Can Smart Manufacturing Empower Workers?

Can Smart Manufacturing Empower Workers?

Learn how two manufacturers used smart devices to help improve quality inspections and reduce worker stress, errors and other inefficiencies in complex operations.

By Ananth Seshan, group managing director, 5G Automatika Ltd.

Editor’s Note: This article is adapted from the white paper, “The Empowered Worker™ in a Smart Manufacturing Plant – Two Case Studies.” Visit to download the free, full white paper that discusses two case studies where the user applied wearables, the internet and smart communication technologies to achieve improvement in quality inspections and to reduce worker stress, errors and omissions in complex operations.

Smart manufacturing involves smart business processes, smart technology and empowered workers. In other words, a smart manufacturing facility has the capability to synthesize smart and flexible solutions for implementing smart business processes using internet and wireless technologies that help empower workers to make smart, timely and informed decisions.

This article looks at two case studies that illustrates how a manufacturing worker can use the real-time contextual intelligence that can be generated by smart technology in a timely manner to help improve efficiency, effectiveness and quality by minimizeingerrors and being subject to less stress while performing complex operations.

Automotive Quality Inspection Case Study

A leading automotive OEM sources parts from an established network of more than 400 suppliers. The quality cost of the “bought out” parts was high because of drastically varying quality-control standards and inspection processes practiced by workers across the supplier network.

Furthermore, the inspections weren’t data driven. Various stages of the inspection process weren’t recorded for future reference or use (except for the final inspection report). As a result, no meaningful analysis was possible for the workers in the suppliers’ plant to plan continuous improvement or implement stringent quality control.

A simple-to-implement, cost effective smart manufacturing solution was developed using digital, ec4 Intelligent Node and mobile technologies. This allowed workers to capture quality control measurements online using a user-friendly mobile app and Bluetooth technology. Cloud-based software helped capture and access reports in real time.

The company was able to reduce the cost of achieving quality and make the quality-control process standard and data-driven across all 400 suppliers.

Subassembly Operation Case Study

In another instance, a large, global tractor manufacturer experienced significant errors, omissions and rework when placing decals on tractors in a subassembly line.

The facility produces about 250 tractor models; each tractor has a distinct set of instruction and warning label decals that must be affixed at specific locations on the tractor’s fenders. The subassembly line is a multiproduct line — any of the approximately 250 models can be assembled in the same line. Therefore, operators must identify the right set of decals for a particular tractor model from memory or from a reference manual. This increased worker stress and the potential for errors.

In addition, each decal has to be affixed at a certain location in the fender using a ruler or fixtures for alignment and positioning.

To address these challenges, workers were outfitted with smart wearable devices (glasses) that used machine vision and augmented reality to improve the label application process. The wearable device helped reduce worker stress and resulting errors by providing in real time the information on the specific decals needed for a particular model. In addition, the machine vision and augmented reality helped guide the operator to the proper locations on the tractor’s fender.

Empower Your Workforce

These two manufacturing operations illustrate just a few of the simple, scalable smart-manufacturing solutions available that can help empower workers and increase efficiency.

5G Automatika Ltd. is a participating EncompassTM Product Partner in the Rockwell Automation PartnerNetwork™. Based in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, the company supplies the Enterprise Gateway (EG) off-the-shelf solution that integrates production and maintenance operations of an enterprise in real time for enhanced production performance.

The Journal From Rockwell Automation and Our PartnerNetwork™ is published by Putman Media, Inc.



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The JOURNAL from Rockwell Automation and Our PartnerNetwork™ is a bimonthly magazine, published by Putman Media, Inc., designed to educate engineers about leading-edge industrial automation methods, trends and technologies.