Parsable Blog

How To Achieve Operational Excellence With Connected Worker Technology?

Anisha Padamshi

 /

The Pathway to Operational Excellence Starts Here

It’s a uniquely challenging time for the manufacturing sector. Competition is fiercer than ever, with trying economic conditions and variable demand forcing companies to compete for a piece of the pie. As if that weren’t enough, the continued push toward batch-size-one personalization has greatly impacted how manufacturers compete.

Manufacturing resilience is being tested. Worker efficiency has never been more critical. Disruptions to the global supply chain have created barriers to productivity, making it more difficult than ever to keep up with demand while keeping expenses down. Manufacturers are now looking to operators to do more, with less.

On top of that, the coronavirus pandemic has placed an urgent new emphasis on safety for all manufacturing operations. Companies are eager to enact heightened security protocols to protect their workers, as they look for ways to maximize productivity in every shift, line and plant.

Combined, these powerful forces cry out for new solutions. More industry leaders are looking to the digital realm. They’re discovering that digitally connected workforces deliver greater productivity and quality across manufacturing operations, without compromising safety. Connected work essentially reinvents the way factory work gets done, enabling employees to move beyond siloed communication and guesswork, to predicting outcomes and responding to situations in real time, based on data. Everyone becomes a change agent. Everyone becomes a problem-solver. And continuous improvement becomes embedded in the process.

Industry leaders have a glimpse into the future of manufacturing, and they see connected work as the bridge that will take them there.

The Problem With Paper SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures)

Has the time finally come to turn the page on paper-based manufacturing? Paper-based processes are as old as supply chains, but they’ve become as outdated as stone tablets. As manufacturing procedures become more complex, factories that rely on manual systems find themselves increasingly compromised.

Compromise #1 More Latency, Less Efficiency

By relying on what is essentially an analog manufacturing environment, paper-based processes invariably produce costly delays. First, there’s all of the paperwork itself – the time it takes to submit, review and reply to it. The resulting back-and-forth can seriously reduce employee productivity, even as it increases the likelihood of human error.

Compromise #2 Isolation, Not Innovation

Paper-based manufacturing processes effectively force your frontline workers to operate with blinders on.

They can see what’s happening directly in front of them, but not what’s happening all around them. This creates isolation, can undermine frontline worker engagement and inhibits problem-solving. Simply put: it prevents factory employees from doing their best work.

Compromise #3 Can’t See the Forest for the Trees

Plant managers are negatively impacted, too. They’re forced to spend their time putting out fires instead of evaluating the conditions that sparked those fires in the first place. Quick fixes can save the day, but they’re no bridge to tomorrow. Finally, it’s the digital age. Who wants to work in a factory that still relies on the old way of doing things, with paper binders and laminated, photocopied procedures? If the idea is to attract younger, digitally savvy workers to the manufacturing industry, it’s time to turn the page to digital.

Adopting Digital Work Instructions

The argument for going digital is all around us. Look no further than the complex systems that connect our consumer lives. We constantly interact with our Internet of Things (IoT) devices and use them to engage with and enhance numerous aspects of daily life. From smart locks to doorbell cameras to air quality monitors, connected devices have changed the way we live. In many cases, they’ve improved it. What if they could improve the way we work? If our households benefit from a state-of-the-art connectivity plan, shouldn’t your factory?

Connected work brings the advantages of consumer connectivity to manufacturing. It digitizes and codifies, connecting frontline workers to the people, information and systems they need to accelerate productivity and do their jobs safely. Imagine digitized SOPs, automated checklists, and interactive workflows. Decreased start-up, shut-down and changeover times. Improved procedural adherence. Fewer unexpected stops and unplanned downtime. Real-time data to fuel predictive maintenance initiatives.

Now, imagine all of that across your manufacturing operations.

Interlinked technology may be spurred by advances in the consumer arena, but it’s uniquely suited to the manufacturing sphere. It arms workers with the data they need to become informed problem-solvers. It affords plant and line managers with deeper insights to work, resulting in improved productivity, quality and safety. It enables everyone to more easily stay on top of changes to procedures and keep the system current. Coordinators, supervisors, engineers, technicians – everyone works as one.

The question is how to get there?

How to Get There

Workers want to do their best work and feel secure on the factory floor. You want to help them. With connected work, you’re able to protect your workers and give them the modern tools they need to accelerate productivity. It’s the future of manufacturing, in three manageable steps.

Step 1) Build Your Digital Foundation

Digitizing your paper-based processes begins by providing workers with the modern digital tools they need to access processes quickly and easily, and perform work tasks safely and efficiently, while capturing details needed to ensure compliance, drive continuous improvement and make your operations fully audit proof. These so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution tools set in motion a level of automation and collaboration that paves the way for operational excellence:

  • They make static, paper-based procedures mobile and interactive.
  • They help guide worker inputs and trigger key actions in systems and machines.
  • They enable workers to collaborate on site or remotely, an especially important consideration in light of COVID-19 physical distancing norms.

Digital Identity

Building a digital foundation involves establishing secure digital identity protocols. Digitization enables systems and devices to exchange vast amounts of information. The deluge of resulting data affords numerous benefits, including allowing manufacturers to improve quality through insights gleaned from the millions of data points captured.

