The past several months have been some of the most disruptive many manufacturers have experienced in their lifetimes. Speculating on what the “new normal” for manufacturing might look like in a post-pandemic world is nearly impossible.
The only constant is the inevitability of more disruption. Managers must look to new technologies, and establish new protocols and best practices that, first and foremost, protect our frontline employees. Only then can we lay the foundation for a more resilient manufacturing ecosystem, one capable of enduring disruption today and thriving tomorrow by maintaining mission-critical processes that ensure operational continuity. Our current crisis only amplifies this need. Flexibility, resourcefulness, and rapid responsiveness are how manufacturers will prosper in the future.
Many manufacturers are developing social-distancing strategies to protect vulnerable workers. Existing shifts may need to follow new social distancing guidelines, reducing the total number of workers allowed onsite at the same time. Companies may decide to increase their number of shifts and decrease the number of workers per shift to keep personnel at a safe distance from each other.
Protecting older, more vulnerable employees—often the most experienced frontline workers—requires special consideration. COVID may compound the ongoing issue of manufacturers losing their most skilled frontline employees to retirement as the virus could accelerate the departure of these uniquely-skilled employees.
While new staff is hired, they lack the experience to adequately replace seasoned experts. And in lean organizations, this inexperienced worker may have to do the job of multiple people. All of these issues are putting added pressure on manufacturers to develop continuity of operations plans (CoOPs).
How do you train one inexperienced person to immediately do the job of one skilled employee, let alone multiple experts? You can’t. But you can give them a tool that allows them to function like an expert at many tasks.
Preserving Organic Knowledge Today, For Tomorrow
New ways to tap into the knowledge and skill sets of experienced, older, more vulnerable workers will need to be developed. Leveraging the expertise of skilled workers, regardless of location, will become a critical factor in avoiding future disruption. Augmented reality – AR – is a transformational technology that empowers manufacturers to fully leverage the expertise of their most knowledgeable employees to maintain operations, even in a post-COVID environment.
Due to COVID-19 disruptions, we are seeing organizations begin to invest in the methodical documentation of the maintenance and repair procedures frontline workers perform, in ways that facilitate the ability of un- or under-trained workers to accurately perform those complex tasks. The ordeal we are all going through magnifies the need for effective, efficient knowledge sharing.
AR is adept at leveraging existing expertise and sharing it quickly and efficiently with teams of frontline workers. For example, with the Manifest mixed-reality platform, experts can author step-by-step processes that capture their knowledge for use in operational or training capacities within the facility, or any other similarly equipped plant around the world.
Through AR, experienced workers become more efficient and productive by making new or less experienced workers smarter and more competent. The benefit to manufacturing organizations is significant – clear documentation of the processes frontline workers perform, in ways that frontline workers, regardless of experience level, can accurately follow. By providing dynamic operational procedures based on the state of the equipment or machine, these technologies can assist workers while they become familiar with new procedures or processes. AR gives them the confidence to complete jobs accurately, safely, and with fewer errors.
Advances in technology are already beginning to increase the utility and value of AR platforms. For example, two-way video, real-time remote guidance, and on-demand access to instructional multimedia files empowers less-informed workers to safely, efficiently, and thoroughly complete complex tasks at the machine. The dawn of 5G networks will also play a critical role.
Augmented reality tools will significantly benefit from 5G’s dramatically improved throughput, reduced latency, and increased security.
Flexibility, resourcefulness, and adaptability are key assets enabling manufacturers to prosper in the future. Leveraging and distributing resources and expertise with AR tools is one way to adapt and increase resilience. Aided with real-time data and on-demand advice, all frontline workers will have the opportunity to become experts.
During a time of crisis, forward-thinking executives and managers must recognize that technological responses are proportional to the severity of the crisis. As manufacturers look to the future and we continue to adapt and develop continuity of operations plans to cope with future disruptions, we have an opportunity to leverage technology tools and solutions to manage today’s crisis and increase our preparedness for the future.
Kelly Malone is the Chief Revenue Officer at Taqtile.