With industry 4.0 putting digital innovation in the workforce on top of the agenda, and the inescapable rise of wearables, we witness an emerging reality: “The Connected Worker”.
Steering The Digital and Industrial Transformation
Industries today are on a constant quest to enhance their manufacturing practices while minimizing costs, increasing talent retention, providing a safe work environment, boosting efficiency, and driving strong production growth.
While technology is reshaping the way we live, it’s also radically changing the way we work. According to a survey conducted by LNS Research, 66% of industrial companies globally are on a journey towards an industrial transformation. What this looks like is different for each company, but typically it involves leveraging advanced analytics and digital technologies to improve operational performance and provide sustainable growth.
Companies are focusing on digitalization at every level of operations, incorporating smart infrastructures such as mobile devices and software. But the most significant opportunity to add more value to the business services lies in enabling people – making them well connected, contextually informed, and better engaged – with the help of sensor-equipped electronics, intelligent wearables and mobile applications.
Business services and manufacturing have seen many changes in the last 10 years, but the processes are still primarily human-centric. As technology evolves, operators and engineers are expected to perform more complex tasks than ever before. However, 70–80% of factory failures happen in human-centric processes and of those errors, only 30% were caused by individuals. The rest is attributable to the work structures.
Human failure is a sign that the system has vulnerabilities. Since people are the key asset of the services industry, enabling a system where human error is avoidable instead of trying to make the machines smarter makes more sense in the short term. Connected and augmentative technologies can empower employees to do more by creating brand new operational procedures, decreasing errors to close to zero. And so, the connected worker emerges as one of the key pillars of industrial transformation.
What Is a Connected Worker?
Although many companies have improved their health and safety management subsystems, their potential for productivity growth often goes to waste due to a lack of technological infrastructure that can support those improvements. Some workplaces are still implementing manual or paper-based procedures, which increases labor-intensive work and reduces operational performance. Consequently, the poor interaction between people and processes makes it difficult for these companies to keep growing.
The connected worker has emerged in response to these pain points.
A “connected worker” is any worker who is integrated into their work environment by connective technologies.
Connected worker strategies exist to digitally connect people to the overall operational system. With a network of digital tools, the connected worker’s tasks are monitored and supported — from simple application platforms to complex communication mechanisms.
Connected worker platforms are designed to place humans in the center of all subsystems. Their objective is to support the workforce using IoT technology and advanced analytics to seamlessly connect front-line industrial processes with back-end information systems. This, in turn, can eventually improve productivity, decision-making, and safety.
Nowadays, there’s an immense increase in data exchange processes throughout daily life, and connected worker systems are no exception. A connected worker is empowered with real-time information and can access any piece of data to better perform their assigned job.
Types of Connected Workers
From frontline staff to the C-suite, connected worker technologies are here to make everyone’s job easier:
Operators & Field workers: From digital work instructions to quality control, connected workers can be supported by digital technologies through their mobile devices and smart wearables.
Engineers: Engineers can have the flexibility of making agile connections to the relevant software and hardware through application-based platforms.
Executives: With the reliable real-time data generated by connected processes, executives can drive better strategy, performance, and decision-making.
The Benefits of Connected Workers
A recent Deloitte survey showed that 49% of employees waste an average of 10 minutes per hour throughout the work day. This lost time is attributed to a number of reasons; non-work-related issues, a lack of contextual information, or difficulty interacting with backend systems. It’s a significant productivity loss of nearly three hours a week per worker. Connected technologies, on the other hand, such as harmonizing sensors, edge computation and related software, offer uninterrupted communication from the manufacturing plant to remote locations. Solid communication leads to increased data accuracy, robust error-proofing and a chance to fix issues instantly.
The connected worker ecosystem can also be used for tracking the movements of workers. With the ability to record video and audio from the worker’s environment, wearables and sensor-equipped devices can also notify the system when there are threats to worker safety such as a gas leak, a fall or other incidents.
It can also track the progress and performance of the connected worker through planned and unplanned routes and tasks. By design, it’s inherently useful for on-demand and on-the-job guidance and remote training.
Age of the Wearables: How to Enable the Connected Worker
Wearable electronics have recently seen an enormous increase in popularity and if you’re not wearing one today, chances are you will be wearing one in the near future. According to PwC, 72% of employees state that they are willing to use a piece of wearable technology provided by their employer.
The improved communication and collaboration that the connected ecosystem brings are fundamentally bound to wearable technologies that are integrated with digital displays and augmented/virtual reality applications. Also, using assisted reality-enabled devices, employees can perform on another level of mobility. With their hands totally free, they can utilize a very powerful interaction tool: their voice.
RealWear assisted reality headsets are a perfect example of voice-controlled wearables being deployed in an industrial setting. Thanks to their unmatched noise cancelling abilities, voice recognition capabilities and IP-rated drop/water/dust resistance, RealWear became the industry standard. Deployed in over 90 countries, RealWear is the ultimate knowledge transfer tool for connected workers who need to reach contextual data.
Leveraging a newly emerged wearable such as RealWear requires the adoption of software designed to function properly with voice commands. This is totally a new area to exploit for software firms developing solutions for enterprise use.
Taskimo is a global software company developing enterprise software tools to augment frontline performance leveraging state-of-the-art cognitive computation technologies and industrial wearables. Their product, Taskimo is a full-featured mobile forms automation and digital guides & instructions platform. It allows frontline workers to create, publish and access mobile forms, digital instructions, SOPs, checklists, on-the-job training materials, and user guides. Taskimo contains a complete voice input capture infrastructure embedded within its core workflow system. This allows users to complete a digital form-filling procedure or a QC/audit checklist using smart glasses and voice commands, with both their hands completely free.
Where should organizations start if they want to implement a successful connected worker program?
When moving towards a connected workspace, you’ll need to deploy a holistic approach that requires a proactive and coordinated action plan. This enables management to lead the change at every level of the company.
Here are the three main technology adoption phases for a successful connected worker implementation:
1. The first phase is to replace spreadsheets with cloud-based systems while collecting all your relevant data and analyzing what is blocking your productivity.
2. The second step is to identify and decide on the technologies that your company needs and your employees would be willing to use. Afterwards, you can lead a pilot program as a low-cost, smaller project, which will allow you to address issues that may have not been considered in the first phase.
3. The third phase primarily focused on gathering insight from the second phase. At this stage, you can assess whether you should scale it up on an organizational level or not. Improving the performance and reliability of your workforce will eventually boost your revenue and cost savings long term.