Siemens sells $20 iPad app to industries for product management

Two customers roll out app to service workers in factories and in the field

Siemens introduced a $20 iPad app for product life-cycle management in early April, and since then, at least two large companies have deployed the app on iPads to help their workers maintain large pieces of equipment and perform field service calls.

Siemens PLM Software, a unit of Siemens, created the Teamcenter Mobility app, which is on sale in the App Store. It works as a client app that connects to a company's Teamcenter software and retrieves data about company products and work processes, said Dave Taylor, senior director of portfolio solutions for the Siemens unit. The PLM unit has 70,000 customers and has licensed nearly 7 million seats of its software, making it a global leader.

Since the April launch, there have been a "few thousand" downloads of the app, Taylor said, with many more companies experimenting with how to use it. One of the customers that's deploying Teamcenter Mobility is based in the U.S. and the other is in Europe, although Taylor didn't name either of them.

One of those customers is a manufacturer that has provided iPads running Teamcenter Mobility to technicians who service enormous factory-based machines. The users carry the iPads with the app loaded and can check Teamcenter data to get information on a particular machine, review engineering specs or watch training videos on installation or maintenance procedures, Taylor said.

The advantage to carrying the lightweight iPad, which is connected to the Teamcenter data wirelessly, is that technicians can stay in place on the large machines being serviced, rather than having to climb down a ladder and find a workstation to call up the information, Taylor said.

In the other Teamcenter Mobility deployment, service technicians use the iPad app in the field, checking equipment information over a cellular connection, Taylor said.

Once a field technician begins a service call, he can supplement information in the app by opening a FaceTime video chat session over Wi-Fi to consult with a senior technician or an expert, Taylor said. Siemens has considered adding a quick link for launching video chats from inside the Teamcenter Mobility app.

Siemens also plans to build an app for Android tablets, and a similar app for smartphones, Taylor said.

For the most part, customers haven't been concerned that the iPads may not be rugged enough for carrying in the field, Taylor said. However, they are concerned about keeping corporate data secure on the iPads.

"We don't hear a lot of dialogue on ruggedness of the iPads," Taylor said, "Instead, customers wonder what happens it a user loses an iPad or it is stolen, since there's company stuff cached on them."

Basic protections are in place: The Teamcenter data is encrypted, and users of the iPad app have to enter passwords to reach that data, he said. Also, the data can be remotely removed from iPads that are lost or stolen, he said.

The app will work on a single iPad to connect the tablet to a company's Teamcenter server. Siemens is offering a free trial version of the software that customers can test by making connections to a Teamcenter server operated by Siemens.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen, or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

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