Smart Manufacturing Can Unlock Human Efficiency

Oct. 31, 2022
Harnessing technology to go paperless and digitalize tasks unlocks human efficiency by synchronizing processes, machinery, and people to strike the perfect smart factory balance.

Automation. OEE (overall equipment effectiveness). IoT (Internet of Things). Robotics. AI (artificial intelligence) and machine learning. They’re all key themes inherently linked to digital transformation, and all have something in common—the focus is on machines, data, and technology.

But what about the human element?

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 12 million people are employed in manufacturing in the U.S., and still perform nearly three-quarters of tasks in the factory (according to a study by Kearney). These data points make it clear that human behavior forms a significant part of the efficiency puzzle manufacturers are trying to solve; yet, in most factories, humans operate unguided.

Sheets of paper still clutter production lines. Operators painstakingly load data into spreadsheets and manually check machinery when failures occur. Therefore, it should be no surprise that almost a quarter of downtime and nearly 70% of defects in manufacturing are caused by humans, according to a ServiceMax report.

Data as the holy grail is a tired concept

Data should be considered a by-product of digitalization, not the other way around. Using technology to gain meaningful insights is smart manufacturing at its core, but digitalization can have an equal or greater impact when people are the focus of our improvements.

Complete visibility across the factory is critical in providing both operators and managers with real-time insights across a production schedule and allowing them to respond to issues quickly. Using an automated digital workflow platform empowers the operator, shifting the focus from the equipment to end-to-end manufacturing.

Digital operations connect real-world information to the operator's fingertips through sensors and other IoT technologies to synchronize events in the production run in real-time and notify staff of outstanding tasks. Also, digitalizing tasks helps eliminate human error and enables real-time asset performance and OEE, digital work order management, production scheduling, and quality management—all while building a rich dataset in the back end. 

Paperless operations with a human-first approach are essentially smart manufacturing in reverse. It transforms analog data to digital by involving the operator as a fully connected frontline worker.

Understanding human efficiency

With operational value inherently linked with human efficiency, why do we know so little about it on the shop floor? Digital platforms that model human behavior enable companies to gain visibility into human efficiencies, enabling proactive management in day-to-day operations.

A user-friendly digital workflow supports the most basic efficiency improvements without the need to dive deeper into data if you don’t want to. Whether via laptop, tablet, or phone, an automated dynamic workflow supports operators on the assembly line in making smarter decisions.

A smart digital workflow prompts users to complete tasks and respond to events and status changes in real-time, from pre-start checks, pass-fail inspections, sampling product quality, and x-ray sensor tests, right through to clean-up activities, positive release, OEE, and reporting.

Connected frontline workers enabled by digital work order management provide an end-to-end cause-and-effect management process in your factory to maximize human efficiency, ensuring critical tasks across every order are completed along the way.

Retaining knowledge

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that, in June and July 2022, the manufacturing industry saw almost 700,000 Americans walk away from industry roles (or change to a new company) in a phenomenon widely known as the “Great Resignation,” creating a significant knowledge drain in most companies.

Skills and knowledge are just as susceptible to depreciating as physical assets if the right systems aren’t in place, and manufacturers still working without structured processes and tools that support key frontline staff may get left behind. Creating and revising paper-based operating procedures and onboarding operators can take months, only for that knowledge to be lost due to high turnover rates.

Within a digital platform such as TilliT, manufacturers can capture the knowledge of their best employees in a task-oriented workflow. It effectively acts as a co-pilot, guiding everyone from the newest to most experienced employees on best practices, providing a safeguard for when processes, machinery, or staff change, and ensuring knowledge isn’t lost if a key team member leaves.

Unlocking human efficiency by synchronizing processes, machinery, and people is digitalizing reimagined. Rather than looking for ways to replace the human presence in our factories with technology, let’s shift our thinking towards embracing technology that supports people.

Rafael Amaral is the chief technology officer at TilliT, providing an integrated way to plan, execute and analyze manufacturing processes through an innovative, no-code, digital factory platform. For more information about TilliT, contact the team. TilliT is a SAGE Group company. SAGE is a certified member of the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA). For more information about SAGE Group, visit its profile on the Industrial Automation Exchange.