Then there’s your workforce.

Factory workers need the ability to communicate with others and to provide input and suggestions to management and specialists.Management needs to be able to return the favor, from anywhere, in real time.

Fewer barriers to communication improve overall efficiency and results with less slack. But, it’s more than that. Digital identity really means digital representation; it equips employees across your operation with the free flow of information and deeper understanding of work they need to improve and optimize performance, and that only exists in a digitized work environment. Everyone needs to be who they say they are. Trusted digital IDs offer the crucial mix of flexibility and security.

Internet Connectivity

The highly digitized nature of connected worker technology makes Internet connectivity a must-have for your factory. Lack of a reliable connection contributes to worker isolation, which can introduce costly delays that come at the expense of operational excellence.

The good news is that the increased reach of today’s high-speed networks makes it a can-have proposition for your operation, regardless of where it may be located. If the International Space Station can benefit from a reliable wireless connection, so can your factory.

Step 2) Connect Your Factory Workers

Ironically, the end of paper-based operations actually helps to ensure your workers are on the same page – virtually, that is. There are effectively three ways of connecting workers that play a critical role in any factory’s pursuit of operational excellence.

  • Connecting workers to other workers, whether it’s teammates or knowledge experts, they may rely on to guide them through important steps in the process. It’s about how these worker-to-worker connections happen, providing employees with photos, audio, links, GIFs and videos that can all be embedded within SOPs – whatever is required to relay specific actions and ensure optimum communication.
  • Connecting workers to information they need to perform their tasks, as well as to digitally or manually captured data points they can use to perform those tasks more efficiently and more effectively.
  • Connecting workers to systems – enterprise planning, maintenance, quality, warehousing – and enabling them to both better intuit those systems and how they work together, as well as push and pull data from those systems seamlessly. Similarly, connecting workers to machines improves critical human machine interfaces, essential for optimal performance and vital to competitive parity as the number of IoT devices worldwide continues to climb.

The right digital solution effectively connects all three; it strengthens person-to-person collaboration; it enhances person-to-machine communication; it enables everyone to do their jobs better.

Step 3) Transform Your Operations With Continuous improvement

Continuous improvement in the digital age relies on real-time operational inputs. When you’re able to collect and analyze real-time data at every point during the manufacturing process, optimization is suddenly baked in.

These real-time inputs offer powerful insights into work and allow you to turn those insights into actionable steps.

It’s about having the analytics you need to create systems and processes that are both predictive and prescriptive.

It’s about addressing your factory’s needs today and in the future.

Remember the investment you made to equip your workers with modern digital tools? This is where it starts to pay off. Your ROI won’t know what hit it.

Not All Digital Solutions Are Created Equal

Many experts agree that digitization is a bridge to the future of manufacturing, but not everyone agrees about what that bridge looks like. There are plenty of digital tools available to your factory; each technology features pros and cons, and not every tool is worth the expense or even integral to your success.

  • Mobile or Web-Based Apps offer an effective way to integrate, organize and manage operational assets. However, too often they are stand-alone applications that offer minimal data capture capabilities and can be costly to keep updated.
  • App Builders can be a useful way to tailor your web-based apps to your factory’s specific infrastructure, provided someone on your team is dedicated to working with IT.
  • Work Execution Tools allow manufacturing operations to organize, complete and track tasks. Because they exist outside your operation’s knowledge base, efficiencies they bring to your workflow may be compromised or incomplete.
  • Knowledge Base Tools can simplify the sharing of best practices across operations. However, they too can suffer from isolation issues. Tribal knowledge and absent task functionality (and vice versa), can lead to confusion and make it difficult to drive process improvements.
  • Remote Expert Technologies offer an efficient means of improving real-time communications and collaboration capabilities. Yet again, they also run the risk of spreading tribal knowledge and being disconnected from integrated workflows.

The truth is all of these functionalities will be required to connect your workers and achieve operational excellence. The key is not to settle (or exhaust your budget) on any single ad hoc tool that only delivers part of what you need. It’s about creating an approach that encompasses all of the solutions you’ll need to maximize efficiency, improve worker safety and create a higher standard of production quality.

Conclusion: Advancing Manufacturing Forward

Technology and manufacturing have always been linked, none more so than today. Lean manufacturing these days depends on increased levels of automation that lessen the need for manual work by integrating every step in the production process. In today’s hyper competitive economy, it’s the best way to effectively reduce waste without sacrificing productivity.

Connected work represents a new way of managing factories, one that accelerates the migration away from linear, paper-based procedures toward dynamic, interconnected systems. It fosters continuous improvement by strengthening compliance monitoring and supplying the prescriptive and predictive analytics operational excellence demands. It increases efficiency, reduces slack and boosts productivity at an industrial scale.

But, really, it’s about people. Connected work improves workforce communication and facilitates real-time collaboration. It gives workers, on and off the factory floor, the information they need to be change agents and problem-solvers. It protects worker safety, which is the biggest benefit of all.

Frontline workers, plant managers, C-suite executives – everyone connected to your manufacturing operation stands to gain from a process that transforms how work gets done. Operational excellence is the destination. Connected work is the bridge that can take you there.