This may sound a totally impractical suggestion, but we need to ask the question: ‘Why not?’ Traditionally, factory operating systems or manufacturing executions systems (MES) have used bespoke interfaces, but the world, and technology, has moved on. As we look to cloud computing to provide limitless power and scale for factory operations, why then should we not use the modern interfaces we are all used to using every day: smart phones?

We carry around a miracle in computing power in our pocket or bag. We no longer just use phones to make calls or send messages, we use them to learn about news and events, find the answers to our questions, entertain us, and interact socially across the world. If we used these mobile devices to interface with factory processes, it would save a great deal of time and cost in training operators and add flexibility to operations.

By using a smart phone or tablet as the user interface, we instantly access a huge amount of research and engineering that has been invested in ergonomics and intuitive use. We are no longer tied to aging hardware and issues with obsolescence, and operators can customize their own device to their own preferences. What’s more, with smart machines, products and materials, we have the opportunity to present current and pertinent information to operators or maintenance personnel as they approach a machine or work area and supervisors can monitor and tune in to any process as they need from wherever they are. By having this information quite literally at their fingertips, we open possibilities for increased efficiency and reduced errors. Using a common, familiar platform further gives manufacturers a way to build and adapt their own interface screens, negating the need for expensive third-party software each time a change is needed.

In summary, smart phones or tablets offer a highly efficient, intuitive, cost-effective user interface to a modern, cloud based MES. The user interface to a factory operating system does not have to be complex and difficult to customize. Maybe, instead of asking whether we can run factories from smart phones, we should be asking why wouldn’t we?