Posted on : Thursday 2nd July 2020 04:40 PM
In this digital era, data is recognized for its central value in smart decision-making and improved business insights. Nevertheless, in manufacturing, it serves a distinct purpose. Data helps personnel on the shop floor handle goals and tasks, understand details of work processes, and visualize critical conditions, for instance machine configurations or engineering specifications. But in the typical plant, access to real-time data is commonly a challenge. Workers and managers are almost never at a desk, rarely at one workstation, and next to never in an environment that is free of noise, extreme conditions, or potential hazards. These factors are among the many causing manufacturers to progressively turn to mobile solutions and wearable technology to give workers access to the data they need — whenever and wherever the job takes them.
HOW WEARABLES ARE EVOLVING
Adoption is rising at a phenomenal rate. MarketWatch projects the industrial wearable segment will rise from $1.5 billion in 2017 to $2.6 billion in 2023. This is a 73 percent jump, and that may be a conservative estimate.
Forrester estimated that by 2025, 14 million workers are going to use smart glasses and similar devices to elevate performance. Likewise, mobile solutions and the use of voice-recognition will add more opportunities for expanding productivity in the plant, which is where personnel need access to timely data the most.
Innovations are being seen in the devices used, such as glasses with drop-down mini display panels and hardhats equipped with screens. Software developers now are producing responsive designs that can scale and be viewed in small formats. Wearables can vary from devices worn on the sleeve, to a hardhat-mounted camera that projects real-time asset repairs back to the maintenance department’s senior technician.
Ruggedized tablets, constructed to resist high heat, intense moisture, and regular bumps, are the most common remote devices used. Whether the company provides users with smartphones or has a bring-your-own-device policy, smartphones are commonly used for monitoring email, collaboration tools, and portals for fast access to relevant resources or knowledge bases.
Manufacturers can even choose Artificial Intelligence (AI)-driven “personal assistants” with Natural Language Processing (NLP) to allow for users to access data and perform tasks without the need for a keyboard. This supports remote usage and applications when the user may appreciate hands-free convenience. Shipping, receiving and warehouse personnel, who may perhaps be driving forklifts or scanning pallets, benefit from the ability to ask questions or enter data through voice commands, rather than typing.
TAKING A CLOSER LOOK AT THE USE-CASES AND BENEFITS
Understanding the driving factors and industry trends may help plant managers weigh the pros and cons of investing in mobile and wearable technology. Thin margins and limited resources mean managers have to be careful about areas of investment, going forward with options they are confident will bring a fast Return on Investment (ROI).
When assessing possible solutions and tools, it is important to project savings that could come from the full range of benefits, which includes increased accuracy and productivity. For example, access to details on customer orders, design specifications, Computer Aided Design (CAD) drawings and last-minute change orders will help ensure that customized products meet expectations. This enhanced accuracy, in return, reduces waste from re-works and eliminates the high costs of customers rejecting shipments.
Use-cases for wearable technology and mobile applications continue to grow. Here are nine instances of when and where these technologies provide major benefits:
1. Role-based Workbenches and Dashboards. Modern Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solutions oftentimes contain role-based workbenches and dashboards to help personnel manage their own Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and ongoing responsibilities—whether that be maintaining safety stock levels, tracking resources committed to Engineer-to-Order orders, or optimizing supply chain deliveries for just-in-time strategies. However, these tools only work if they can be used when and where the user needs them. That could be on the shop floor, in the warehouse or at the loading dock. For that reason, remote access through mobile or handheld devices is relevant.
2. Empowering Always-alert Executives. Top managers of business units and the shop floor are commonly vigilant watchdogs. They must stay connected 24/7 to real-time status alerts, especially when the plant runs three shifts or has global operations in different time zones. Portals for remote access for personnel and partners are progressively important, as global operations, “work from home” and outsourcing business models are extensively embraced.
3. Internet of Things (IoT) Data Where it Counts. Manufacturers are progressively embedding sensors in machinery and capturing performance and maintenance-related data points using IoT technology. It is realistic that maintenance managers and technicians will need to have access to the data near the machine. As the user approaches the piece of equipment, a real-time diagnostic view of the machinery and its components can come out on a hand-held device. The screen can highlight key performance stats and red-flag any anomalies requiring attention, giving the technician the vitals needed to perform any necessary maintenance or repairs quickly.
4. Training and Onboarding. As the lack of skilled workers continues to plague manufacturing, in many cases less experienced, junior-level candidates are brought on board, in need of extensive in-plant training. The complexity and high value of machine assets make plant managers hesitant to assign inexperienced technicians to perform maintenance on those assets. Augmented Reality (AR) can be utilised for training, giving users the chance to visualize machine issues and “practice” engaging with the high-tech tools and repair tactics. This gives new employees valuable experience.
5. Supervising Remote Workers. Video cameras mounted on hard-hats can also be used to support junior-level technicians in the field. The video can be streamed to a central locale, where a veteran technician provides guidelines and supervises activities from another location. This helps the new technician learn the “tribal knowledge” and speeds resolutions.
6. Faster Resolution Rates. Whether field service technicians are dispatched to customer sites or in-plant to carry out maintenance or service, the timely access to asset details - like service history, inventory of replacement parts, the status of warranties or service agreements, and previous resolutions—will help technicians make well-informed decisions about repair versus exchange.
7. Upsell and Replacement Opportunities. Field technicians with having access to account information and inventory details should be able to make in-field recommendations to customers and sell replacement or up-sell equipment on the spot — when the purchase decision is critical. Technicians, seen as trusted advisors, tend to have very high close-rates for on-site sales.
8. Tracking and Monitoring Personnel. Some plants are generally massive, covering many buildings, yards, and warehouses. Assets can vary from pipelines and rail lines to rooftop exhaust scrubbers and barges for hauling raw resources. That said, personnel can be scattered over a wide vicinity. Some locations might also pose dangers. Wearables, like vests equipped with GPS tracking, can be used to help monitor the location of employees, supporting safety and security, as well as encouraging productivity.
9. Speed Pick-and-Pack in the Warehouse. Warehouse functions are some of the most applicable and helpful applications of wearable devices. Wrist-mounted, glasses-view, or dashboard-displayed screens help forklift drivers to find and fulfill orders quickly. The loading and unloading trucks also appreciate being able to confirm order numbers verbally as opposed to trying to type long series of digits accurately.
As manufacturers strive to improve resources and boost productivity, remote access to data is an essential issue to be considered. Some tools are ordinary, such as for instance equipping field technicians with mobile devices. Various other applications, like AR for training, will provide more commitment of resources. Each specific use-case must always be examined not only for the gains in productivity, as well as the improved speed of service, enhanced customer experience, and improved quality control. Managers considering this wearable strategy should also keep in mind that the competition is readily adopting this technology and empowering their workers. Keeping pace with trends is essential in today’s fast-changing manufacturing landscape.
This article is originally posted on MANUFACTURING.NET