When we talk about digital transformation, many people think of robots, AI, technologies and machines to replace human work. However, humans will always play an important role in the production environment.
Successful digital transformation is not about implementing technologies that replace people, but about empowering people to work more efficiently, make better decisions with more information, and be more comfortable.
Today, let's talk about the role of people in the IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things Landscape). What is a "connected worker" and what are the benefits of a digital shop floor? Find out this and more in this article!
The majority of workers in industrial companies are employed in manufacturing, field service or similar non-office jobs. In many places, paper-based processes are still used, such as the production of components based on work instructions on paper. In the process, mountains of documents and folders accumulate. Fortunately, the digital transformation is not stopping here either. Work in the production environment is changing and companies can also use the benefits of digital tools here!
Due to the advantages offered by the support of a digital shop floor, more and more workers are not only open to new technologies, but also want the technological support.
What do we mean by “connected worker”?
The connectedness of workers does not only affect the people on the shop floor. Digital solutions change (and improve!) the working environment of people at all levels of the company. While connected workers benefit from fast-response systems, digital solutions also bring many advantages for managers. Thanks to connectivity, they gain better insights into the shop floor processes.
“Every worker who is integrated into his/her environment through connected technologies is a ‘connected worker’.”
What makes networked technologies work is that data is exchanged in real time with other systems. In this way, workers are integrated into a larger system (consisting of hardware and software components). The workers become part of a real-time data system.
Through the support of networked technologies, workers are empowered to work more productively. This is reflected in better results, more efficient decisions and increased data quality.
What are the benefits of “connected workers” and the use of new technologies on the shop floor?
If employees on the shop floor are integrated into a connected system, this brings many advantages.
- More transparency: Connected Workers generate data while you work. This means that individual process steps along the entire value chain become traceable and transparent. For example, it can be quickly determined at which point in the production process the component is and which steps are still unfinished.
- Less error-prone processes: If workers are equipped with digital tools, quality checks can be carried out directly at the point of origin and errors can be detected early. Especially in manufacturing processes with many subcontractors, quality can be significantly improved.
- Better knowledge transfer: Because connected workers have access to all relevant information – exactly when they need it. The onboarding of new employees can be significantly improved, for example, through interactive work instructions.
- Better communication: Connected workers have the tools they need to collaborate better. Important information can be passed on to colleagues easily and without delay, and communication is contextual and direct.
Which technologies are suitable for the digitalisation of the shop floor?
An important prerequisite for the digitalisation of the shop floor is the integration of various technologies. Let’s take a look at the technological possibilities.
An important foundation is the platform that connects components and enables the management and provision of connected endpoints. It serves as an important link between the data-collecting end devices and consists of a series of integrated software functions that improve decision-making, operational transparency and controllability of machines and plants and enable the management of objects in asset-intensive industrial landscapes. By processing in the cloud, collected data can be analysed in real time.
In addition to manual data collection by humans, smart sensors and IoT devices make data collection complete. Data is collected via sensors and transmitted to the respective system in real time. The application makes sense especially for recurring checks such as temperature checks.
Interfaces and mobile devices
Rigid human-2-machine interfaces that are directly linked to machines have had their day. Modern manufacturing companies now have tablets and smartphones on the machines, which can be used to control commands in a mobile and flexible way.
With mobile devices, workers and decision-makers have the great advantage of always having relevant information at hand and being able to document it seamlessly. Particularly in the context of quality controls during tours, a mobile solution for data collection is needed to avoid time-consuming recording on paper. Mobile devices are also suitable for daily shop floor meetings on the production floor to view data or document problems.
How do I achieve a connected shop floor?
The digital transformation of the shop floor sounds like a big undertaking. But don’t let that scare you away. Because the good news is: starting small is worth it!
It is good to start with small steps. A misconception that prevails in many companies is that the digital transformation is “one big project” that you have to get behind you. On the contrary: the transformation to a digital company is not a one-off project, but rather a continuous process. Turning everything upside down at the same time involves more risk and is more likely to lead to uncertainty among employees.
Usually, the best way to implement digital solutions is to start with small pilot projects (or proof-of-concepts). This way you gain practical know-how and see how digital solutions work best in your company.
Step 1: Identify your use case
Determine which processes, activities and communication channels you want to digitise. Find out what data you need to measure your success and make better decisions.
Before you start implementing new technologies and new software, ask yourself the following questions:
- What exactly do your existing processes look like?
- Which problems should be solved or improved?
- What information and data are relevant to you?
- What information and data are best suited to measure performance?
Talk to your staff to find out what problems and improvement points exist and to understand them better.
Step 2: Start a proof-of-concept or pilot project
A clearly defined use case is best suited for this, the further development of which brings a lot of benefit at manageable investment costs.
Through a proof-of-concept or pilot project, it is already possible to determine on a small scale whether the new technologies solve the problems or improve performance. Use data and performance indicators to measure these impacts.
Active exchange with your staff is essential: When introducing new solutions, communicate with your shop floor staff which improvements are to be achieved with the new tool. Provide training to your staff on the new tools if needed.
After the proof-of-concept or pilot project, take stock of the result and plan the next steps on the basis of these findings.
Step 3: Further roll-out of digital solutions
Use the findings from pilot projects to better implement the next steps! With the help of smaller start-up projects, know-how on digitalisation projects can already be built up internally.
If a solution proves successful in small start-up projects, you can expand it to other areas and implement it on a larger scale.
Collect feedback and stay tuned to continuously improve your shop floor with digital tools.
Use Cases: Examples for use cases of “Connected Worker” in industrial companies.
To make the topic of “Connected Workers” even more tangible, we present a few more examples of use cases here.
Digital and time-saving, hazards, defects, safety inspections and checks can be recorded on mobile devices and contribute to an increase in safety.
Field staff are supported by digital solutions and have easier access to all the information they need.
Digital recording and documentation of quality controls. In contrast to analogue documentation, here it is immediately visible at a glance when and where errors occur.
The “connected worker” on the shop floor is therefore not just a concept, but represents concrete possibilities for industrial companies to support their employees and work more effectively.
Supporting workers in industrial companies with digital, networking technologies is an essential building block in the digital transformation.
The idea of the “networked worker” is not a dream of the future, but can already be achieved now by implementing new technologies. This does not have to be a big, risky challenge, but quite the opposite: start with a small pilot project and then expand the networking technologies step by step in the company.
Would you like to digitalise your shop floor and achieve more efficiency in your processes?
We show you how you can use Testify to digitalise your test processes, assembly-related inspections, work instructions and much more.