The Impact of the iPad

Portable tablet computing devices such as Apple’s iPad will change shopfloor activities—and productivity.

Shops should start developing a “tablet strategy” now.

Columns From: 4/29/2011 Modern Machine Shop, ,

Editor's Commentary

Mark: My Word (A monthly column of comments and opinions)

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Mark Albert

Mark has been writing his Mark: My Word column every month since January, 1981.

The May 2011 article, “iPads Keep Supervisors on the Shop Floor” does a good job of explaining how iPads have changed one manufacturing company’s operational style. Now that supervisors there can interact with the shopfloor control software right on the shop floor, processes and procedures are moving more smoothly. It’s a happier place.

This shop’s experiences, however, provide just an inkling of how iPads and other portable tablet computing devices will affect manufacturing. In this case, the portability of these devices has simply changed the point of access for an existing software application. Of course, this “simple change” involved significant challenges but produced substantial benefits in enhanced communication. Migrating existing software applications to portable tablet platforms might be called a Phase I approach to deployment. I suspect that for many companies, initial use of these devices will involve making this kind of move.
 
Other compelling ways and reasons to put iPads on the shop floor are starting to emerge. The driving force here will be a class of applications developed specifically for machine shops to leverage the computational capability of the tablet device as well as its portable network connectivity. This might be considered a Phase II of iPad deployment.
 
I saw an example of such a product at the AeroDef show in April 2011. Developed by GTI Spindle Technology, the application monitors the health of spindle bearings so shops can detect and correct problems before disruptive downtime occurs. In this case, software running on an iPad cabled to an accelerometer enables the user to record and analyze machine spindle vibrations. The accelerometer attaches to the spindle magnetically, so it is easily moved to different spots on the spindle or from machine to machine. Readings taken by the iPad can be e-mailed for expert analysis. We can expect other applications on the horizon to offer similar efficiency and productivity gains.
 
Given the promise of portable computing technology, shops should start developing a “tablet strategy” now. This month’s article about Hadronics points out that introducing iPads has to be done carefully and purposefully. Infrastructure changes such as installing a wireless network may be required. There is a learning curve for shopfloor personnel. Managers have to decide appropriate levels of data access and system functionality for each user. So it is important for companies to look for the right tablet applications, prioritize their implementation (perhaps in phases) and prepare the shopfloor staff for a transition.
 
We’ll continue to cover these developments in future articles. In the meantime, we are thinking of our own “tablet strategy,” too. The possibilities for new types of content or formats for digital delivery are enticing.
 
Finally, I hope readers notice that this article about iPads carries the byline of our Assistant Editor, Emily Tudor. It’s her first full feature article for this magazine, and we congratulate her on a job well done.
 
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