MOBILE BUT TOUGH

23.11.2014

Following on the success of mobile devices among personal users, rugged tablet PCs and smartphones are now becoming an increasingly common sight in industrial sectors like the process industry.

BARTEC INSIGHT talks to market analyst David Krebs from VDC Research and Nader Halmuschi, Head of Automation Technology at BARTEC.

 

Mr Krebs, thanks for joining us from Boston. In your role as a market analyst, which areas do you focus on in particular?

Above all, I concentrate on mobile solutions for businesses and authorities. I’m particularly interested in seeing how these solutions are used, so that mobile workers can be better integrated with information flows to boost their productivity.


How fast is the market for mobile solutions growing and what are the main drivers of this growth?

We are already seeing double-digit growth rates in many sectors. That’s no great surprise, as there are around a billion mobile workers around the world. Mobile technology has long been treasured by consumers and is now at last making its way into the industrial workplace. This expansion is characterised by multi-functional, high-performance and above all rugged handhelds, smartphones and tablet PCs that bring together a range of applications. The motivation to invest in these solutions comes from the desire for greater productivity and higher revenue. Furthermore, they allow workers to access important company information in real time, experience better technical service and find new ways of cooperating.


What do your findings say about ex-protected mobile solutions?

Users in this market segment are very interested in improving their processes, but also want greater performance and work safety. This trend runs from specific data collection and communication devices all the way to a multi-functional solution.


Let’s welcome our host in Bad Mergentheim, Mr Halmuschi: How do you gauge the demand for ex-protected mobile solutions?

Thanks to detailed market analyses and customer surveys, we have identified four major requirements. Aside from the two big areas of productivity and integration, many of our customers are interested in reducing faults and downtimes. On top of this, our customers request solutions to digitalize and automate processes to efficiently meet their compliance demands. Compared to the barcode scanners that have been commonplace in Ex areas up to now, multi-functional smartphones and tablet PCs can be used far more flexibly.


Mr Krebs: What are the opportunities and challenges awaiting leading providers like BARTEC?

Customers are only just beginning to automate mobile tasks, mostly in technical maintenance, but also in video-supported collaborations. BARTEC is one of the few providers that have both recognised the potential of this future market and can bring the required degree of experience, expertise and marketing and service capacity on board. Maintaining differentiation in the future will represent a challenge. One general success factor is the expansion of infrastructure necessary for data transmission, particularly those in isolated locations.


Mr Halmuschi: How is BARTEC reacting to this?

As part of our “BARTEC goes mobile” strategy, we use our international leading position in explosion protection in order to bring two new mobile solutions to our customers. These are the Impact X intrinsically safe smartphone, certified to ATEX and IECEx Zone 1 and 2, as well as CSA Class 1 Div 1, and the Agile X tablet PC, certified to ATEX Zone 2 and UL Class 1 Div 2. The Impact X is both sleek and easy to operate, and is particularly effective in supporting work safety and video collaboration. Meanwhile, the Agile X is just as light and acts like a mobile office, granting the user completely new freedom of movement in the field. Both devices support a range of communication standards, including WiFi, Bluetooth and LTE, in order to make them suitable for as wide a range of applications as possible. Communication infrastructure like WiFi antennas for Ex areas complement the mobile portfolio, so that BARTEC is able to offer complete system packages.


Mr Krebs: Where do you see the greatest demand?

These solutions essentially appeal to all sectors where there are areas at risk of explosion. Aside from the oil and gas industry, this includes above all pharmaceuticals and chemistry, the automotive sector and the food industry.


Mr Halmuschi, can you tell us what kind of scenarios will become the “bread and butter” for these solutions in the near future?

For the Impact X smartphone, we see it being commonplace for inspectors to safely document their inspections, for example on oil drilling platforms with one-handed HD video recording, or for technicians to transmit an ongoing maintenance scenario using a suitable helmet camera. With the use of a wrist holster, maintenance workers can even have both hands free and remain connected to operating centres, allowing them to report critical situations at any time. Typical users of our explosion-protected tablet PC Agile X include technicians and engineers, who use the HD display to access complex information such as technical drawings, tables and other office documents without needed to return to the office. In other scenarios, it would be reasonable to use both devices.


Mr Krebs, what is it that the users look for in particular?

Global customers in particular have been critical of previous products, the future road map and available support structures. They are not just looking for a single product, but rather a tailored solution that meets all company standards and allows for a good balance of consistency and technical innovation. Thanks to its past success and reputation, BARTEC certainly enjoys a higher level of trust.


How do you see things developing, Mr Halmuschi?

Very positively! Many of our customers cannot wait to improve their productivity and safety using the mobile solutions. From that perspective, we see the current market forecasts as somewhat conservative. In the USA alone, the oil and gas industry employs around 400,000 people who can benefit from our new products. Not just in the field, but in office tasks as well. We are seeing extra impetus from the ongoing expansion of data networks and of course from the users themselves, who want to use the same technology they use every day on their personal phones and tablets to constructively improve their work.

Interview: Hans-Peter Bayerl /// Photos: Dominik Gigler