Mobility Market Trends: Auto Manufacturing in Mexico

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We recently sat down with Alberto Varela, Account Manager at Panasonic, who oversees the sale and integration of Panasonic rugged computers and tablets in Latin America. For nearly 10 years, Alberto has been working closely with the leading automotive brands in Mexico. Currently, Panasonic supplies a suite of Panasonic mobility solutions in numerous automotive manufacturing plants in Mexico and that trend will continue to grow. Here he discusses some of the current manufacturing mobility trends he’s seeing in the auto industry.

Q: What are the current mobile technology trends you’re seeing in the automotive manufacturing industry in Mexico today?

A: Surprisingly, in Mexico there are still a number of auto plants that rely on paper and pen for data capture across many areas of the manufacturing plants – from the assembly line to engine diagnostics. I’ve also seen some cases where there are central PCs or workstations shared by workers who input data and then return to the task at hand. However, while paper-based processes are still the norm, we are seeing an increasing trend of more rugged tablet solutions being deployed on the plant floor to increase operational efficiencies – from stamping to assembly to diagnostics. Rather than managers having to go to the assembly line with paper and pen to enter data or walk to a communal PC workstation, enterprise mobility devices are automating these tasks. With this access to real-time data, managers are seeing an increase in both productivity and data-entry accuracy. Typically, as one department of the plant begins to see these business benefits, other areas start to explore mobility as well.

Q: Besides improved efficiency, have there been any other drivers for rugged tablet integration?

A: A lot of the interest in mobility solutions has come from managers in Mexico leveraging best practices viewed across borders. Automakers in the United States are seeing improved business outcomes from mobility solutions throughout the manufacturing process that drive efficiency and productivity, thus incentivizing managers in Mexico to pursue similar results. Once managers have seen the different applications for rugged mobile tablets in the U.S., they understand how the technology can improve their own workforces back home. With the number of different work areas in an auto manufacturing plant, if one department, such as quality control, adopts rugged tablets, others want to mirror that success and adopt similar mobile solutions that fit their specific application.

Q: How are current auto manufacturers utilizing rugged tablets today?

A: Our customers are currently using Toughbooks and Toughpads in nearly all areas of the auto manufacturing plant, from assembly line, engine factory, forklift operations, service diagnostics and quality control. For example, managers can more effectively and efficiently communicate with forklift operators equipped with a rugged tablet on the arrival of materials and where they need to be delivered, without having to personally interact with the operator. From a quality control perspective, tablets automate the process. If there is an issue on the line, such as a concern with the actual line equipment, the tablet alerts the quality control operator who can bring it to a halt to prevent additional malfunctions.

We’ve had some customers for as many as 8-9 years and they are discovering new ways in which mobile devices can further automate the auto manufacturing process.

Q: How important is it to equip manufacturing workers with a fully-rugged device?

A: The plants need technology that can withstand the bumps and bruises that come in a manufacturing environment, making a purpose-built device with a rugged design essential. Environmental conditions in the auto manufacturing environment include constant vibration and exposure to oil, grease and fluids commonly found in a manufacturing environment. Panasonic’s Toughbooks are engineered and built specifically to withstand the harshest conditions. They are tested for drops of up to 10 feet, fully sealed against dust, and are submersible for up to 30 minutes so they can withstand the drops and spills that are responsible for the majority of device failures. Finally, the battery in our rugged devices offers plant operators assurance the device will last for round-the-clock shifts thanks to a long life and hot-swappable battery, meaning production doesn’t stop due to a downed device.

Q: What’s the future of auto manufacturing in Mexico?

A: Mobile technology adoption is growing at a steady rate, and we anticipate that to continue as more companies are exposed to them and start to understand their productivity and efficiency benefits. Specifically, service diagnostics applications have seen tremendous growth. In fact, Panasonic currently supplies 80% of the final service diagnostic tests for auto manufacturers in Mexico. We expect as this trend continues, the days of paper and pen in Mexico will be limited.

Visit the Panasonic website to learn more about our mobility solutions built for manufacturing