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An Overview of Operator Augmentation

The topic of operator augmentation elicits mixed responses on the shop floor. When augmentation comes up, many workers hear automation. And it’s not just because they sound similar.

There are real anxieties that augmentation is just a stopgap measure on the way to automation. This, however, isn’t the case. Operators have, and will have, an important niche to fill in the factory for decades to come.

This blog will show why operators stand to benefit as much from augmentative technologies as their employers.

Illustration demonstrating data flow between worker, machines, and devices

Why Augmentation?

Even if automation isn’t on the horizon, it’s hard to ignore. Still, there are a few reasons why operators and businesses should embrace augmentation.

Augmentation is a response to the evolution of work, and that’s a good thing. According to McKinsey, only 5% of jobs internationally are vulnerable to full automation. 50% of tasks, however, have the potential to be automated in some capacity. This means that workers, especially in manufacturing, will find tasks like data entry, collection, and analysis, project tracking, and highly repetitive, high-volume assemblies aided by automation.

But what about the other 50% of tasks? This is where humans will thrive, and where augmentation can help. Augmented support for many routine tasks means that workers will have more time and resources to devote to what humans do best: innovative and skilled work.

Augmentation Helps Workers get Recognition

A synonym for the augmented worker is the connected worker. This is because augmentative technologies are constantly collecting data on operator performance.

This can cause anxiety. Many workers fear this will lead to increased supervision, or radical increases in expectations.

In our experience, this isn’t the case. Workers who use Tulip’s augmentative technology have actually benefited from increased shop floor visibility. For one operator, real-time data created a sense of friendly competition on the line. “I challenge myself; and the guy standing behind me, we challenge each other,” she noted. For others, augmentative technologies resulted in fewer errors, which is as positive a result for workers as it is for the bottom line. In other cases, the data from augmentative tech was used to create targeted training programs for employees who needed a boost.

Augmentative Technologies Produce more Value

In discussions of automation, there’s a fact that usually doesn’t get brought up: the automation of routine tasks is actually expected to create significant economic growth over time.

This is because the tasks that workers find themselves absorbed in will be those that are more economically valuable.

In manufacturing, augmentative technologies are already helping operators and engineers alike spend more time on the value-add portions of their jobs. This value focus translates into more growth, more jobs, and better prospects in the long run.

How Augmentation Benefits Workers and Businesses

There are already many ways augmentative technologies are already improving worker productivity, safety, and accuracy on the shop floor. In short, there’s a lot to be excited about.

The Augmented Operator Works More Efficiently

Modern augmentative technologies target precisely at leading causes of inefficiency.

Inefficiency results when a task is too difficult, when a worker’s attention is taxed to the point of distraction, or when an employee isn’t sufficiently trained.

Augmentative solutions target these sources of inefficiency. They streamline work environments, remove unnecessary difficulties, and simplify standard work. They’re interactive, keeping workers engaged even through monotonous tasks.

For example, interactive, targeted training apps can guide workers through new tasks. They can be broken down into easy-to-digest modules. Rich media help different styles of learning, and visual and tactile interaction improves retention.

Work instructions app for bike assembly

For engineers, no-code development platforms augment engineers’ knowledge of manufacturing processes and systems. They let engineers build or configure shop floor-ready apps tailored for their lines. No code platforms amplify engineers’ domain expertise with the ability to do technical work typically outsourced to IT or consultants.

The Augmented Operator Makes Smarter Decisions

Sound decisions are critical to manufacturing success. But to make the best decision, manufacturers need accurate, real-time data.

Technologies like holistic machine monitoring and instrumented apps generate a tremendous amount of data. Augmentative technologies like analytics dashboards and no code tables help put the information into a form that’s easy to understand. Dashboards provide a clear, visual representation of manufacturing processes, making it easier than ever to turn raw data into insights. No code tables enable engineers to store and access information in customized tables without having to craft complex SQL queries.

Data analysis illustration
Augmentative technologies improve decision making

This means less time pulling data, less time aggregating it, and more time working toward concrete improvements. Ultimately, that’s better allocation of resources, better asset utilization, and more balanced lines.

The Augmented Operator is Less Likely to Get Hurt

New sensors and fluid interfaces also hold to key to keeping workers safe in manufacturing contexts. Advances like Industrial IoT, edge computing, and computer vision have all led to a better understanding of injury-likely scenarios and provided mechanisms for preventing them.

Augmented worker illustration
Augmentative technologies make workers safer

With technology that integrates seamlessly onto the body, into clothing, and within the manufacturing environment, these technologies can sense when a worker crosses safety thresholds and alert them in real-time. Made to increase engagement and flag fatigue, these technologies can help notify workers of danger well before an accident.

The Augmented Operator Makes Fewer Mistakes

Often, mistakes are the result of tasks that exceed the ability of a worker to execute accurately and consistently over an extended period of time. It can often be traced back to bad working systems or high cognitive load.

Augmentative technologies remove extraneous variables from work systems, allowing workers to focus their full attention on mission-critical work. For example, digital work instructions augment operators' natural assembly skills by presenting them with the information they need in a form that’s easy to understand. All of this leads to fewer mistakes, even during the most variable tasks.

Tulip’s Frontline Operations Platform helps workers and businesses perform their best. Curious how Tulip can augment your workforce? Get in touch for a free demo today.

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3D Shop Floor (No "Triangle")