In industrial settings, two-way radios still a smart choice

By Michael Koch, Motorola Solutions September 18, 2014

Consumer technology versus digital radios. Which one makes the most sense for manufacturing and industrial communications? Interestingly, Motorola Solutions’ recent survey of the state of plant communications reveals that two-way radios and cell phones remain in a dead heat as the primary means of communications in plants nationwide. Yet critical differences between the two are worth careful consideration before making technology investments.

With technology advancements moving so fast, it’s challenging to evaluate which communications solutions will meet your current needs and also scale to accommodate future demands. Determining the ideal fit of technology to business goals, worker, and function is a very important part of the equation and ultimately impacts your total cost of operation. As you evaluate new device investments, consider the communications capabilities you can’t afford to do without.

It’s very important to arm workers with the right tools for the job to ensure it’s done correctly, efficiently, and safely. The same holds true with communications technology. While everyone wants the latest and greatest capabilities that consumer devices deliver, they also want technology that helps them work efficiently and is durable enough to withstand harsh environments. As failure rates for smartphones exceed 20%, failure rates for rugged devices, such as two-way radios, continue to plummet.

They are designed to handle shocks, slips, vibration, and drops, and operate for the entire shift on a single charge. In contrast, consumer technology is designed to meet mass demand, and will never provide the security features or durability to stand up to the rigors of continuous use. And shoehorning those into your operation will end up costing you more money in the long run-up to 51% more.

Reliable voice communications

Seems pretty straightforward, but in an enterprise or industrial setting, it’s anything but. Private voice technology has enjoyed many advancements over the last decade, all designed to make conversations more reliable and user friendly while providing the specific communications coverage required by the users. The voice quality of consumer devices has evolved as well, but will never deliver the features that are most appropriate for an enterprise setting largely because they are intended for manufacturing and industrial communications. Their unreliability and coverage limitations also can prove problematic.

Digital two-way radios are designed to be fully customizable providing you control over what your workers can access or, more importantly, cannot access in order to keep focused on the job. In addition, supervisory control features in digital radio systems ensure that critical messages will be heard, even when workers are busy on noncritical calls.

What are some of the features that matter most? Voice quality has to be loud enough to hear and be heard in any environment-even hands-free-with ambient noise from wind, machines, trucks, or the road filtered out. The ability to connect and reliably extend push-to-talk capabilities inside the four walls and across your PBX outside the four walls allows greater worker productivity and lowers operating costs. And only two-way digital radios can deliver it.

Built to last

Enterprise digital radios are built tough. They are rugged, durable, and designed to work reliably in the toughest environments. A dropped device will not shatter screens or interrupt workflows. Water, ice, salt, sand, heat, blunt force impacts-digital radios are designed to withstand it all and keep on working. Devices should be selected based on the environment and the work that needs to be accomplished in that environment.

Smartphone technology is cool, but one drop on a concrete floor and business critical work would come to a complete stop. Enterprise-class devices are built to last longer, don’t break as often, and are easier to repair. As you would expect, increased durability also increases costs, but for most applications the investment pays huge dividends in the future in decreased repair costs and reduced downtime, which directly impacts profits.

Keep business operations running

Time is money and calculating total cost of ownership never goes out of style. You need to keep costs down to keep profits up. Studies from multiple leading industry analyst firms, such as Gartner and VDC, suggest that over three years, the total cost of a typical consumer smartphone is actually 25% to 50% higher than the total cost of a similar enterprise-grade device. Unplanned downtime not only impedes workflow and output, it creates a cascading effect that impacts worker productivity. Each device failure costs 80 minutes of productivity and over 2.5 hours of support time.

The old adage of "you get what you pay for" still holds true today, and for plant communications, digital two-way radio communications remain the smart bet.

Michael Koch is Energy and utility principal at Motorola Solutions.