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iPads and Automation

Apps are springing up for all kinds of automation uses, ranging from remote monitoring to test and measurement. Are iPads and other tablet PCs destined to become part of the automation engineer’s toolbox?

Automation World survey respondents indicate that nearly 80% of them will own a tablet PC by mid 2012. Source: Summit Media Grou
Automation World survey respondents indicate that nearly 80% of them will own a tablet PC by mid 2012. Source: Summit Media Grou
If you do any traveling at all, the sight of iPads and other tablet PCs in airports and at conferences is fast becoming commonplace. A trend that many thought would take years to develop in terms adoption seems to be taking place much faster than anticipated.

Automation World conducted research earlier this year to find out what its subscribers thought about the application of tablet PCs in industry. The results shed a great deal of light on how fast the tablet PC adoption trend is accelerating.

According to respondents, 49% of them already own an iPad, Blackberry, Android or other kind of tablet PC. When asked about plans to purchase a tablet PC, the number rose to 78%. Only 22% said they did not plan to purchase a tablet PC within the next 12 months.

Of course, you may be thinking that tablets are mostly used for visiting Web sites and playing Angry Birds. But what about using them for work? Do they have any applicability for business beyond presentations?

Respondents to the Automation World survey who currently own a tablet PC confirmed that tablet PCs do play a role in their work-related interests. Seventy-two percent said that they read work-related digital publications on their tablet PCs. In addition, more than 50% said they read work-related newsletters and Web sites on their tablets several times each week.

We’re interest in hearing more about what our audience thinks about tablet PCs and their application in automation. You can weigh in with your thoughts in a discussion we’ve started on the Automation World LinkedIn group at

Automation Tablet Applications
When it comes to viewing work-related information on tablet PCs, the evidence is clear that engineers see the tablet PC as a potentially useful tool. But what about actually using it for work?

Several applications I have heard about or seen demonstrated include:

 Data monitoring on a tablet PC to view SCADA system info for monitoring equipment and system performance as well as decision-making. 
 Accessing automated work order systems on a tablet PC so that operators can scan a machine to access bills of material for an order in process or access maintenance procedures for a particular piece of equipment.
 Have the tablet PC function as a portable human machine interface to operate terminal services applications at multiple machines throughout a facility. 

Another example I saw recently involved the use of a tablet PC for test and measurement applications. At NI Week (National Instruments’ annual event), I had a chance to speak with Chris Delvizis, product marketing manager for data acquisition at NI. He demonstrated how to develop portable measurement applications using LabVIEW on an HP Slate Windows 7 tablet PC.

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