By adopting technologies that encourage proactive problem solving and enhance the ease with which information can be shared, companies in the manufacturing space are starting to reinvent the way the industry works.
Microsoft has promoted digital transformation in recent times, but Indranil Sircar, director of Industry Technical Strategy for Manufacturing at Microsoft, warns that digital transformation is only as powerful as employees decide to make it.
“Manufacturing needs to be more connected and more mobile in terms of how people do their work,” Sircar says. “This will allow employees to be more empowered, deliver the quality required and work in a more collaborative way.”
Sircar says Microsoft wants to empower people to allow them to be successful. In the manufacturing space, providing design engineers, operators, line workers and technicians with the productivity tools they require is the key aim.
“Empowering people with personal productivity tools spans areas such as communication and social, content management and analytics,” says Sircar. “All these are hugely beneficial, and once people are empowered, there’s a chance to treat staff more like a dynamic team than in times gone by. Collaboration, intelligence and mobility is built around trust.”
Workers also need to be able to access an application from a business process perspective. Being able to use any kind of device, anywhere – not just laptops, tablets and mobile phones, but also interactive workspaces and tools like Microsoft HoloLens from a mixed reality and wearables perspective – is something Sircar believes is key to success in this space.
“These tools enable people to become more and more integrated into the organisation,” he says.
With mobile technologies more readily available than ever before, companies are embracing the possibilities presented.
“We are seeing initiatives from a lot of companies that tie into this current advancement,” Sircar says. “We have found that the modern workplace needs to deal with the information worker who is out there supporting the firstline aspects of it. We are seeing more and more people integrating their firstline workers into these workforce processes. That’s an important configuration.”
Sircar envisages a change of paradigm within manufacturing thanks to digital and mobile technologies. He sees information coming directly to workers, rather than employees having to seek out the information they require of their own accord.
“If there is a problem, artificial intelligence-enabled technology is now available to give workers a potential solution,” he says. “People can then be connected with an available expert anywhere in the world. That’s one thing we see happening more and more.”
Not only can efficiency be enhanced with better mobile technologies, but employee satisfaction can also be improved.
“Companies that invest in creating a mobile, connected workforce benefit from greater productivity, time and cost savings, a reduced error rate, more flexibility, more automated digital workflows and, subsequently, a lower employee turnover,” explains Johannes Petrowisch, global partner and business development manager at COPA-DATA. “Staff satisfaction increases with higher levels of ergonomics at the workplace. We are also seeing digitalisation deliver savings through reduced training effort and a faster and more intensive knowledge transfer.”
Sircar reports that a lot of the manufacturing companies Microsoft is working with are now achieving positive results in terms of the mobility and efficiency of their workforce.
“Our partners are working to empower their people to have information that is accessible and supports collaboration,” he says. “We are now seeing them reach a level where they are integrating their firstline workers. For example, one of our partners Thyssen Krupp are now getting their elevators to be more and more enabled in terms of providing insight from a predictive maintenance perspective. They’re allowing service technicians to work in a much more informed way by delivering information particular to them via a mixed reality environment. Then on site, they’re able to use something like Microsoft HoloLens during their work. They can work hands free, which greatly boosts their efficiency.”
These technicians can also be remote assisted by a subject matter expert in an office, rather than an expert having to travel into a customer site to carry out a task.
“I would say that is a next generation evolution in terms of how mobile service is being adopted, with mixed reality as an example,” says Sircar.
Sircar adds that data is a key factor in enhancing a workforce’s mobility and shouldn’t be underestimated.
“Most companies today are generating more data than ever,” says Sircar. “They collect data but can’t use it very well. Empowering individuals involves looking into that data, knowing what to do with it and how to make a difference. There’s also a great need to empower the emerging generation of workers because they are more socially adaptable in terms of the technology. We see an opportunity for companies to be more creative and productive in terms of empowering individuals, creating a modern workplace, and be very successful when it comes to efficiency and performance.”