In a previous blog, I outlined the staggering impacts of worker accidents on business and society. I also explored two interesting innovations that can effectively change the workday for manufacturing employees forever: smart helmets and smart glasses. But while the smart helmet and glasses are core components of a “connected worker” solution, a platform-based enterprise system platform is what really makes the solution boost productivity and safety. To understand what is needed, we’ll first explore a typical workflow.
A Typical Day and a Typical Workflow
The workflow for a connected worker in a factory consists of the work assignment, work execution, performance analysis and safety monitoring:
Work Assignments: When a worker swipes his badge – which has been enabled by Radio-frequency identification (RFID) – his supervisor is simultaneously notified. After putting on a smart helmet, the worker swipes the RFID-enabled badge on the helmet and pairs the helmet with the badge for the duration of the workday. The supervisor can assign jobs from the system and the worker will receive assignments on a smart watch.
Work Execution: Smart glasses manage work execution by providing step-by-step instructions delivered via ss. The connected worker can interact with his smart glasses, follow automated instructions, and receive help from a remote expert to complete jobs if needed.
Performance Analysis: An analytics engine can analyze the performance of the worker against peers and recommend corrective actions if performance levels fall below expectations.
Safety Monitoring: As described in my previous blog post, smart helmets equipped with sensors can monitor static and dynamic hazards, detect gas leakages and alert supervisors to man-down scenarios. They also prevent accidents by monitoring fatigue levels of workers and alerting when thresholds have been surpassed, preventing a variety of possible accidents.
Another time saving benefit with these systems is inventory and part replacement. For example, there are cases when a remote expert determines that it’s not possible to repair equipment until a damaged part is replaced. In such a case, the system will automatically place a replacement order via the Enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. When the part becomes available, the system will alert the worker about its availability in the factory warehouse. The worker can go to the warehouse, pick up the part and replace with the new part to complete the repair job.
It takes an intelligently designed and fully-integrated platform to tie all of these pieces together and make them work seamlessly.
Making reality: begin with a great platform
The diagram below details one platform that can make the “connected worker” system a reality. The system is comprised of six components:
- Device Controller: This component is two-prong. On one side, it interfaces with environmental, health and other sensors to receive data. On the other, it interfaces with displays and buzzers via control signals. Thus, this device controller is responsible for local action at the smart helmet level and communication with the edge gateway controller at the same time.
- Edge Gateway Controller: On the southbound side, it is responsible for discovering devices, providing access control and provisioning devices. On the northbound side, it connects with the central system, provides information from devices, and receives control signal from the central system.
- Central System: The intelligence of the connected worker system resides in this component as it correlates information from sensors and location systems to execute both the safety as well as productivity apps for connected worker. It also orchestrates the entire workflow for the industrial worker via the operations app.
- Location Manager: Using a triangulation algorithm, this system is responsible for computing the location of assets and workers. The location manager also provides location-aware services like geo-fencing.
- Analytics Engine: This engine analyzes all raw data from sensors and provides all descriptive, predictive and prescriptive dashboards.
- Human Machine Interaction (HMI): This layer provides the voice recognition and natural language processing via various bots, dramatically improving user experience.
Privacy versus safety: the trade-off
One of the questions that invariably arises in the context of connected workers is that of privacy. Since connected workers are tracked, privacy may be compromised. However, it is because of tracking that safety is dramatically enhanced. Given the importance of safety, workers may opt in to tracking. If they do not, the same level of safety as provided by the tracking system may not be guaranteed.
Think specific business outcomes, not technologies
Digital systems are not actually driven by specific technologies but business outcomes. In the context of the connected worker, business outcomes can relate to multiple parameters. First, a manufacturing company will see higher operational efficiency resulting from higher productivity and seamless integration with the ERP system. Second, improved safety and faster turnaround time of maintenance jobs will result in significantly reduced operational expenses. Last but not least, the user experience will dramatically improve. Human machine interactions rooted in natural language and remote expert guidance delivered via Augmented Reality can not only make work and repairs faster, but improve worker satisfaction and even teach workers better skills.
Manufacturing companies embarking on a connected worker journey will outperform their peers on multiple dimensions – some we may not even know about yet. In the meantime, what is certain is that connecting workers will make any company more successful in the end.