Connected workers: overcoming real-world workforce challenges

Posted on 19 Jan 2024 by The Manufacturer
Partner Content

Nokia’s Paul Downey explains how connected worker solutions available today help manufacturers overcome urgent workforce challenges while paving the way for business-wide digital transformation.

Manufacturers globally are under pressure to digitally transform for more responsive, smarter and more automated operations, along with increasing efficiencies and worker safety. Equally, they can also face significant issues associated with skills and labour shortages, employee retention, training and onboarding of new staff. According to a 2023 report from Make UK, more than 50% of the 200-plus manufacturing leaders surveyed identified skills and labour shortages as key risks to competitiveness.

To maintain their competitive edge, manufacturers must continue to advance the skills and knowledge of their current workforce, while transferring key knowledge to new staff. However, it’s often difficult to attract and meet the expectations of the new generation of manufacturing worker.

Paul Downey Paul Downey, Head of Manufacturing Marketing, Nokia’s Enterprise Campus Edge

“Nokia’s digital foundation for industries addresses manufacturers’ need to target immediate workforce challenges while paving the way for longer term transformation.”

Paul Downey is Head of Manufacturing Marketing within Nokia’s Enterprise Campus Edge team, focusing on the drivers, use cases and implementation of digitalisation for the discrete and process manufacturing sectors.

These digital natives learn in different ways than their predecessors, and they naturally assume their work world will typically be as connected and integrated as their personal world. In most manufacturing facilities, this is not always the case, and so the challenge can be to achieve the fusion of existing organisational experience, knowledge and expertise with this emerging culture of digital awareness and competence.

With the right strategy and technologies, manufacturers can address today’s workforce challenges while paving the way for their digital future.

A pervasive digital foundation supports immediate and future digitalisation

The first step towards both goals is to give workers connectivity, and access to relevant data, from anywhere within the facility. Manufacturers often explain that while they have considerable data, it’s trapped in separate silos across different, often wired, industrial networks. This segregation limits opportunities to share insight and expertise among experienced and new workers.

To address such issues, it is necessary for manufacturing organisations to have a digital foundation for transformative change, an example is the Nokia Digital Automation Cloud (DAC) – providing secure and pervasive industrial grade private wireless and WiFi, along with their Mission Critical Industrial Edge (MXIE) an on-prem edge platform to onboard a diverse portfolio of digitalisation applications (including those which integrate and correlate data from all industrial networks plant-wide). Connected workers can then access any required data with a combination of these ecosystem applications and appropriate industrial devices.

Every end-to-end solution is secure and fully integrated to eliminate complexity, all data remains on premises and every solution is scalable, so manufacturers can start small, then easily introduce additional connected worker and other use case capabilities as needed.

Integrated applications simplify and accelerate information sharing and learning

An example of a Nokia MXIE application is Taqtile Manifest; this gives manufacturing workers immediate access to work instruction and collaboration tools that help them perform complex tasks, access training and collaborate with colleagues.

Immersive training technology provides guided work instructions that enhance the skills of existing workers and help to attract, engage and educate new workers. Instant access to step-by-step online instructions ensures work gets done faster and more accurately with no paper required. Real-time and asynchronous collaboration puts expert knowledge at workers’ fingertips.

How to choose the path for connected workers that’s right for your operations and goals?

The key is to acknowledge where you are now, and to build from that point – every organisation will be at different stages of IT/OT convergence and digital transformation maturity. For example, Nokia digitalisation solutions integrate with existing networks, industrial protocols (Profinet, ModBus, etc.), systems and technologies, so evolution for manufacturers is smooth, seamless and can be aligned to individual circumstances – this encourages an augmenting approach as opposed to rip-and-replace scenarios.

Many manufacturers start with a proof of concept and expand from there. For example, Lufthansa Technik started with a pilot project for high-resolution, remote table inspections that allows workers to more efficiently and effectively serve customers while ensuring business continuity. Remote table inspections are now a permanent offering and Lufthansa Technik is trialing additional types of remote inspections.

In the case of Bosch, its approach is to use a 5G private wireless network to incubate a variety of connected worker and other use cases. The results will allow the company to create a blueprint for 5G smart factory transformation that can be applied to more than 250 factories globally.

Nokia’s own 5G ‘factory of the future’ in Oulu, Finland implements digital foundation for transformative change; in addition to connected workers, use cases include mobile robotics, reliable connectivity for all assets within and outside the factory, IoT analytics running on Edge cloud and a real-time digital twin of operations data. This factory is recognised by the World Economic Forum as an Advanced 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR) Lighthouse.

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