James Miller, managing director of Brentwood Communications, explains why two way radio continues to play such an important role in manufacturing.
Like most modern manufacturing sectors, the packaging industry is modern, efficient, productive and technologically advanced. Over the past few decades, processes have increasingly been given over to automation as more and more sophisticated machinery has become available which can handle bulk precision operations at great speed and with great accuracy.
At the same time, the packaging industry has come under unique pressure to reduce its carbon footprint, forcing companies to invest heavily in R&D and new technologies to slash the amount of materials in packaging and ensure more can be recycled, without any impact on the quality of the final product. The result has been that quantities of packaging used per person have remained static for the past decade while consumption has increased, and the proportion of landfill waste coming from packaging has fallen to 3%.
In this context, you might well ask – what significance does two way radio have for the industry? In terms of technology, packaging manufacturers surely have bigger fish to fry than worrying about walkie talkies?
Well, that might be so. But that doesn’t mean the role two way radio can play in any manufacturing operation should be overlooked. Packaging producers depend on efficiency, speed and accuracy to maintain margins, and they in turn depend on effective coordination. Communication is key, and that is where two way radio comes in.
Two way radio has a long history of being used in industry, and for very good reason – it provides mobile communication so colleagues can keep in touch on the move. Rather than traipsing the length of a production floor to pass a message on, supervisors can simply press a button and talk, saving time and therefore improving efficiency.
Nowadays, of course, everybody carries a mobile phone with them, so some people question if there is still a need for two way radio. The key thing is, professional two way radio models are built for use in industrial settings, while smartphones are not. Two way radio handsets are built to be rugged and robust, to withstand accidental impact from being dropped and so on, and to withstand potential damage from water, dust and more. Mobile phones are not.
Similarly, two way radios are designed with convenience in mind and for ease of use when you are working in a busy, fast-paced environment. The standard mode of operation is a push-to-talk button, a simple one-press function to make a call. With a mobile phone, you have to scroll through menus to select contacts. When you are busy, it is much easier just to press a button. Two way radios are also set up to broadcast to every user on a network, so are ideal for sharing information across large teams. Modern models, however, often come with the option of private or group calling, or you can allocate different channels to different teams to reduce congestion.
A big benefit of two way radio is that it offers specific team coordination options. Top end digital handsets come pre-loaded with functions like work ticket allocation and dispatch. Alternatively, you can set up desktop radio units or even PC-based software consoles to act as command centres for the whole network.
While not considered to be significantly above the norm across most industries, the manufacturing sector recorded 60,000 non-fatal workplace injuries in 2016/17, and 19 fatal injuries. As packaging machinery is used across most manufacturing sectors, it is considered a widespread risk factor – in the food and drink industry, for example, around 30% of all workplace injuries are caused by packaging conveyors.
As with improving efficiency, raising safety standards depends on good communication. The majority of two way radio models come with a range of features designed to help work teams manage and monitor colleague safety effectively. A standard feature is an Emergency Button or Emergency Override, which either triggers an alarm set off on every handset in the network, or interrupts all calls so critical messages can get through.
Other common safety features include Lone Worker monitoring and Man Down. Lone Worker, as the name suggests, is intended for when personnel are working alone in a potentially hazardous area. It requires them to check back in with the network at fixed intervals, otherwise an alarm is sounded. Man Down uses a motion sensor to detect falls, usually setting off an alarm if it picks up that the user is horizontal or if they stop moving.
Another development in two way radio safety features is the inclusion of GPS location tracking on some models, while many also have integrated Bluetooth which can be used with beacon technology for the same purpose. The benefit of this is, if an accident does happen, the user’s location can be identified so assistance can arrive as soon as possible.
The next phase of manufacturing automation is seeing the evolution of smart technology and the Internet of Things (IoT) for industry. The networking of smart sensors in processing equipment means there is more data available about systems performance than ever before, and this can be used to optimise operations in real time to drive efficiency and output.
While the IoT is built on the back of machine-to-machine (M2M) communication, it is critical that there is also effective machine-to-human communication, namely in the form of making data accessible. As well as connecting your colleagues via voice, modern digital two way radios offer powerful data processing capabilities perfect for connecting to machines. If, for example, there is a problem detected in a machine, alerts can be sent via two way radio handsets and maintenance teams sent immediately, reducing downtime and therefore boosting overall efficiency.
For more information about Brentwood Communications, click here.