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Frontline Operations Platform Helps Shop Floor Employees Solve Problems

Ilene Wolff
By Ilene Wolff Contributing Editor, SME Media

At long last, Jane Arnold sees a chance for software to keep up with change at work almost as quickly as it happens.

 “I've been waiting my whole career to actually get to where, hey, ‘let's just do it’ is a reality instead of spending so much time making it perfect before you do that download and test out the code,” said Arnold, who is vice president of advanced manufacturing technology at Stanley Black & Decker in Houston.

 Arnold made her comments during a Smart Manufacturing Experience roundtable entitled, “Why Agility is the Competitive Advantage Manufacturers Need in 2022.” Joining her on the panel was Gilad Langer, industry practice lead for Tulip Interfaces, maker of a no-code, cloud-based frontline operations platform with analytics and edge connectivity for frontline workers. The operations apps on the Tulip platform turn workflows into instrumented, data-collecting, digital processes. The discussion was moderated by SME’s Bruce Morey, who is senior technical editor for Manufacturing Engineering Magazine.

Attendees on April 13 at Tulip's new state-of-the-art solutions lab and demo space, the Tulip Experience Center, at its new global headquarters at Assembly Row in Somerville, Mass.

Langer explained the no-code paradigm.

“No-code is not about not using code, it's about making it so much easier for us to compose things, that is the difference,” said Langer. “It is the democratization of creating content for the shop floor.” Change in manufacturing is happening at a faster pace than ever, he said, and shows no signs of slowing down, so businesses have to adapt by becoming more agile. “Being agile means that you can adapt at a very high rate,” he said. “How many of you have seen National Geographic, like a cheetah chasing an animal? You notice how the cheetah runs? It weaves. That's agility—agility is about being able to change very, very fast on the spot.”

 Manufacturers become more agile by looking for solutions to problems using a bottom-up approach. In other words, those on the shop floor should be empowered to solve problems. One way they can do this is with low-code or no-code apps, like the ones from Tulip.

 Stanley Black & Decker has been using the Tulip platform for about a year, roughly coinciding with Arnold’s start there. “When I started to tour the facilities and see how different every cell was, and it's like, well, we can't just do a single solution, we can't pull it all together with one control system, we have to do it in a more agile way,” she said. “And when we looked at Tulip and the platform, (with which) we can solve a problem at a time, it really helps us to reach our goals much faster.”

Jane Arnold,  vice president of advanced manufacturing technology at Stanley Black & Decker in Houston and Gilad Langer, industry practice lead for Tulip Interfaces, discuss no-code platforms on April 13 during the Smart Manufacturing Experience roundtable.

Arnold said she wasn’t sure at first Tulip was the right solution, although she had done her due diligence investigating other options. Once she committed to Tulip, though, it was Arnold’s job to roll it out and create buzz about the new tool. She started small. “And then we started to scale because it became more popular as people started talking about it, because it's so easy to use and get some value,” she said. “Just simple things like physical inventory, removing the paper from the process, … having it all digitalized really brought a lot of instantaneous value to the sites. And I think now we're up to 40 different sites that have some form of Tulip, or some applications built. And we're working on expanding it across other sites. But also taking those best-in-class applications and sharing them at the various sites.”

 To help spread the word about the Tulip solution, Arnold’s team set up an experience exchange for employees to share ideas and experiences; used the company’s internal social media platform; and had subject matter experts make the rounds of different plants to share the best-in-class apps.

 Arnold was aware there could be roadblocks in its implementation.

 One of the barriers is an enterprise’s existing technology, some of which may not be equipped for integration with the Tulip apps.

 Another possible hindrance is the unengaged workforce.

 “What I've seen time and time again in the past is that management will have some new initiative they want to roll out,” she said. “And I've been a plant manager before. So, I've been there and we just kind of wait for the next one to come along. And just ignore it. It goes away, because they're just checking the box and moving on. And I think what we're doing now with agile manufacturing, and really, truly engaging the workforce, is we're seeing this start to change. And it sticks.”

 Morey pointed out Arnold’s management style, “is moving from making decisions and being the end product, or the know it all, if you will, to someone who's just kind of guiding and providing motivation.” She agreed that her style is to focus on coaching her employees vs. trying to make all the decisions herself. “The person at the top doesn't necessarily have all of the answers,” she said. “It’s those people who work with that equipment every day or who run that process who are going to know more, and you need to empower them with the right tools and enable them to actually make those decisions.”

 If Arnold’s prior experience is with workers who are just going through the motions, implementation of the Tulip platform has a knack for helping engage them. “What I'm starting to see is actually an increased engagement of the workforce, because, you know, we're coming to them with tools, and asking how can we help you solve your problems,” said Arnold. “And once they can start to see the impact of this application that's built, they get even more excited. And we're really seeing this engagement from all levels of the organization.”

 Also possibly hindering progress are employees who are worried about being watched or hacked.

 Arnold said every few weeks the central Tulip team at Stanley Black & Decker checks in with the company’s security department to ensure they’re in compliance with laws and regulations and respecting employees’ data privacy. Arnold’s overcome these hurdles to face change in the workplace head on, and with Tulip’s platform she’s bringing her employees with her.

 For more information on the Tulip Experience Center, see New Center.

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