For the last few years, analysts have predicted the rise of the “connected worker.” 

Turns out the predictions came true, and the connected worker is here

Here’s what you need to know about the connected worker in manufacturing today. 

What is the connected worker?

The connected worker is any worker whose tasks are monitored and supported by a larger network of digital tools. This kind of connection can be achieved in a number of ways, and can range from simple communications mechanisms to application platforms

Connected workers in manufacturing

Connected workers are integrated into their environment, empowered with information, and supported by digital manufacturing systems
Connected workers are integrated into their environment, empowered with information, and supported by digital manufacturing systems

The connected worker is revolutionizing many industries. It’s particularly relevant, however, in manufacturing, where complex industrial systems and paper-based processes have made work increasingly challenging. 

Connected workers are:

  1. Integrated into their environment
  2. Empowered with real-time information
  3. Supported by their working systems 

Benefits of connecting workers

When it comes down to it, there are many reasons to connect workers. Some of the most beneficial include: 

  • Safer workers 
  • Better in-the-moment decisions 
  • Improved visibility into frontline work
  • Mission-critical information and standardized work at your fingertips
  • Real-time communication
  • Robust error-proofing
  • More efficient, collaborative manufacturing systems 
  • End-to-end process data

Ultimately, workers who are connected to and supported by their work systems are more likely to be engaged and healthy in the workplace, wherever that may be.

[Are you a visual learner? Watch our Connected Worker Webinar Now]

Types of Connected worker

The phrase “connected worker” is often used as a catchall to describe many different types of connected work. Here’s a breakdown by role. 

Connected operators

In discrete manufacturing, operators are often “disconnected” from their systems. 

By this I mean that they’re expected to do incredibly complex tasks with little more than paper SOPs as support. Though they carry a smartphone in their pocket, their workflows on the shopfloor aren’t digitally networked. 

Connected operators are fully integrated into their workflows. With IIoT, smart sensors, and manufacturing applications, they now have a connected infrastructure that rises to the complexity of their work.

Connected Field Workers

Field technicians are often disconnected by for a different reason: distance. As a result, manufacturers in process industries, OEMs, and field support staff have devised ways of connecting their remote workers to centralized information and support systems.

Connected Engineers

If connected operators function within digital manufacturing systems, connected engineers orchestrate digital workflows. IIoT platforms let engineers create new connections between the constituent parts of a manufacturing process. So rather than outsource application development to IT or to a consultant, engineers can design new connected processes that match their goals. 

Connected Executives

We often envision the connected worker as a frontline worker–someone in the field or on the shop floor. But “connection” by definition unites two points. New platforms also make executives connected workers. 

They do so by connecting them to plant and field operations. With unprecedented visibility into the daily activities of their workforce, management can refine their strategies and allocate resources where needed. 

Why is the Connected Worker Important now?

The fact is, manufacturing work has changed in the last 10 years. Operators and engineers are expected to do more work, as well as significantly more complex tasks than ever before. 

Graph showing that The vast majority of errors in factories happen in human-centric processes. This is why the manufacturing needs the connected worker now
The vast majority of errors in factories happen in human-centric processes. This is why the manufacturing needs the connected worker now.

That said, more manufacturing operations haven’t changed that much. We can call a rideshare to get to work when the car’s in the shop, but then we take data in the factory with pencil and paper.

As a result humans are responsible for up to 80% of errors in factories. 

Pie chart showing how Human error is a symptom of bad system design. The connected worker can help.
Human error is a symptom of bad system design. The connected worker can help.

But let’s put pressure on that staggering number–80%. If you really look at root causes, it turns out that most of those errors are entirely avoidable. They’re the result of systems that all but guarantee human’s will make mistakes

Connective technologies can empower workers to go further and do more by creating work systems that for humans–not the other way around. 

What is a connected worker platform?

When it comes down to it, connected worker platforms are dynamic tools for creating the connectivity that matters for your workforce. 

Here, it’s important to understand what platforms do. 

Platforms are systems for connecting front-line industrial processes with back-end information systems. They include hardware and software, and enable manufacturers to develop new applications.

A Connected Worker Platform is simply a manufacturing or IIoT Platform designed with humans  in mind. This is distinct from asset-centric platforms geared more toward extracting information from machines. 

So whether it’s digital work instructions, process visibility, training, or field communications applications, connected worker platforms are meant to support manufacturing’s most important asset: the workforce.  

Conclusions

It makes sense to close this overview of the connected worker with a few simple questions. 

  • Do you feel like you’re connected to your manufacturing systems?
  • How much paper do you use day-to-day? 
  • What could you or your workforce do with the right tools?

If you answered: 

  • No.
  • Too much.
  • More than we’re doing now…

You might want to think about what a connected worker platform could do for you. 

If you want to learn more, check out our platform buyer’s guide

If you have any questions about what connective technologies could do for you, get in touch. We’re here to help.