IW 50 Best: iPad Frenzy Hits the Plant Floor

May 6, 2010
Manufacturer pilots Apples tablet computer as iPad sales hit the 1 million mark.

After Apple Inc. sold its 1 millionth iPad on April 30, the company noted that customers are taking advantage of features often used for social networking and entertainment, such as the ability to share photos, listen to music and play games.

But reaching the sales milestone just 28 days after the product's introduction may be attributed to some companies utilizing the tablet computer for business-related functions. Pearson Packaging Systems Inc. has been piloting the iPad for various applications related to sales, plant-floor data and travel scheduling and expense reporting, says Michael Senske, president and CEO of Pearson Packaging.

Executive-level employees working for this $40 million maker of packaging machinery based in Spokane, Wash., are utilizing the device to gain a richer view of information that would otherwise be more cumbersome to see on a traditional mobile device, Senske says.

Apple Inc.
At A Glance

Apple Inc.
Cupertino, Calif.
Primary Industry: Computers & Other Electronic Products
Number of Employees: 36,800
2008 In Review
Revenue: $32.48 billion
Profit Margin: 14.88%
Sales Turnover: 0.82
Inventory Turnover: 49.90
Revenue Growth: 35.30%
Return On Assets: 19.07%
Return On Equity: 33.27%
"For us, the big benefit is the portability of the device and ability to consume and view data regardless of our location in the plant or outside the plant," Senske says.

Some managers use the iPads to view data dumped from the company's ERP system into an Excel spreadsheet so they can monitor projects on the plant floor from any location.

The device also is useful for participating in Web conferences with customers from various locations in the company's facility, Senske says.

"It allows us to involved more people from all aspects of the organization," he says.

One of the most beneficial features, though, is the ability to access e-mail or the Internet without any boot time, says Senske. Eventually, Pearson service technicians may begin using iPads to file service reports while they're in the field. Overall, Senske says the iPad appears to show promise for use in a manufacturing environment, but he says it does have some limitations.

Senske is hoping a CAD viewer application is developed for the iPad, so engineers can access drawings from the device.

"That's probably the biggest thing we would use the iPad for," Senske says. "There are a couple of third-party apps out there, but there aren't any native iPhone apps, and the ones that are available are sketchy."

Senske also says connecting to a network printer from the iPad is a challenge because the device does not have native print functionality.

"At this point in time, there's not a lot of manufacturing-specific apps available, and as time goes on I think that would be helpful," Senske says.

Even so, Senske says the benefits clearly outweigh the difficulties.

"So far, we're really happy with the results we've seen," Senske says.

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About the Author

Jonathan Katz | Former Managing Editor

Former Managing Editor Jon Katz covered leadership and strategy, tackling subjects such as lean manufacturing leadership, strategy development and deployment, corporate culture, corporate social responsibility, and growth strategies. As well, he provided news and analysis of successful companies in the chemical and energy industries, including oil and gas, renewable and alternative.

Jon worked as an intern for IndustryWeek before serving as a reporter for The Morning Journal and then as an associate editor for Penton Media’s Supply Chain Technology News.

Jon received his bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Kent State University and is a die-hard Cleveland sports fan.

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