New Mobile “Power” Tools

Can you tell me what is missing from the image below? What “tool” has become almost necessary in our industrial field? A “tool” that can calculate conduit bend radiuses, determine electrical wire sizing, provide up-to-date codes and regulations, keep you safe and even tell you the weather outside.

Your "industrial automation" tool bag

That’s right, you guessed it. I’m speaking of the smartphone. Whether you are an Apple, Android or Windows person, smartphone technology has improved the way we live and the way we work. So if you are thinking to yourself, “How could smartphone technology improve the work I do in the industrial automation field?” let me give you three examples.

1. There’s an App for That!

When we think of smartphones, we think of apps. Thousands upon thousands of apps have been created to help us with everything from grocery shopping to even sleeping (who doesn’t like sleeping next to a babbling brook?). Apps have also been developed to assist engineers and technicians and there are tons of them. To see what I mean, go to your app store, search for engineering apps then scroll, scroll and scroll some more. A few examples I have found on Google Play are:

  • 1. Box + Conduit Fill Lite – which can assist with electrical wiring and conduit installations
  • 2. Electronics Toolkit – used to calculate many engineering quantities such as capacitance and reactance
  • 3. EveryCircuit – allows you to build and simulate any circuit you want
  • 4. NFPA 70 2014 Edition – which contains current NEC regulations

Apps That Keep You Safe

I also came across apps that are made specifically to keep workers safe. These apps are known as “Lone Worker” and “Man Down” apps. The Lone Worker app will set a timer that needs to be reset by the worker periodically or else, when it times out, it will sends an alert message to a chosen contact. The Man Down apps use the position of the phone (vertical or horizontal) to determine if the worker is “down”. It can also detect if the worker’s movements have stopped and use the GPS to obtain the worker’s location if needed.

Apps that Automate

But what about system control and monitoring? AutomationDirect actually has two apps that can help with just that. The C-more Remote HMI iOS App gives you the ability to securely monitor and control screen operations of a C-more HMI panel remotely. And the PAC Data Remote Monitor App allows you to remotely monitor real time data from the Productivity3000 controller. That is outstanding!

C-More Smartphone App for Industrial Automation PAC Data Smartphone App for Industrial Automation

2. QR Smart!

Now let’s talk about QR codes. I am sure everyone has run across these little black and white squares that kind of resemble something I saw on Atari once. These Quick Response Codes started in the automotive industry but have grown to be quite useful in a variety of industries. Entertainment and consumer advertising are two industries that use them quite often. Just try to go into a fast food restaurant and not see one. Most of the time these QR codes will redirect your smartphone to a website or webpage containing more information on a product. So, how can they be used in industrial automation? Well, imagine walking up to a control cabinet in your plant to investigate a malfunction. You quickly realize that there is a blown fuse but you can’t make out what size it is and you aren’t sure if you have any on hand. No fear, simply scan the QR code on the cabinet door and your phone will be directed to a parts list for everything in that cabinet including current inventory levels. How great would that be? Well, it is possible but that’s just one possibility. QR codes can link to anything you choose to upload to a URL, including:

  • Operating instructions
  • Shutdown procedures
  • Preventative maintenance logs
  • Electrical drawings and 3D models
  • Product inserts and manuals
  • Service contact information

Oh, the Possibilities…..

As of now, you might not see too many QR codes being used this way but the technology is there and the possibilities are great. So if not now, I believe you’ll see them in the near future.

ADC Smiley QR Code

And by the way, there are numerous QR code generators available online if you’d like to use them yourself. You can also find instructions on how to link these codes to URLs, documents, images, etc. Using Google Docs and a free QR coder, I went ahead and QR coded the oil change log for my FJ Cruiser. Try it out and see what you can do!

QR code

3. Back to the Basics…

Ok, so apps and QR codes are great but even the very basic functions of a smartphone can provide valuable mobility and assistance in the field. The ability to browse supplier websites for replacement parts on the spot, having a camera on hand to capture real time maintenance issues or even using the GPS functionality to find the jobsite in the first place. All of these examples demonstrate the usefulness of smartphone technology in fields like industrial automation and because of this, some new names in smartphone production are beginning to appear. Did you know that Caterpillar® is now producing a smartphone? That’s right, Caterpillar. Companies such as this are designing smartphones specifically for harsh environments. With increased battery life, noise cancellation, water resistance and even some being certified as intrinsically safe. With credentials like that, smartphones are well on their way to becoming the ultimate power tool.

Work Smarter!

  • If you would like more information about the C-more Remote HMI App, please visit our product site at: http://c-more.automationdirect.com/home.html and click the Remote APP option.
  • For information on the PAC Data App see the topic at this link: http://www.aboutplcs.com/P3000/software/help/261.htm
  • To learn more about PLCs in general by checking out this post on 5 ways to learn more about PLCs. 

5 Ways To learn More PLCs in Industrial Automation