Digital Workplace on the Shop Floor: Long Neglected, Now More Important Than Ever (part 2)

The first post in this series talked about integrating huge data volumes and utilizing constant innovation. These are the first two of three new-ish and connected developments that will fundamentally change the digital workplace on the shop floor. Now we’ll continue down the list to employee experience.

Trend 3. Delivering an enhanced employee experience

Whether plant manager, engineer or line operator: all will experience consumer-grade digital services to some degree. We’re already accustomed to smart and user-friendly mobile devices, instant application installation and ubiquitous connectivity. Now we expect at least the same level of ease and productivity in the workplace.

Shift your perception of ROI

Historically, the digital investments made by manufacturing companies on the shop floor have not kept pace with those made in the rest of the organization. There is now a recognition of significant opportunities to increase performance and enhance employee experience through bridging this gap. Business cases are still showing longer ROI but should include competitiveness which is not always easy to quantify in money.

The goal should be to create an environment for employees to do their best work. They deserve easy-to-use, reliable and secure platforms for accessing key data, exchanging ideas, having conversations and collaborating. So far, very few manufacturing plants have managed to create this complete digital workplace on the shop floor.

Live your best work-life

Incident reporting: Here’s another example. Production supervisors often complete their shift summaries using paper forms or spreadsheets to capture key information for the next shift (e.g., line downtime events, quality issues, health and safety issues, schedule changes). When this information cannot easily be captured directly on the shop floor, it is often summarized at the end of the shift when key information is most commonly omitted.

When a supervisor can record incidents on a mobile device as they arise, it triggers a domino effect of efficiencies. Automatic workflows can alert the relevant people, populate performance dashboards and trend analysis to identify systematic problems, or even allow an artificial intelligence algorithm to recommend a course of action.

Meetings: Cross-functional manufacturing teams still meet in person to discuss performance management, operational plans, priorities and required actions. This, in a time when web meetings, shared cloud folders and AI-supported processes are commonplace even in our personal lives.

Document accessibility: Essential support documents are often held in remotely stored printed manuals or poorly managed data folders, containing several conflicting, potentially outdated versions. This, years after “information at your fingertips” made us accustomed to being able to find exactly what we are looking for in seconds.

All the activities described above, including proactive monitoring of the devices driving critical processes, should be linked to centralized management systems. Notifications would then be sent to the nearest field engineers to react to stability, performance, connectivity and/or hardware issues of the devices impacted. Then an engineer could give feedback on job status and sentiment via mobile app, which triggers further actions and/or follow-up.

For most employees, job satisfaction begins with having the right information and tools to complete one’s tasks efficiently and effectively.

For most employees, job satisfaction begins with having the right information and tools to complete one’s tasks efficiently and effectively.

The shop floor of the future

So, what will this digital workplace on the shop floor look like? Due to the rapid technical development, only the first versions can be described with some certainty. From today's perspective, we can see some of their properties:

  • Rugged mobile devices capture and access key information from anywhere
  • Centrally maintained app stores for immediate downloads according to role
  • Contextualized user dashboards for up-to-the-minute data on the move
  • Remote collaboration and data/knowledge sharing
  • Accessible company portals, mail, internet and collaboration tools
  • Stable, highly secure and performant connectivity by WLAN and 5G
  • Connected devices such as HoloLens, wireless headphones and cameras
  • Use of big data and artificial intelligence
  • Augmented reality, virtual reality, digital twins and blockchain
  • IoT and GPS tracking and locating

It will not stop there. Companies will seek new ways to even better utilize the three trends of data integration, innovation and employee experience to gain competitive advantages. And just as we couldn't imagine what changes would take place in the office years ago, we will be surprised here too. However, one thing is already foreseeable: As with the consumer digital experience, the shop floor workplace will become more mobile, more integrated and more flexible than ever before, improving productivity and employee experience.

This transformation of our shop floors is gathering pace and will not go unnoticed for long!

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About Dr. Matthias J Förster
Partner, Vice President and Global Consulting Industry Leader, Manufacturing
As Global Consulting Industry Leader for manufacturing, Matthias Förster brings to life multimillion-euro implementations of artificial intelligence, analytics, software factories, automation, robotics and customer experience solutions. Before Atos, Matthias held leadership positions at Computer Sciences Corporation, IBM and PricewaterhouseCoopers. He has decades of experience advising large organizations on how to use technologies to improve business performance and was, in fact, first appointed partner in July 2000. Matthias earned a master’s degree in Industrial Engineering and a doctorate in Economic Sciences from Berlin University of Technology, and today he lives near Frankfurt, Germany.

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