The evolution of mobile field tools
Did you know that, according to GSMA real-time intelligence data, there are more mobile phone connections than there are people in the world today? While not everyone has a mobile phone, the use of mobile devices continues to grow with almost 90% of Australia’s population unique mobile subscribers.
We see these devices — which include mobile phones, tablets PCs and even IoT devices — used in almost every aspect of our daily lives. When it comes to factory and process automation, it’s no different. The use of mobile tools to facilitate ease in accessing field device information and plant equipment has increased drastically in the last few years, and with continued improvement in both form and functionality, will continue to do so in coming years.
The evolution of these devices in the last 10 years alone has been staggering. While not quite comparable to the dizzying range of Apple iPhones, we’re seeing new devices enter the market offering what feels like leaps and bounds in additional features when compared to older devices.
If you’re looking to add a new mobile tool in your repertoire or upgrade an existing device there are several important aspects to take into further consideration. While most devices do perform core functions similarly, it’s important to consider additional benefits some devices are now offering. Some key points to consider are:
- Usability: As our phones have gone through the transformation from keypad to touch screen, it’s expected that our tools should do the same. Beyond being intuitive to use, touchscreen functionality also allows for a much more compact and transportable device. The downfall to this of course is the increased risk of screen breakage. If you’re looking at investing in a touchscreen mobile tool, it is important that the device is also ruggedised.
- Set-up and maintenance: A major downfall of older devices is the need for set-up and ongoing maintenance. This not only wastes time in the field but also becomes an ongoing cost. Devices with pre-installed drivers and device libraries are beneficial. Another highly valuable feature available on some devices today is automatic driver updates, which will greatly reduce both time and cost for ongoing maintenance.
- Vendor and protocol independence: Almost all sites today use a variety of instruments from different manufacturers. It’s crucial that the chosen mobile tool can support all devices you have onsite. One single ‘Swiss Army Knife’ device would be ideal, reducing the need to carry multiple tools in the field and reducing overall training effort for site personnel.
Cross-functionality: As day-to-day business continues to be digitised, it’s expected that users will demand cross-functionality of assets. A device configuration that runs on a modern, supported operating system such as Windows 10 can also run and install other required software, ensuring it can also be used as an everyday work tablet or laptop.
Although only a few devices currently offer these benefits, it is expected that they will eventually become the industry standard. When we look at what these mobile tools are capable of, it’s clear to see that they will be playing a crucial role in supporting the needs of process automation professionals.
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