One of the great promises of Industry 4.0 (a phrase I promise I’ll only use once in this post), is increased connectivity in manufacturing operations.
The convergence of a number of technological innovations created networks where there were silos, feedback where there was silence, and data where there was mystery.
There’s a name for these kinds of networked operations: connected factories.
But when we talk about connected factories, it’s often about the kinds of technologies that enable connectivity. Or we champion connectivity as an end in itself, something done for its own sake.
In my observation, connectivity isn’t just about technology. Fundamentally, the connected factory is about empowering workers to evolve their work. It’s about outfitting workers with the tools they need to transform their operations themselves.
What is the Connected Factory?
The “connected factory” is a catch all term describing how advances like IIoT, edge computing, and smart sensors improve visibility and control on the shop floor.
We don’t have to wonder what’s happening when a machine runs, because we now have the communication infrastructure and analytical techniques to turn operational data into insights.
We don’t have to wonder what operators are doing on the line, because manufacturing applications and seamless human-machine-interfaces help us understand the human component of production.
But definition of the connected factory is less interesting than what it enables.
It enables humans to make informed decisions in real time. It improves visibility throughout the value stream, making it possible to identify and target improvements. And it creates workflows that match how manufacturers work.
So what this means is that workers aren’t just digitally connected. In reality, they also have the ability to draw on their years of experience in manufacturing to shape production in a meaningful and impactful ways.
Digital Transformation is a Human Initiative
Those closest to manufacturing processes understand them best.
Digital innovation isn’t putting a bunch of sensors in a factory and calling it a day. At its core, connectivity is a means to an end.
Rather, it’s giving workers the ability to transform manufacturing from the bottom up.
Think about it. Transformation is an ongoing process. It can’t be something that happens once and then, voila!, a factory is transformed. The nature of transformation is such that it has to happen in increments and it has to occur at every level of an organization.
When it comes down to it, it’s people who are really going to create change. It’s people who are going to identify areas that require improvement. And it’s people who are going to operate and innovate with digital technologies.
How the Connected Factory Empowers Workers
Over time, manufacturing work transformed. All of a sudden, operators were tasked with completing the assemblies that were too complex for robots.
Engineers had to borrow from the software development and data science toolkits. Manufacturing technology was designed for IT, not shopfloor workers.
In the connected factory, front line workers can now take charge of their improvements. After workers start to understand digital technology, they start to think through it. This is the most exciting moment. When workers think through a technology, they’re not just replicating their analogue processes with digital tools. Rather, they’re starting to reinvent their work–reinventing what’s possible–by working within a digital medium.
One of the most exciting parts of building Tulip has been seeing how our customers build applications that we hadn’t thought of or configure use-cases that we hadn’t anticipated.
That’s what empowerment looks like to me.
Digital empowerment is when workers can take control of their operations and rethink what’s possible.
Curious how Tulip can empower the workers in your connected factory? Get in touch for a free demo today.