Deloitte defines a connected worker as any person whose working life is changing due to digital and other technologies.
Today we will try to answer two vital questions about manufacturing value chains: Why are connected workers needed? And how do you create a connected workforce?
First, a connected worker in manufacturing is more than a knowledge worker keying information at a workstation and retrieving the documents they need to execute their shift tasks. A modern connected worker uses mobile and AR-enabled devices to perform their job faster, more efficiently, and more accurately. Such a worker has all the information needed to execute tasks in the palm of their hand. Such a worker also uses automation and leverages data to continually deliver value and quality as a direct result of their actions. This worker is the future of the manufacturing frontline workforce. This worker is connected!
Why the Connected Worker?
Manufacturing organizations face several workforce challenges. Their experienced workers who built their operations from the ground up are aging, and new workers need to be hired and trained. The existing workforce has a sea of intricate process know-how and has learned this information over the years as issues were identified, resolved, and incorporated into revised SOPs. Process technology is changing, and with more automation comes the need for a workforce that is ready to use it efficiently and effectively to get the greatest value from the investment. This means that retaining existing workers with their information and knowledge base, retraining these workers for new process technology, and attracting new talent are formidable challenges for manufacturers.
Another consideration is how manufacturing value chains have traditionally used technology and made strategic technology investments. Most organizations have taken a top-down approach to their operational management when it comes to information technology and enterprise applications. Manufacturing organizations almost always have systems like the ERP, the CRM, the SCM, and the MES in some configuration that includes either a few or all of the applications mentioned. However, the frontline worker, the most important link between the shop floor and these enterprise applications, is still using paper-based forms, manuals, and checklists to execute their tasks.
The connected-worker paradigm bridges the gap between the frontline and the technology deployed across the business process while creating an intelligent and connected workforce. A connected worker has a better view of their tasks and is able to leverage real-time, actionable data to make well-informed decisions without any decision lag. Furthermore, all the information they need is available to them through their mobile devices, be it location-specific work instructions, SOPs, manuals, or equipment KPIs. A truly connected frontline is always in sync with the enterprise applications and leverages data from the ERP or the MES to better perform their jobs.
Manufacturers need to move to the connected-frontline paradigm in order to truly utilize the large capex they have poured into the automation, AI, and Industry 4.0 technology gamut. Moving to this paradigm means organizations will be able to retain their tribal knowledge, have faster worker onboarding, create intelligent frontlines, and gain higher resilience and agility in their businesses. And this takes us to our next question.
The first thing every organization must do when creating a connected-worker paradigm within their value chain is evaluate their existing application infrastructure and ask themselves whether they have a platform in place that can create an intelligent and connected frontline.
Most organizations will find that while they have many applications, very few are configured in a way that helps the frontline do more and connect with the enterprise and the process. This is where workforce intelligence and optimization platforms like Webalo come in.
As illustrated above in Figure 1, Webalo equips shop-floor personnel with the ability to learn their tasks and navigate their jobs through their mobile devices and AR-enabled wearables. The increased digital ability that comes with the platform allows manufacturers to attract new talent, retain and retrain the current workforce to be more digital, and preserve the current workforce’s knowledge in the form of digital SOPs, work instructions, and modified manuals for maintenance and troubleshooting. With Webalo apps, everything happening on the shop floor is converted into insights and knowledge that will be retained within the organization. Thus, a Workforce Intelligence Center is created where all workers old and new can gain insight and collaborate to learn faster and better use the resources at their disposal to create the maximum possible value.
Also, with the digitization of work instructions and with the whole process on a single platform, workers get step-by-step assistance to better perform their tasks and collaborate digitally. This breaks information silos and creates a more inclusive, more CI-driven operation with a focus on precision and efficiency. Errors and rework are reduced when workers can depend on their Webalo apps to drive their tasks and record their work. All of this makes for a leaner and better-managed operation.
When Webalo is used as a corporate asset over a period of time at multiple sites and across multiple simultaneous use cases, it leads to a complete digital transformation and the creation of a continuous, improvement-driven process. As illustrated in Figure 2, the use of a digital platform is absolutely critical to shaping the future of a given value chain. Having the right partner and choosing the right deployment strategy might just be a game changer when it comes to Industry 4.0 and larger transformation efforts.
Manufacturers need to understand why it is essential to change the existing definitions of semiskilled and skilled workers and replace them with the knowledge-driven and connected-worker paradigm. The connected worker who uses digital tools to execute their job is the future of manufacturing and could possibly determine how a company fares with the age of digital twins and industrial metaverse fast approaching. We recommend talking to frontline workforce optimization experts to learn how the Webalo Platform can help you transform your frontline for the future.