What is a Connected Worker Solution?

A connected worker solution is any given platform or software that enables manufacturers to gain real-time visibility into their processes by digitizing and augmenting operator workflow. These platforms integrate operators, machines, and sensors to collect valuable data across the shop floor, allowing manufacturers to eliminate bottlenecks and increase efficiency.

How to Pick a Connected Worker Solution

There are a wide variety of connected worker solutions currently on the market. 

It can be difficult to determine which is right for you. In this post, we’ll try to make the process a little easier by helping you ask the right questions. 

We believe in Tulip as a connected worker solution. But we also believe that helping you pick a solution that works for you is more beneficial to everyone in the long run. 

These questions are designed to put you and your operations first. Hopefully, they make your search painless. 

Image showing the transition of connected worker technologies from private life to work life, supporting the rise of the connected worker in manufacturing
In the last 10 years, connected worker technologies moved from consumer life to the shop floor

1.) Who are you connecting?

This deceptively simple question is so important.

Who, exactly, do you need to connect?

How you answer will lead to different paths. 

Are you looking to connect:

  • Operators on high-mix assemblies?
  • Field workers at remote sites?
  • Are you an OEM who needs to equip your technicians with maintenance info?
  • What about the engineers charged with orchestrating industrial processes?
  • Is it your goal to connect them? Is it management, who needs better data to make more informed business decisions?
  • All of the above?
  • None of the above?

Better yet, can you think of a specific individual in your operation who could benefit from connection? 

Identifying who you’re connecting establishes a foundation for the solution review process. It creates a ground-truth as you assess needs, brainstorm desired outcomes, and assists in identifying potential roadblocks early.

Your answer will obviously depend on your operations. But the better you can answer “who?” the easier time you’ll have identifying “what next?”

2.) What are they doing?

Another seemingly trivial question that’s anything but.

What, exactly are your workers doing? How will connectivity enable them to do it better? 

Here it helps to think beyond the generalities of “assembly” or “machine maintenance.”

Instead, consider what happens during an assembly or repair.

  • Will they need their hands for their work (useful for ruling out solutions that require constantly interacting with a screen)?
  • How many different steps are involved?
  • How much variability is there order-to-order
  • Are there tools necessary (and if so, how many?)?
  • What materials need to be at every station?
  • What would prevent workers from doing their jobs? 

If you can provide a granular list of every human process, the connected worker solution process will be easier.

3.) What information do they need to do their job?

This requires taking an inventory of processes and outcomes. It can also be asked differently to equal effect: What information, if lacking, will prevent a worker from doing their job?

Do operators need ready-to-hand access to manuals or schematics? Would it help them to see videos, gifs, or images of particularly complex procedures? Or are you looking to connect engineers with holistic process data to inform their initiatives?

Identifying the information workers need can help you pick the right platform for delivering it.

4. )What systems do workers interact with? What systems are they embedded in?

This question can help you see the ways that workers are part of larger connected systems.

It’s useful to take a step back and consider the extent to which workers need to be connected to be effective.

What software will they interact with? What sensors and IoT devices are involved? Which machines are involved? Where are there contingencies in the processes? 

Crucially: What will a connected worker solution add to these systems that don’t already exist on the shop floor?  

Connected workers are always a part of manufacturing systems. Clarifying the role a connected worker solution will play can simplify which new technologies you introduce.

5.) How do their actions influence the work that gets done?

This question drives at worker contributions to manufacturing processes.

(And still comes back to the fundamental question, “Who?”). 

What is the result of human action on your manufacturing lines? Machine changeovers? Assembled products? Quality assurance? I could keep going but you get the idea.

If you can identify the contributions of humans–those things that humans do that technology can’t–you can pick a connected worker solution that optimizes human performance.

6.) How prone are they to error? What kinds of errors?

Human error isn’t a result of poor human performance. It’s a consequence of poor system design.

So it helps to ask, “Where are workers making mistakes?” What kinds of mistakes are they making? What’s the root cause? 

A little goes a long way in identifying places where you protect your workers against the most common forms of human error.

7.) What data will make a difference for you?

Remember that connected worker solutions aren’t just about making humans more efficient. They’re also important for collecting data about human action.

For this reason, you should ask which data will make the difference in your operations. What do you want to know? What do you currently know? What data is difficult to take with your current technology? How much paper are you using?

Data is power, and connected worker solutions are a crucial tool for collecting the data that matters most to you.

Conclusions: The Right Connected Worker Solution for You

If you’ve made it this far, you probably have a sense of the kinds of features you want in a connected worker solution. 

If nothing else, taking the time to honestly answer all of the questions here will help you set priorities. Or at least make the process of elimination easier. 

If you think Tulip is the right connected worker solution for you, get in touch