Industry 4.0 Ushers in New Efficiency and Innovation Delivered by Workers Augmented by Wearables and Personalised Data

Assistive technology is transforming the factory floor, making it a more productive, safer and responsive space as well as an integrated part of the manufacturing ecosystem. Engineers and plant workers wearing glass technology – leaving them dexterous and hands-free – are part of a trend in manufacturing that focusses on improving employee experience to boost productivity and innovation.

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The World Economic Forum calculates that the automotive industry alone will generate $0.67 trillion of value and a further $3.1 trillion of societal benefits as a result of digital transformation by 2025. In the UK, manufacturing contributes 10% of gross value added (GVA), according to the EEF, the manufacturers’ association, and this is expected to rise with automation and a more connected global economy.

In the EU, the contribution of manufacturing to GVA is greater, recorded at 15.1% in 2014 by Francisco Caballero Sanz, then chief economist at the European Commission’s Directorate General, Enterprise and Industry. The EU cherishes the ambition that Industry 4.0 and a single digital market will help close the productivity gap in Europe.

With augmented employees central to such value creation, I met with Enterprise Services experts at Discover London 2016, to discuss the role of employee experience in smart factories and connected manufacturing. Jacques Spee, Advisor on Smart Industry and Industry 4.0, and Keith Hudgell, Mobility and Workplace Practice Leader, talked about the digital change that is sweeping factory floors across the globe.

“What’s happening is that we’re seeing the introduction of assistive technologies [in the factory] that help individuals perform their jobs better, and is also helping employees work across silos”, explained Jacques. For the assembly worker in a factory, smart technology, such as robo assistance or wearables, may help them pick and assemble component parts to a particular customer order, for example.

“It helps workers do the right thing at the right time and to be more efficient”, said Jacques, who summed up the far-reaching impacts of an improved employee experience for manufacturers: “Companies can offer more product variants”. The ability for employees to collaborate across silos helps manufacturers to be more responsive to consumer demand and to integrate the factory into the supply chain, he continued.

The impact of digital reaches well beyond the smart factory to workers in every department and silos across the manufacturing spectrum. A field service engineer, for instance, needs to know what particular equipment is on site and the details of previous problems with machinery or plant. Remedial action may require diagnostics, and if this can’t done on the spot, it’s possible to reach out to remote colleagues for assistance delivered through data and visuals.

Keith Hudgell talked about how a rising demand for mobile solutions is playing out in customers’ factories. “Our clients’ employees are on the move and more customers are asking about mobile solutions within factories and production plants; they wish to deliver apps and services to mobile devices including tablets, smart phone and, increasingly, smart glass technologies”.

Engineers can wear a smart glass and have relevant data in front of their faces while they work on stuff in the plant, he explained.  “Working hands-free is a growing trend month on month across the world”.

Another instance of digitally enhanced employee experience, cited by Keith, is being deployed by a large car manufacturer in Asia. “It wants to mobilise and equip its sales force with digital so that they can meet clients in the real world with relevant sales and client data”. Enterprise Services is enabling through mobile data transfer.

As partner to Enterprise Services, Microsoft plays a central part in providing core office capabilities and employee experience to manufacturing clients, Keith pointed out. “Skype for business provides mobile telephony on tablets while Windows 10 is a multiple device offer to the desktop, laptop or smartphone. “Manufacturers can bring new apps onto their platform and deliver to right device, in the right package for different factory persona”.

Collaborative software and digital augmentation have the potential to change the way individuals, departments and entire factories work, Enterprise Services believes. “Work is being driven by data to get a better result”, Jacques summed up. “Connected manufacturing is generating more transparency. People can see what’s happening and how their work will be impacted by events upstream in the factory”.

See how in this video how Digital Transformation is Revolutionizing Manufacturing.

Helen Beckett

Author: Helen Beckett

Helen Beckett is the Community Manager of the Business Value Exchange. She has been a writer and editor for over 20 years and takes a particular interest in the challenges facing the CIO in today’s business climate.