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Tablets and Their Role in the Automation Industry

Manufacturing 4.0 has ushered in levels of automation that require seamless management, monitoring and operation of machines (including machine-to-machine (M2M) communication and the industrial internet of things (IIoT)). Technology like automation and the IIoT are the foundation of smart factories. Industrial tablet technology is critical for production line workers, service technicians, quality engineers, and others in enabling real time, mobile-based operations.

In highly regulated manufacturing industries, production machinery and systems need to be regularly calibrated to stay in compliance. Manufacturers are starting to use mobile-based sensors to capture this data and report it in real time. A rugged industrial tablet enables workers to immediately receive alerts, analyze data, connect to machinery and sensors both with cables and wirelessly, and in general enable real time diagnosis and management of manufacturing operations while improving efficiency and safety, and eliminating mistakes and rework.

While tablets have become a primary means of making all this possible, mobile workers often operate them in harsh environments. Therefore, industrial grade tablets must protect against drops and impacts, water, dirt, smoke and dust while still providing the agility, compute power, connectivity, and security that are needed from the factory floor to the network edge. Only a purpose-designed rugged industrial tablet is capable of meeting that criteria. Commercial tablets, even those packaged in rugged enclosures, often will not suffice in terms of features, performance and most of all durability.

There are numerous design and manufacturer considerations that go into making a tablet rugged enough to support automated industrial manufacturing environments. Considerations for rugged industrial tablets include the use environment, the need for docking stations, special 4G LTE Modem, bar code readers, RFID/NFC, special sensor or probe, cameras and GPS. Operating systems can vary from Android that is customized to match the tablet hardware and its specific use but provides a standard GUI, to Linux for more specialized software, or even to real time operating systems (RTOS) such as VxWorks that enable deterministic data sampling or control. Custom rugged Android tablets and Linux tablets are increasingly seen in industrial applications.

Mobility is a key foundation for using production data to improve the flow of information both inside and out of the production environment. A custom industrial tablet that is purpose built for the automation industry will ultimately drive reliable productivity and error reduction while increasing capacity or utilization across sectors.

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