From supply chain systems to warehouse management, the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed just how quickly and easily global disruptions can affect aspects of manufacturing. Especially now, as operations in a variety of industries grow more complex, paper-based processes are becoming increasingly challenging to maintain, making them vulnerable to these and other challenges. For these reasons, the role the Connected Worker has become more critical.
Companies are limited in their ability to respond to the crisis.
Said digital technologies allowed them to keep their operations running.
Out of polled companies that had no digital tools in place prior to the pandemic, 56 percent admitted they were limited in their ability to respond to the crisis. And, out of those companies that already had some digital technologies in place when the pandemic hit, an overwhelming 94 percent said these systems allowed them to keep their operations running.
One way to make digital technologies as accessible as possible, especially as industries recover from the pandemic, is to get the operators involved. By transforming them into “connected workers,” you can improve your operational resiliency, increase your overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) and future-proof your factory
The Connected Worker in Manufacturing
Totally immersed in their environments via connected technologies, connected workers — also called augmented workers — are operators that have various digital technologies, applications and tools at their fingertips, keeping them connected to their equipment and to each other. These technologies are critical to providing operators with all the information, services, and experiences they need to do their jobs quickly and efficiently. In addition, these tools can:
For example, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, operators would clock in for their shifts and chat with other operators about various plant activities to hand over one shift to the next. Then, with greater importance placed on social distancing during the pandemic, many manufacturers wanted to avoid unnecessary contact between workers. The right digital tools can minimize the amount of physical contact between personnel on the shop floor, empower operators to work more autonomously, and enable supervisors to remotely manage maintenance tasks and other assigned jobs.
Why It All Starts With The Connected Worker
The operator is at the heart of the shop floor.
These workers know precisely what’s happening when it comes to their equipment, and they know — better than anyone — what kind of data, information and processes can lead to improvements in speed, efficiency or productivity. But whether a plant is utilizing paper-based systems or an operation is reeling from the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic, operators’ knowledge about their equipment remains mostly in their heads. It is rarely tapped into or shared, even across shifts, making it difficult to maintain production processes if an operator is out sick or retires — the latter of which is contributing to an ever-widening skills gap (discussed more below).
Connected technologies overcome these challenges
Connected technologies overcome these challenges by empowering operators to make data-driven decisions, improve system-level processes, and easily share their knowledge with each other. For example, with the help of a connected worker platform, connected workers have instant access to an extensive, interactive knowledge base that consists of the latest standard operating procedures (SOPs), safety guidelines, root cause analysis (RCA) results and other knowledge items like videos — all from a smart device and always up-to-date.
As workers register more issues, deviations and solutions, this knowledge base grows, decreasing operators’ reliance on maintenance, engineers and other key personnel. In addition, because all essential information is now accessible, operators can easily transfer their knowledge from shift to shift and from plant to plant.
How Connected Workers Increase OEE
As a manufacturing strategy, investing in the connected worker brings many benefits. Because these operators have all the information they need to do their jobs within the knowledge base, they can make better, more informed decisions at any given moment. And, with the help of connected technologies, they tend to make less errors and work more efficiently. Another major advantage of these connected workers is the increase in overall equipment effectiveness (OEE).
Combining three factors
An invaluable production metric, OEE represents how well a manufacturing process is utilized compared to its maximum potential, and combines three factors: availability, performance and quality:
Connected Worker Safety
See, track and resolve issues quickly
Another benefit to the connected worker comes in the form of safety. With the help of a connected worker platform, these workers can use their phones to take photos of a broken machine or a puddle of oil on the floor, for example. They can then input these photos, along with some details, within a deviation management module that alerts supervisors, enabling them to see, track and resolve the issue quickly. Contrast this with the traditional paper-based method of registering equipment deviations or safety, health and environmental (SHE) issues using a piece of paper or an email; if you’re lucky, the SHE officer will get around to correcting the issue several weeks later. The issue will continue to reappear time and time again, generating frustration and a safety blind spot.
In addition, these digital platforms provide all the safety information about a machine within the knowledge base, providing workers with the most up-to-date information on how to perform their jobs with minimal risks. These tools include interactive safety checklists and assessments, and if anything is out of place, the operator can simply flag the issue directly within the system. Assigned job tasks even contain a safety panel that shows required personal protective equipment (PPE), lock-out tag-out levels, and other safety requirements.
