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2021: The Year of the Connected Worker

Louis Columbus
By Louis Columbus Principal, DELMIAWORKS

In 2020, the ability for manufacturers to rapidly pivot to changing market demands and challenges became critical for success—and in many cases, survival. We can expect 2021 to require similar agility to adapt, such as to the Defense Production Act to accelerate COVID-19 vaccine production, or President Biden’s executive order to review critical supply chains to ensure security and reliability. A cornerstone will be enabling production workers to be more connected to increase productivity, rapidly switch between production runs, and make decisions.

When talking about being “connected,” we often think of the physical aspects: workplace design, real-time sensors, devices, robotics, and machines. However, we need to move from simply being asset-focused to become more worker-centric, empowering connected workers with improved data-driven insights and on-the-job guidance. Moreover, manufacturers need to support teams working remotely—whether from home, the road, or a control center managing multiple facilities.

For manufacturers, five key trends stand out:

  1. Guided Production. Manufacturers increasingly need to quickly switch from one production run to the next. Digital workflows presented via touchscreen-based shop floor interfaces help workers do this. Digital workflows guide employees through the set of tasks they are responsible for and present only the information they need. This focused guidance effectively provides intuitive, on-the-job training that improves accuracy; helps users adapt to exception-based workflows for product customizations; and prevents the most common human errors.
  2. Decisions on the Shop Floor. The more employees can get a complete view of a production run, the better they make decisions. Monitors on the shop floor provide visibility, but even more powerful is the ability to dive into the details as needed right from the work center. The touchscreen interface provides connections to information on production scheduling, finite scheduling, and quality management from the manufacturing execution system (MES) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) software.
  3. Real-Time Production and Process Monitoring. Manufacturers are increasingly using real-time production monitoring to reduce risk through visibility into real-time consumption, quality and production efficiency. Smart manufacturing technologies are making it possible to parse data at a granular level for varying sampling rates, which can then be used to drive statistical process control (SPC). As data can be viewed remotely, connected workers manage by exception instead of staffing every facility and waiting for machinery or production failures to occur.
  4. Bridging Design and Quotes. Employees are creating more visually compelling quotes for custom-configured products using a combination of configure, price, quote (CPQ) and 3D models—speeding time to market for configure-to-order and engineer-to-order sales. CPQ functionality improves price management and control across channels, increasing margins and reducing order errors in the process.
  5. Training. Accelerated learning programs for smart manufacturing technologies contribute to employees’ professional development. The World Economic Forum reports that adopting digital training tools can reduce training time by up to 75 percent while improving production team members’ expertise across locations.

Connected workers are the future. Training provides workers with the skills and intelligence they need. Trained workers means manufacturers achieve greater efficiency, improved quality, and stronger ownership of outcomes.

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