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Get Smart: 5 Reasons Smartphones Belong on the Manufacturing Line

July 9, 2013
It won't be long before smart devices find their way to manufacturing production lines en masse. Here's how to get ready for the change.

Smartphones, like weeds, are popping up everywhere. The manufacturing line is among the last places you won’t find them in abundance. (For safety, among other reasons.)

Research suggests that’s going to change, and soon. NPD Group says tablets are already on pace to outsell laptops by more than 50 million units this year. IDC expects a 49% jump in tablet sales. Meanwhile, the same companies leading the tablet revolt are shipping tens of millions of smartphones each quarter.

The law of large numbers says it’s only a matter of time before smart devices find their way to the line. How to prepare for the shift? Training isn’t the issue since smartphones are common enough that most everyday users are experts in their handling.

Instead, focus on specific ways smartphones can help your floor when deployed properly. Set up experiments, document outcomes, and then fine-tune for best results. Here are five ways to get started without compromising production:

1. Live, cross-continent collaboration. The newest smartphones are at their best when connected to fast Wi-Fi networks. Use video chat capabilities to allow managers at geographically distinct facilities to check in live on milestones and share information and best practices.

2. Better access to information. What would you do with a fully searchable database in your pocket? In essence, that’s what a smartphone is. Think about the various bits of data that would be useful for line managers to have access to—such as purchase orders and original design specifications—and make it available via an online sign-in app.

3. Faster reaction time.Notification systems work better when they’re instantaneous. Most smartphones have this sort of capability built in. Use it to broadcast changes, required stoppages, and the like.

4. Coordinated scheduling. Manufacturing is an inherently collaborative process. Make it easier for floor staff and managers to cooperate by putting production schedules online and viewable in any smartphone calendar.

5. Instant recognition. Don’t just broadcast production data. Instead, create an app for social recognition of extraordinary teamwork, improvements in workplace safety, and other positive achievements. Make it a game by creating badges and levels for workers to achieve each time they’re recognized via the app.

Smartphones are here to stay. Better to embrace them as a tool than treat them as a distraction. Between their capacity for global collaboration and instant recognition, the newest handsets could unleash huge productivity gains at a crucial time for manufacturers. It’s a rare opportunity. Will you seize it?

John Mills is executive vice president of Business Development at Rideau Recognition Solutions, a global leader in employee rewards and recognition programs designed to motivate and increase engagement and productivity across the workforce.

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