The digitisation of the manufacturing industry and the rise of smart factories in the future will be reliant on employers’ willingness to focus on people - not processes, according to Keith Tilley – CEO of workflow automation specialist, Intoware.
Anyone involved in manufacturing will have heard of Industry 4.0 – the powerful concept of bringing smart technologies such as AI, the cloud, workflow automation, wearables and ‘real time’ data to manufacturing.
This use of digital technology to monitor and manage production processes is undoubtedly already impacting on the improvement of performance, by streamlining critical work processes and collecting and analysing data for better decision making. However – data doesn’t mean a lot without people to use it and in fact, the human element of smart factories has been somewhat overlooked.
For this reason, the next industrial revolution - Industry 5.0 – needs to be all about putting people back at the heart of industrial production, empowering employees to work in collaboration with technology that has been designed around the way they think and work.
Manufacturers must put people first and, rather than asking what can workers do with technology, asking what can the technology do for workers, instead?
But, where’s the best place to start?
A good place to begin is by identifying your workforce’s pain points and liaising with staff to get a deep understanding of their needs.
Examples could be inefficient reporting tools, or too much paperwork. By identifying these challenges and problem areas, you can identify ways to resolve issues and streamline processes that have been left behind in many of today’s smart factories, using the right technology to digitise workflows.
In taking this approach, we often see manufacturers reporting an increase in their team’s job satisfaction and team retention – something that’s critically important in today’s world - where the industry faces numerous challenges in attracting and retaining skilled talent.
The younger workforce, Millennials and Generation Z, are tech savvy and they want a workplace that enables them to integrate digital technologies into their roles, such as video learning or hands-free devices for example, rather than physical manuals or clipboards.
Technologies such as assisted reality (AR) devices can fulfil this demand, but they need to be connected to the workforce and the needs of the employee.
For example, AR devices can be integrated with digital workflow software and attached to safety helmets, enabling employees to easily use voice commands to watch short training videos, access manuals, view mechanical drawings, look up spare parts and access other materials critical for training.
Even in high noise environments. AR heads-up displays that make it appear as though the worker is looking at a 7-inch display. A front-facing camera can be used to make video calls and show a remote expert back at HQ any problems that a trainee experiences – which leaves them ‘hands-free’ to get the job done.
By working with your team to identify these needs and requirements and seeking out the right technology to help streamline processes, manufacturers can create real value for workers – as well as boosting productivity, too.
The connected workforce
As I’ve said, the key to digital transformation success is to combine people, processes and systems harmoniously, so, when it comes to Industry 5.0, it’s not a case of implementing technology once and moving on.
Optimising processes is essential, of course, but it’s not enough on its own.
The move to putpeople back at the centre of industrial production means ensuring continuedengagement and satisfaction with technology, gathering feedback and learning fromthe processes put in place; the human elements that today’s smart factoriesoften miss.
Integrating digital technologies with human-centric processes such as reporting and training enables data that wasn’t previously available to be collected and analysed, identifying ‘human bottlenecks’ such as gaps in training requirements, different methods used by staff to carry out tasks, and varying recording and reporting techniques, across the workforce.
It also offers the potential of digitally capturing and recording all the human processes needed to keep the smart factory running, such as machine set up, quality assurance inspections, equipment maintenance and repairs, fulfilling compliance requirements more effectively by using photos and video evidence, as well as time stamps and a log of who did each process.
This connectivity between employees and technology reduces inefficiencies and enhances productivity levels, engaging with the workforce to continually improve both workforce and customer satisfaction – something that is vital, yet missed by many companies rushing to digitise critical industrial processes, overlooking the requirements of people at the heart of their businesses.
Industry 4.0 technologies are vital in keeping our manufacturing industry competitive and resilient – especially against today’s backdrop of socio and economic difficulties.
However, without a connected workforce, these technologies can not meet their full potential.
The human workforce needs to be the industry’s focus as we move into 2023 and beyond, putting the needs of our people – not just our processes – at the very centre of what we do.