In this two-part series, we’ll explore how the manufacturing workday will radically change with wearables and connected workers.
Worker safety is paramount to manufacturing companies and critical from both humanitarian and business perspectives. To understand the implications and importance of safety on business operations, it’s helpful to examine some statistics. According to the International Labor Organization:
- Every 15 seconds, 151 workers suffer a work-related accident.
- Every year, there are 317 million non-fatal, work-related accidents worldwide.
- Every year, 321,000 people die because of occupational accidents.
The societal implications of these incidents are sweeping, even if you only consider the economic impacts on the families of fatally injured workers. The business implications are even more far-reaching. In the United States alone, workplace injuries and illnesses cost employers more than $220 billion annually, and 27 million working days are lost per year. These rising costs also negatively impact insurance companies and coverage rates.
Stepping up productivity
While improving the safety of workers can yield significant business benefits, improving productivity can also dramatically improve a company’s bottom line. When it comes to digital, the potential business impacts are well understood. 50% of companies expect a boost in productivity from connecting workers to one another and to resources, and 85% expect their field workers to be connected by 2020. This enthusiasm is not unfounded – the potentials are significant. When Lockheed Martin connected its F-35 aircraft assembly plants, for example, engineering accuracy increased by 96% while employees worked 30% faster.
Reading bottom up, this chart takes us from commitment through processes, all the way up to profit:
These figures show that Digital is being heralded as the biggest game changer since the industrial revolution. To understand the impacts, it might be useful to examine two very smart wearables that will change the way people work forever.
Factories are rife with hazards. For example, a worker may unknowingly walk into a welding zone, an area with fast moving conveyer belts, a high voltage area, or a zone earmarked for poisonous chemicals. In addition to these types of static hazards, the very nature of production can present dynamic hazards. For example, a plant worker might be standing in a perfectly safe area when a crane moves in with a large block of steel positioned right above his head. In order to identify these kinds of precarious situations, it is necessary to track workers and vehicles within the factory bounds.
“Smart helmets” equipped with sensors can make that possible. These sensors can connect to local gateways, which in turn, connect to factories’ wireless infrastructures. With this type of connected system in place, workers can be advised of both static and dynamic hazards. In addition to the monitoring of physical objects (including people), sensor-mounted helmets can detect gas leakages in confined areas and alert workers and supervisors. Man-down scenarios can also be detected, alerting supervisors on duty and enabling them to take an action.
Other interesting innovations prevent accidents by monitoring fatigue. Often, industrial workers do not recognize they are over-tired and they keep working, jeopardizing their own health and endangering others, especially if they’re operating industrial vehicles. Tiny cameras mounted on smart helmets can continuously monitor eyelids. If lids close past a set threshold , a worker will receive a fatigue alert. His supervisor will also receive notification. Fatigue can also be detected when specific biometric measurements exceed a limit or when a worker works beyond normal duty hours. Intelligence can be built into the system so that if a worker removes his helmet during work hours, he receives an alert from the system, but if he removes his helmet during lunch, he does not. A smart helmet and complete system is shown below:
Industrial equipment is complex and often, workers do not have the expertise to perform certain types of required maintenance work. When experts are brought in to help, time and costs are increased. Two digital technologies that are combined in a clever, easy-to-wear solution can alleviate this problem. Here’s how: “smart glasses” with built-in support for voice recognition and Augmented Reality (AR) can be leveraged to intelligently direct maintenance work in less time and with less stress on the budget. When a worker is not able to do the repair work he is assigned to, he can talk to the smart glass and an AI-powered expert can provide contextual help. When automated support is not sufficient for the job, a worker can ask for additional help and the automaton can provide a list of available experts with relevant experience. The worker can then choose one of the available experts and set up a video call. The remote expert sees what the worker sees in the field and can direct . If that does not work, the expert can take a picture of what he sees on his device, annotate relevant parts with his finger and send the annotated picture back. With this true to “real life” annotated picture of the physical equipment, the appropriate steps are clear.
Smart helmets and glasses are just the beginning of the manufacturing’s new world, however. In my next blog, I’ll show how these elements are tied together, ultimately creating “connected workers” and changing the workday forever.