Power to the people: The human factor in the plant of the future

This audio was created using Microsoft Azure Speech Services

So you’ve updated your plant with all the latest bells and whistles. Your assets are all smart and connected; you’ve installed the latest technologies; you’re armed with big data and cloud computing. But where does that leave your workforce? How do they fit into this brave, new world of automation? And how can you empower them to turn industrial automation into a Profit Engine of your business?

Over the years, many control strategies and initiatives have been based on the idea that automatic control would increasingly replace human involvement, and that this was the best way to reduce operating costs and maximize revenue. In time, however, the scenario of people being totally replaced by automation technology didn’t play out. Why? Mostly because it failed to take into account the positive and unique attributes humans bring to the table and technology does not, from our judgment and adaptability to our capacity to deal with the unknown.

But it turned out that rather than sidelining the workforce, a good control strategy not only has to include the workforce, it must empower them to bring their experience and expertise to bear so they can be more closely involved and responsible for improving the business performance of every asset and asset set.

Smart Control – real-time control extended to critical business variables like real-time safety (including environmental safety/sustainability), real-time reliability, and especially real-time operational profitability – doesn’t remove the worker from the equation. Instead, it gives plant personnel more and new opportunities to be directly involved in the success of the business since, in many cases, the asset won’t be able to control these variables. This is where your workforce comes in.

Instead of doing away with the human factor, today’s connected products, edge control systems, and apps and analytics actually place it squarely at the heart of the operation. People still need to make important business decisions, and these decisions have a direct and, at times, critical impact. What companies do need to do, though, in order to get the most out of their workforce, is to provide them with the most effective decision-support systems,easy-to-use tools, and information that is easily understandable and actionable, so staff can make better, more effective business and operating decisions. Makes sense, right?

Knowledge is power

Things like predictive analytics and prognostics, for example, can help operators recognize that a piece of equipment has a problem. Using these tools and the data they provide, a maintenance engineer can make a real-time decision that, in this case, could extend the time to failure. Some prognostics might reveal that the piece of equipment is going to fail in a few weeks. Today’s technology allows them to pinpoint that, which in turn empowers them to make better business decisions based on that knowledge. If they know, for example, that they have to fulfil some really important orders in the coming weeks, they can take real-time action to keep the asset running for just a little bit longer. They can manage those orders first, then schedule some maintenance afterwards. This is a prime example of how an empowered workforce can have a positive impact on the profitability of an operation.

With Smart Control and an empowered workforce in place, companies finally have the ability to optimize every asset and asset set across the enterprise, which gives them real-time control over all their business variables. That means they can then conduct business on the best and most profitable terms for them, rather than being locked into rigid, predetermined, one-size-fits-all schedules. This is the Profit Engine, engaged.

To learn more, click on the podcast below for my interview on the Peggy Smedley show, “The voice of IoT”.




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