In short, connected worker technologies provide workers with all the equipment and safety information they need when they need it, preventing your operators from making common mistakes during production. This advantage alone can unlock significant operational benefits, considering over 80 percent of production losses are caused by human error.
Connected Worker Software
In light of all these benefits, you may be wondering how to take your first steps toward making the connected worker part of your manufacturing strategy. Your first step is to assess your Industry 4.0 maturity level to determine and prioritize next steps. After that, you’ll want to ensure your strategy is centered around operators and their unique work processes in your factories. Then, to truly connect your operators, you’ll need a single, user-friendly and mobile-enabled connected worker platform that can connect all your equipment and technologies to your workers on the shop floor.
Connected worker platforms check all the boxes.
Using automated digital workflows, these platforms simplify and structure all work processes in a manageable and efficient way. They also facilitate the knowledge-sharing process between operators, shifts and plant locations. Having a single platform with a uniform desktop and mobile interface also increases operator effectiveness, providing connected workers with one single source of truth.
Here are just some of the production processes that connected worker platforms bring together, along with the functions connected workers can perform using their smart device:
Operators can carry out startup and shutdown tasks, as well as any jobs assigned to them. For assistance, they can also instantly access the latest technical manuals and instructions within the knowledge base.
Operators can troubleshoot and fix equipment with the help of checklists, perform routine maintenance tasks, register process deviations and perform an RCA.
Operators can easily register an improvement idea as part of their company’s continuous improvement (CI) efforts, check production dashboards, and view current tasks and processes with digital Obeya boards.
Training the Next Generation of Connected Workers
As mentioned earlier, connected worker platforms can help manufacturers close the skills gap, which is an increasingly pressing issue within the manufacturing world. Millennials, or those born between 1981 and 1996, are projected to make up 75 percent of the workforce by the year 2030, creating an ever-widening gap between the jobs left by retiring baby boomers and the skilled talent pool capable of filling them. This skills gap is projected to leave an estimated 2.4 million manufacturing positions unfilled over the next decade.
Quick and painless upskilling
Investing in the next generation of connected workers therefore means adapting your factory tools to operators that have already grown up with paperless technology. With the help of various interactive elements like digital forms, step-by-step instructions and videos, connected worker platforms can make upskilling these new workers a quick and painless process, enabling them to be more autonomous. At the same time, these tools reduce the time and resources required to formally train and onboard employees, instead making the learning process a continuous, ongoing activity that newer operators can experience at the machine. And, being more autonomous will make workers happier, reducing employee turnover.
And, as another bonus, these digital platforms enable manufacturers to tap into, capture and digitize the implicit knowledge, skills and resources of older operators before they retire. As time goes on and workers register more deviations, defects and solutions within the software, the knowledge base grows, reducing an organization’s dependence on critical experienced workers that have left or will leave the company. By centralizing all explicit and implicit knowledge within one integrated connected worker platform, manufacturers can also:
Implementing Digital Workflows in Your Factory
Connecting the dots
Mobile-enabled connected worker platforms are designed to connect the dots between your connected workers, equipment, Internet of Things (IoT) sensors and other technologies, unlocking greater automation capabilities and intelligence in the process. These low-code tools even let you create end-to-end, factory-specific automation workflows in a natural language environment, ensuring consistent product quality and reducing operator training time. For example, maybe you want to notify your safety officer once a new machine has been installed or you’d like to send automatic updates to your operators if an SOP has been updated. You can define these and other workflows without writing a single line of code and easily deactivate old flows that no longer meet your current needs.
These workflows — which can even incorporate external systems like IoT, manufacturing execution systems (MES) or ERP — consist of a trigger, as well as an unlimited number of actions like sending an email or push notification, registering a deviation, creating a maintenance request and many more. Connected worker platforms with these capabilities ensure your operators never miss a beat, keeping them connected to all the systems at play within your factory.
Learn More About Connected Worker Software
Connected worker platforms with automated workflow capabilities offer the single system of action you need to shift your focus to your operators — during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. In doing so, you can reap a number of benefits including greater operational resiliency, higher OEE and better productivity rates, enabling you to keep pace with any disruptions that come your way.