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Advancements in communication and information technology are paving the way for unprecedented connectedness between devices. Gadgets are continually becoming more intelligent, and automated interactions between virtual and physical equipment are more common than ever.
However, innovations in cyber-physical systems make the human element — which also plays into such technologies — easy to overlook. As more sophisticated tools become available for industrial applications, the specialized role of workers also keeps evolving.
Here are five of the most anticipated benefits for workers in a connected environment:
One of the critical steps towards continuous improvement is striving for simplicity in processes. A connected worker using modern tools can break traditional limits; a truly effective worker takes this a step further — using technology as a natural part of everyday work. It can take time to grasp the workings of a digital system, but the investment pays significantly in the long run.
Imagine, for instance, how mobile devices are revolutionizing tasks as simple as note-taking — or as complex as remote sensing and control. Some dated methods involving manual tracking and pen-and-paper solutions could work — but not with the convenience of a handheld device.
Additionally, the administrative tasks associated with planning and scheduling work can take ages in offline systems. In contrast, a connected worker within an interconnected system is the foundation of a less frustrating work environment, and tasks that used to require a lot of effort are done in a fraction of the time.
A piece of information is only helpful if it reaches the intended group, which can make sense of it. In a typical corporation, it is easy to fall into the trap of working in silos, isolated from the many different branches of the end-to-end process. The valuable work that individuals or teams put in can improve decisions remarkably, but only with the right level of visibility.
Insights about frontline work, for example, provide a more comprehensive view that helps management make data-driven decisions. If an incident on the floor requires work or maintenance, its resolution might require a collective effort from multiple teams.
Maintenance teams are most likely the first responders, with critical support from warehousing, inventory or purchasing groups. All the actions from the entire chain need strong collaboration to get the parts and execute a fix on time.
Imagine the many moving parts within a facility and all the iterations an operational process can go through. With a connected workforce, enabling seamless data gathering and an uninterrupted flow of information can feed right back into analysis. Increased visibility leads to aligning actual events with higher-level strategies, objectives and performance measurements.
It is obvious that this interconnected technology has gained enormous momentum, making it virtually unstoppable. And naturally, a more attractive work environment is one that keeps up with new ideas, products and tactics.
An organization with a proven track record of using a connected worker approach attracts high-level applicants. In a tough labor market, surveys indicate that workers are particularly interested in jobs with significant learning and growth opportunities. The integration of a connected strategy directly boosts the prospects for professional and personal development.
And this applies to current workers of an organization as well: providing an environment that promotes continuous improvement can alleviate the causes of stress. An inclusive program can improve employee satisfaction by creating possibilities, making learning accessible yet involved.
A connected approach drives efficiency, which improves the overall operational effectiveness of an organization. Seamless communication across equipment and operators provides a complete view of the processes; consequently, a broadened perspective can uncover the various causes of inefficiency. From there, it’s just a small step to take the necessary actions and eliminate wasteful practices.
Another significant benefit of a connected environment is improving safety practices. Certain aspects of production can pose risks to the workforce, particularly in hazardous environments and extreme manufacturing processes.
Using specialized sensing instruments, along with continuous communication and mobility, makes workers more aware of their surroundings. Procedures performed in harsh conditions are another opportunity for automated operation with human oversight through a connected worker platform.
An organization's rate of development increases in parallel with its technological and worker connectedness maturity. As companies undergo digital transformation, technological manufacturing platforms ramp up their capabilities via advanced analytics and autonomous operations.
The desired level of interaction between a system's technical and human components can be attained through simplified processes and increased effectiveness. Employees can refocus their efforts on more value-adding activities if their day-to-day operations take only a fraction of the time. Meanwhile, the increased collaboration and actionable insights make existing processes more efficient.
In a perfect world, standardized procedures and lean operations eliminate waste and inefficiency. However, reaching the standards is possible only with a proper system that tracks and evaluates current working methods. Most conventional practices fall short in highlighting deviations from a predefined procedure. Even with a process in place, limitations in system capabilities can hamper work standardization.
Connectivity, and the ability to make information visible, allow workers to achieve more consistent results; real-time instructions ensure that service implementation meets the set standards. Such practices also prevent workers from making unintentional mistakes or overlooking procedural steps.
Moreover, a connected environment promotes a more thorough way of documenting ongoing and previous actions. The details that workers provide in their work updates can be used for future tasks: keeping track of specific actions by using maintenance platforms provides a collaborative space for improvement and standardization.
In a competitive space such as the manufacturing industry, adaptability and a culture of continuous improvement are crucial for gaining an advantage. The next generation of workers is embracing the mindset and recognizing the growth and development potential of a connected workforce.
Incorporating technology into a collaborative system should be an inclusive strategy that provides the right tool for the job. An organization's diverse workforce will have a wealth of skills and experience that can expand exponentially, enabling the workers to maximize their potential.