In the world of manufacturing, two-way radios are called on every day. But if you don’t tap into their full potential, you may not be getting the most in productivity, communication, and safety. Here’s how to tell if your industrial plant communication system is where it needs to be.
First, why are communications so important?
From the warehouse floor to product delivery, mobility solutions provide access to information in real time and help automate operations, ultimately creating a seamless, error-proof work environment.
For example, if the network connection in a circuit board manufacturing facility is down, the inventory room may not receive automatic notification when they need to provide parts replenishment. But with the right industrial plant communication system, the machine operators can communicate shortages as they happen, and downtime is minimized.
Or, consider a scenario in which a forklift operator runs into a container that has hazardous materials, and the container starts leaking. With the proper system in place, the operator can notify the shift manager, who can broadcast a message to evacuate the warehouse, and then contact the cleanup crew.
In another example, consider a bottling plant that needs to increase capacity to accommodate the success of its latest soft drink. To make the processes more efficient and improve the coordination between workgroups, they can use portable radios with multiple channel capability, which allows the work teams to organize efficiently and in turn, increases capacity.
Two-way radios are also effective for plants using the Kanban system, in which teams need to collaborate and communicate during planning, and in real time during operations and after incidents to make sure processes are running smoothly and continuously improving. With their flexibility, scalability and reliability, digital two-way radios are the best communications tools to achieve the just-in-time solutions that Kanban systems require.
What to look for in equipment and features
Now that you know the benefits of having a quality industrial plant communication system, a little background about industry demand and communications solutions is helpful.
Since the Industrial Age, manufacturing technology and communications have come a long way, with robotic assembly lines, computerized loading docks, Wi-Fi, smart phones, email and the internet. But plant managers still complained about not having an integrated view of plant operations, profits lost to unplanned downtime and manufacturing workers getting injured or reported illness in the workplace.
Digital two-way radios presented a key tool in addressing these problems by connecting manufacturers with real time, business-critical information and offering new ways to increase productivity, enhance safety and control costs. But today all two-way radios are not created equal. As you put together your list of must-haves and nice-to-haves, the following are some recommendations for what to look for in an industrial plant communication system.
Noise-cancelling Technology. When you’re working on a noisy plant floor, look for radios that eliminate background noise and automatically adjust the volume based on the noise level users are facing. Automatic adjustment means the device does the work so users don’t have to.
Push-to-Talk Across Devices. The Wave Work Group Communications platform for Motorola two-way radios turns any device—laptop, PC, tablet, smartphone—into a radio. With this functionality, a worker on the factory floor who witnesses an incident or needs to call for help can seamlessly connect via push-to-talk (PTT) with management in the office, nearby coworkers and public safety agencies.
Longer Battery Life. Manufacturing is not a 9-to-5 industry, so radio batteries that go the extra mile for all of your shifts are required. Batteries built for manufacturing-ready radios can last up to 29 hours at a time between charges.
Ruggedness. Manufacturing environments are tough, which means that communications equipment needs to be, too. Look for radios with ruggedness guarantees for things like submersion, temperature and, "drop-ability" or the height that the radio can be dropped from and still function properly.
HazLoc Classification. Motorola, for one, offers communications equipment, including radios and accessories, that have been certified for use in a Hazardous Location—also known as “HazLoc.” The devices are certified by UL and carry the HazLoc designation on their labels.
The National Electrical Code (NEC) NFPA 70 defines hazardous locations as areas "where fire or explosion hazards may exist due to flammable gases or vapors, flammable liquids, combustible dust, or ignitable fibers or flyings."
Safety Features for Workers. Radio manufacturers know that their devices are key players in worker and user safety, as described in this Secure Communication Equipment Guide.
Radios for manufacturing will have safety features such as:
- Text-to-speech: This allows workers to hear text messages instead of having to stop what they’re doing and read them.
- Lone Worker and Man Down: Man Down is best for situations in which an isolated worker on duty has become incapacitated. With Man Down, radios can be set to automatically sound an alert if they’re tilted at a precarious angle for a specified period of time, suggesting that the user has fallen, or if no movement is detected for a while. If the user is okay, they just reposition the radio or disable the alert. If they don’t disable the alert, the signal lets others know to send help. Lone Worker tracks user activity and sends alerts if something goes wrong.
- Indoor Location System: Seamless, real-time indoor tracking, especially for workers in hazardous environments, works hand-in-hand with other safety features.
If your industrial plant communication system doesn’t have these features, or it's time for an upgrade, contact us. We can help implement a comprehensive solution for efficiency, productivity and safety in every aspect of manufacturing. Learn more in our free ebook on manufacturing communications.