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Connected workers at the industrial edge: improving operations and worker productivity with AR

“By 2020, 60 percent of plant floor workers at G2000 manufacturers will work alongside automated assistance technologies such as robotics, 3D printing, AI and AR/VR.” This prediction was made over five years ago in IDC’s November 2016 FuturesScape “10 Predictions for the Manufacturing Industry.” 

IoT_connected worker_Edge compute_blog.pngLet’s fast forward half a decade and find out where manufacturers are today.

Many established manufacturing companies have been pursuing Industry 4.0 or smart manufacturing initiatives designed to increase automation and enhance worker skills. Thanks to the Internet of Things, analytics, AI and edge computing, it’s now possible to digitalize plant floor operations, processes and even the products themselves. This convergnce of plant floor operations (OT) and IT has spawned a host of use cases that promise to run more efficient operations, reduce unplanned downtime, and increase output. 

One technology that has proved successful is augmented reality (AR). Forbes magazine defines augmented reality (AR) as the “overlaying of digital information onto the real world. It’s the real world, only better.”  In a plant floor setting, one use case is guided assembly. As customer expectations for  features, functionality and personalization increase, line workers must master multiple product variants and configurations. Think “lot size of one.” Pulling workers off the line for training or having them shadow SMEs is costly and time-consuming. But with guided assembly, workers can complete tasks more efficiently using connected wearables or hands-free devices, where they see step-by-step instructions that are digitally overlaid onto the physical product.

Another use case is automated inspection. Using augmented reality and video analytics object detection technology, workers can reduce checklist times by placing a handheld device over the product to be inspected and receiving an AR notification of any issues. 

The benefits of an empowered, productive industrial workforce speak for themselves. According to IDC, manufacturing workers lose 14+ hours per week searching for and combining – or recreating information that can’t be found – to perform their roles effectively. This information could relate to equipment maintenance manuals and logs, assembly instructions, quality assurance and inspection procedures, or process manuals. 

Besides non-productive hours, the implications are clear: faulty assembly can result in product defects that could impact quality and safety. Inaccurate inspections can have implications farther down the assembly line that result in scrap and re-work. Poorly maintained plant floor equipment can result in faulty production and reduced throughput. The results of not equipping line or edge workers with the right information at the right time – in context – can result in unplanned downtime.

According to IDC, the average cost of unscheduled asset downtime is over $113,000 per hour. Is it any wonder that manufacturers have spent the last five years trying to reap the rewards of Industry 4.0 and automated assistance technologies?

Managing risk and ensuring continuity of operations

Now factor in a global pandemic. For manufacturers, digital transformation and connected worker technologies are now an imperative as a means of managing risk and helping to ensure continuity of operations.  The very technologies that heralded in a new era of connected, automated and data-driven manufactuing are those that can help bring a workforce back to the plant safely, and help manfacturers re-design workflows to accommodate an increasingly remote workforce.  

The dilemma for many manufacturers has been striking the right balance between process automation – which by definition is rigid and repetitive – and adaptability and creativity. In this pandemic era, agility has become a new currency.

To learn more about how connected worker technologies are empowering plant floor workers with data and insights in context, watch the HPE and Intel-sponsored IDC webcast:

Connected Workers at the Edge:  Augmented Reality for Improved Operations and Worker Productivity

Moderator:        Jonathan Lang, WW IT/OT Convergence Strategies, IDC

Panelists:           Lin Nease, Chief Technologist, IoT, HPE
                           Garry Orsolini, Director of Technology, IoT, HPE

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Author
Carolyn Cairns is the Manufacturing Industry Senior Marketing Manager,.

You can connect with Carolyn on LinkedIn.

 

 

 

 

 

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