The human element has seemingly been lost in the endless discussion of digital transformation, which begs the question: “How can the analyzing, automating and digitizing of the factory floor positively impact peoples’ lives?” Or, maybe even more importantly, what will give people the meaning and purpose they need to actually find enjoyment in their work-life? We think the answer is the next frontier for digital transformation.

Through digital transformation we’ve figured out how to implement predictive - or even prescriptive – maintenance systems so the multi-million-dollar assembly line or important piece of equipment will last a year longer.  But in the process, we’ve completely ignored the people who are needed to make the factory run.

This oversight is about to change.  The next frontier for digital transformation moves beyond the machine and looks directly in the eye of the person standing next to it.  And I am not referring to embedding Matrix-style USB connectors into the base of a person’s neck to create a way of uploading the latest body of work and thereby creating instant PhD’s.

However, what we are talking about is using existing technology to interact with the worker in a way that will add value and ultimately bring satisfaction to an employer’s most valuable asset – people.

Let’s focus on four ways where connecting people and technology can make an immediate impact:


1. Factory Wearables

Millions of people currently use a wearable smart device to monitor their own activity to help them live healthier and more active lives.  These smart devices provide them with data that will encourage them to lead healthier lives or connect with other like-minded people through location and information sharing.

Now we can equip factory-floor workers with Bluetooth-enabled devices, such as ID badges, connected to manufacturing software that will provide the employee with data to not only increase their productivity, but bring satisfaction to their life.  These ID badges can measure movement efficiency, prevent a worker from entering hazardous areas, monitor employee temperatures, light and factory vibrations to ensure a healthy and safe work environment.

Imagine a device that can determine your energy level and schedule your shift at an optimal time. Wouldn’t you like to be alerted before you press the wrong button and inadvertently send the product on the conveyor belt the wrong way?  What if your fellow employee calls in sick and you now need to perform a task for which you haven’t been trained?   All these situations and more can be addressed through connecting technology with the people in the factory.


2. AI and Analytics to Optimize Employee Performance

These factory wearables can collect and deliver thousands of data elements every day in real time to help supervisors and their employees analyze and optimize performance. This daily data will provide in either real time or post-game feedback so they have the opportunity for continuous improvements.


3. Update Employee Profiles for Continuous Knowledge Certification

The data collected will also update training and certification profiles providing a continuous loop for on-demand training and certification requirements. Through AI the data captured would know what role the worker currently has, what work they are performing, and their personal profile, and then suggest specific training to receive. Employees can now stay current on their knowledge and certifications. In the end this leads to career advancements and consequently greater employee satisfaction.

While on the surface this may sound like micro-management, when digging deeper we realize it’s just the opposite. It’s the kind of feedback employees and managers crave so they can improve performance and increase employee satisfaction.


4. Avoid Tragedies During Emergencies

Emergencies happen, and while not all emergencies involve scary situations like fires and chemical spills, machine failures have the potential to harm a lot of people.  As an example, the wrong person being in the area around robotic equipment at the wrong time.

Factory wearables can help management ensure all employees are properly evacuated in the event of a catastrophic plant failure.  For instance, you may have 15 factory floor workers, and 14 of those workers have already evacuated. But Sal is unaccounted for.  A factory wearable would allow for Sal to be quickly located and brought to safety without a tragic end.


What Comes Next

We’ve spent countless hours making machinery and manufacturing processes more efficient and yet failed to address the human component.  To truly optimize our factories and become fully digital, we must integrate the people that run the factory with the digital machinery. The last mile of factory-floor digital transformation is people. We must utilize existing technology and apply Industry 4.0 solutions (IoT, AI, ML, Big Data and Analytics) to improve work environments and create safer and more satisfying jobs.

But let’s not stop there.

Everyone needs to find purpose and meaning in their life.  Given that the average worker spends close to half of his day working or commuting to and from work, it is needless to say that finding meaning and purpose at work is extremely important.  According to the Harvard Business Review, purpose is what motivates employees.

So, I’ll leave you with this question: “How will you digitize your factory-floor workers, while making their work more meaningful?” After we walk the last mile together and consider the human component in digital transformation, let’s consider that question in our next journey and material for another article.