5 examples of how to improve communication and collaboration in a factory

Communication between operators is essential for seamless processes in production. As soon as human operators are involved in manufacturing, they need to interact with machines, as well as their colleagues. The WORKERBASE Connected Worker Platform improves communication and collaboration on the shop-floor by providing digital workflows on mobile devices.

Manufacturing technologies have evolved, but the organization of human work remained unchanged

During the last decades KPI-driven optimizations to improve OEE have been the focus of most manufacturers. Therefore, collaboration between machines and between machines and IT-systems were pushed and developed. At the same time collaboration between humans, machines and legacy systems has often been neglected and were only touched when implementing lean methods. Especially in times of Corona and social distancing, improved communication and collaboration between humans is vital to guarantee efficient production and flexible manufacturing.

Communication is the key enabler for efficient human work processes in cross-functional teams

In-person communication is often the preferred method of communication. Especially when complex decisions need to be made, nothing is better than a personal conversation. Interpersonal factors as emotions and facial expressions are easy to interpret, and, hey, after all, humans are social beings. On the other hand face-to-face communication lacks efficiency if small sized information (e.g. notification for missing material) are transmitted, since both parties need to be physically in the same location. 

Yesterday's communication was strongly based on paper and personal conversations. Nowadays, terminals and digital tools are used today to let operators interact with IT-systems and other operators. At the same time, many processes still heavily rely on paper-based processes and direct communication. But the point is: communication problems hinder efficient production processes and are a root cause for many production bottlenecks.

Mobile devices for real-time communication in cross-functional teams

In contrast to that, manufacturing of tomorrow leverages mobile devices for efficient communication in cross-functional teams. In combination with skill matrices, information can be distributed in real-time to the most relevant employee. And the best part: for each information type, there is a perfect device class. For example, smartwatches can be used to alert operators. Smartphones are a perfect device to work on digital checklist and send those to colleagues for review. And tablets are well suited to write and review service reports. All these devices are used to integrate the operator into the information flow and enable knowledge flow across cross-functional teams. 

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Benefits of real-time team communication in manufacturing

The usage of mobile devices for team communication entails multiple benefits to the shopfloor and its operators. We cluster the benefits of real-time communication in manufacturing in 5 categories. For each category, we give use case examples and how to implement it with the WORKERBASE Connected Worker solution.

1.) Faster communication

To improve communication on the shop-floor, we propose to hand out standard mobile devices to all employees, that are included in the production process. With that, every participant can be reached in real-time and be informed about urgent issues. Real-time notifications therefore reduce time to search for the right employee, save walkways and enable unambiguous communication. With the WORKERBASE Connected Worker solution, communication between cross-functional teams on the shop-floor can be drastically improved.

Example 1: Material at the assembly line is missing, production is therefore halted. The operator tries to reach the warehouse department over mail or phone to arrange new material supply as fast as possible or directly walks into the department. By sending an alert to warehouse via the Digital ANDON app on a  tablet the information is immediately transmitted and displayed on the WORKERBASE smartwatch of the warehouse employee. 

Example 2: Due to a rush order, the product sequence has to be changed immediately. The injection molding machine needs preheating before products reach the corresponding production stage. By pushing the rush order into the sequence, the WORKERBASE solution sends out a task notification to the smartphones of the relevant operators at the right time to set up the injection molding machine. This way materials are not slowed down and throughput time is reduced.

2.) Coordination based on skills

How do you know whom to contact if a problem arises? How do you know that this person can help and is available? Most direct communication channels have limits and trying to call people is super inefficient. In some factories, we have seen the use of consumer tools such as WhatsApp to solve the problem. Issues or tasks get posted in chat groups, hoping that colleagues are available and are willing to help. Sending messages is in most cases better than trying to reach people by phone. However, it is still inefficient. The WORKERBASE system allows you to send requests or assign tasks based on skills. Instead of contacting a specific person, that may or may not be available, messages are distributed to a number of people with the same skill set. A skill describes the ability of an operator to execute a task. Depending on which skills an operator acquired in the past, more or less tasks can be assigned to him. 

Example: Let’s take the warehouse example again: a notification is sent to those warehouse employees, that are able to handle the required material (e.g. have authority to drive a forklift). If an employee accepts a task on his mobile device, he gets the ownership for the task. At the same time, the task is deleted for his colleagues. Once the material is delivered the warehouse worker confirms the task, setting the status to done.

3.) Escalation of issues 

Skill-based coordination also enables fast escalation of tasks. The WORKERBASE system allows to create custom business rules for escalation and delegation procedures. 

Example: If the needed material is not available in the storage, the task can be escalated to higher management with the push of a button. The responsible manager then receives a real-time message to follow up on the issue. 

4.) Data generation and storage

By using mobile devices, multiple data points are generated. With the WORKERBASE Connected Worker platform, these data points are stored in a structured way. The system can connect to any legacy system, business intelligence tools and dashboards. A detailed overview of tasks, issues and other process data can be analyzed to receive more detailed insights into daily operations. Generated data is thereby transformed into knowledge and deeper understanding of the manufacturing process.

Example: All communication between assembly and material management can be tracked in an anonymized way. Identifying the number of ad hoc requests uncovers planning problems and allows to adjust the process to meet the real demands.

5.) Social Distancing

Due to the spreading of the Coronavirus, manufacturing operations are becoming more vulnerable to disruptions and need to adopt health care regulations. 

Example 1: Physical contacts and the risk for a Corona infection can be reduced by switching from in person and paper-based processes to digital workflows on mobile devices.

Example 2: rapid sequence changes due to supply chain disruptions can be managed in real-time through rule-based task distribution and improved collaboration and communication.

Workerbase enables organizations to realize these benefits through its easy to use Connected Worker platform. The solution includes a low-code app builder that allows rapid development of custom apps. Apps for mobile devices are customized with a couple of clicks and rolled out to the operator in no time. 

In case you are interested how your organization can profit from advanced communication and collaboration, please do not hesitate and contact us!

Digital ANDON for faster communication

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