Wireless Hits the Shop Floor

Technology advances, new standards have small, midsize producers eyeing paperless manufacturing, study claims

Tempe, AZ  March 6, 2003  The availability of new Web services, mobile devices and next-generation wireless technologies will have a dramatic impact on the realization of real-time, paperless manufacturing for the small and midsize manufacturing market, according to a new white paper.

Made2Manage Systems, a provider of enterprise business systems for small and midsize manufacturers and distributors, prepared the study, released this week at National Manufacturing Week in Chicago.

The white paper notes that despite the "wireless everywhere" buzz, many managers who run small and midsize manufacturing shop floors throughout North America have never used a PDA, Tablet PC or other wireless device to run inquiry and reporting systems. Barriers to widespread adoption have historically included cost of investment and cultural resistance, according to the study.

In terms of cost of investment, small and midsize manufacturers investing large dollars in first- and second-generation wireless devices risked playing the role of guinea pig. When faced with the uncertainty of proprietary solutions that lacked industry standards and the ability to keep pace with a growing and changing wireless market, small and midsize manufacturers feared no protection and poor returns on their investments.

And as far as cultural resistance, despite the fact that manufacturers large and small were among the first to adopt wireless technologies for data acquisition, including bar coding and radio frequencies, paper has continued to provide a sense of security for many shop floor personnel accustomed to clipboards and tangible reports. However, this fear of technology is diminishing rapidly as the Internet and digital processes continue to pervade the day-to-day activities of business and life.

According to the white paper, advances in wireless technologies and standards, the increasing sophistication of mobile devices and the proliferation of XML and Web Services technology are allowing today's small and midsize manufacturers to adopt practical wireless solutions. Moreover, customers increasingly are demanding real-time information, collaborative commerce and electronic ordering, invoicing and payment  and wireless technology offers a reasonable, pragmatic solution that can help smaller companies meet those requirements.

The white paper points to several areas where small and midsize manufacturers investing in wireless systems today might see a return on investment and other benefits, including quicker access to critical, real-time shop floor information and, as a result, improved decision-making and higher customer satisfaction levels.

The wireless systems can also product savings in labor, time and resources, as well as improved communications and more efficient collaboration within the enterprise and across the supply chain, according to the report.

For a perspective on the persistence of paper in the supply chain, read "Paper: Still the Net Best Thing," the Net Best Thing column in the December 2002/January 2003 issue of iSource Business.