop and indicate that the assigned task has been completed. The applications tend to be tied into the manufacturing workflow.  As far as ERP software integration, that’s an application that the phones lend possibility to.

MBT: Where do you see the future of factory communications heading?

Lanciloti: Well we see the future as continued, purpose-built devices. They will co-exist with BYOD, with certain instances where BYOD would be the right thing to do, but we see increasing specialization, purpose-built devices that people can use for the appropriate task that they do. 

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