Digital transformation shift for process manufacturers

Focusing digital transformation on people can help process manufacturers enhance knowledge transfer and empower workers.

By Andreas Eschbach November 30, 2022
Courtesy: eschbach

 

Learning Objectives

  • Digital transformation needs to be about empowering the worker and giving them the tools to succeed.
  • A centralized knowledge repository collects all the data and observations from other team members and provides the information needed for their jobs.
  • A centralized knowledge repository collects all the data and observations from other team members and provides the information needed for their jobs.

Digital transformation insights

  • Transferring knowledge is a key component for manufacturing jobs and it is often incomplete, leaving new workers at a disadvantage.
  • Digital transformation can help workers attain information by providing a repository where all information is stored from workers.

Digital transformation isn’t about technologies – it’s primarily about people. A people-centered approach to digital transformation can help process manufacturers enhance knowledge transfer and empower workers at all levels of the organization.

The knowledge transfer problem in process manufacturing

In continuous manufacturing, transferring knowledge between teams and across shifts is essential for plant safety, product quality and efficient operations. In the past, this has been a manual process, epitomized by the shift-to-shift meetings, that brief overlap where observations and instructions are passed along. Face-to-face discussions are often augmented by a written log, which may be kept in a spreadsheet, document, or general manufacturing execution system (MES). Other information is sent out in emails, which can generate long chains of responses that may or may not be pertinent to the people copied on the chain.

Too often, important information falls through the cracks and maybe siloed and not passed along across teams or areas of responsibility. People who most need critical updates may not have access to software systems where they are documented or may not know where to find the information that pertains to them.

Oral knowledge transfer is vulnerable because people can forget what they meant to say after a long shift or fail to pay attention during a busy shift change. When people are absent or leave the company, critical institutional knowledge can be lost. Common knowledge transfer challenges for shift handover include:

  • Information silos: Important information doesn’t get passed between teams, or people don’t have access to the systems or documents where certain information is stored.

  • Poor visibility: Information is accessible, but people don’t see it unless they know they need to look for it.

  • Complexity: People don’t understand which information applies to them or what actions they need to take.

It should be no surprise, then, that shift handovers represent a critical vulnerability for chemical manufacturers and other process industries. In fact, one oil and gas company recorded that 40% of their plant incidents occurred during a changeover in shifts.

A people-centered approach to digital transformation will help process manufacturers reduce errors and accidents. In November, chemical and pharmaceutical process manufacturing software provider, eschbach, introduced a new artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled version of its Shiftconnector software. Courtesy: eschbach

A people-centered approach to digital transformation will help process manufacturers reduce errors and accidents. In November, chemical and pharmaceutical process manufacturing software provider, eschbach, introduced a new artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled version of its Shiftconnector software. Courtesy: eschbach

Creating a centralized digital knowledge center

Shift changeovers and other routine activities represent a ripe opportunity for digital transformation in process industries. To get the desired results, companies must take a worker-centered approach to digitization.

What does that look like? A people-centered approach looks beyond digitization, automation, and cyber-physical systems (CPS) to consider the needs of the people who are using the tools. What do they need to know? When do they need the information? What kinds of decisions do they need to make? Who else must provide input to facilitate or approve those decisions? And how can people be empowered to perform their jobs efficiently?

Consider day shift technicians in a chemical manufacturing plant. When they start their day, they need to know the status of processes they are taking over from the night shift and what the next steps are. They also need to know if there are any problems to troubleshoot, new directives from management, or safety or maintenance issues to be aware of. Some information is conveyed during the morning stand-up meeting, while other data is scattered between logs and documents maintained by different people. They also must comb through dozens of new emails to figure out what pertains to them and what has or hasn’t been addressed since they left their shift 12 hours or some days ago.

What they need is a centralized knowledge repository that collects all the data and observations from other team members and provides the information needed for their jobs in a format that is easy to understand and act on. A digital knowledge center acts as a shop floor cockpit, streamlining information collection and transfer and allowing teams to get up to speed with the information relevant for their roles and responsibilities. It also makes it easy for people to share their own instructions and observations with everyone else who needs them.

Four ways to empower process workers through digital transformation

A centralized digital repository for data collection and knowledge transfer is transformative for chemical manufacturers. To get the most benefit, the system must be built around the people who will use it. This “people first” approach to digital transformation is the guiding philosophy behind “Industry 5.0”, which focuses on connecting technology with workers to capitalize on each other’s strengths.

Shift management software can address the problems of knowledge transfer by eliminating information silos, improving visibility and transparency and reducing complexity. Such software ensures each person has access to the right information at the right time to do their jobs. In process industries, shift management software can reduce errors related to shift handover and knowledge transfer.

A centralized knowledge platform allows the people using the platform to help design the automation needed, enabling them to better adapt and to work smarter.

  1. Information is easily shared between teams and visible to those who need it, allowing for collaborative problem solving and streamlined approvals.

  2. People can see which issues have already been addressed, which are still open and in need of resolution, and how they apply their jobs according to their roles and responsibilities. This allows workers to be more proactive in addressing open issues instead of fostering a “not my job/above my paygrade” mentality.

  3. Historical information is always available in the central repository, so critical knowledge is not lost when a team member leaves or retires.

  4. Access to real-time information and trends allows managers to address emerging problems and adapt to changing market realities, such as a raw material shortage or a sudden increase in customer demand. This information can be shared across teams so everyone can see how their roles will be impacted.

Empowering people to make better decisions and work together improves plant safety, productivity and resilience. Dozens of chemical manufacturers have increased safety and efficiency by implementing worker-centered digital transformation strategies – including addressing safety issues. People working in certain facilities were more disciplined in executing their routine tasks and communicated about observations. They also found they can better coordinate repairs and other incidents across departments and disciplines. In the U.S., another customer has reported that they saw increased asset utilization through reduced downtime and fewer performance dips after they involved operators in loss reporting.

Preparing process plants for tomorrow’s labor market

A people-centered approach to digital transformation will help process manufacturers reduce errors and accidents, ensure consistent product quality and maximize productivity. It also will help plants address the needs of today’s workers. Many plants have lost – or will soon lose – seasoned line workers and managers with decades of institutional knowledge.

Fewer young people are choosing to go into manufacturing, and those who do tend to change jobs more frequently. That makes the knowledge transfer problem of critical importance.

A centralized knowledge repository ensures that historical data and important information (e.g., process instructions, safety procedures and maintenance requirements) are not lost as workers change roles or leave the organization. This helps employers get new workers up to speed and maintain consistency in operations. Workers who are new to their roles have access to the information they need to perform their jobs well and grow their knowledge and skills. Helping workers be successful in their roles and empowering them to take a proactive role in the organization improves job satisfaction and commitment, which helps employers retain and grow the best talent.

To get the maximum impact from a digital shift handover program, look for one built specifically for the process industry and can be configured according to the needs of the workers of each plant.

This ensures high user acceptance and makes the workers allies of the company’s shop floor digitization journey. The right approach to digital knowledge transfer will not only improve the shift handover process, but create a workplace that is stronger, safer and ready for the future.

Andreas Eschbach is CEO and founder of eschbach Germany and North America. Edited by Chris Vavra, web content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media and Technology, cvavra@cfemedia.com.

MORE ANSWERS

Keywords: digital transformation, workforce development

Digital transformation needs to be about empowering the worker and giving them the tools to succeed.

A centralized knowledge repository collects all the data and observations from other team members and provides the information needed for their jobs.

ONLINE

See additional IIoT and Industry 4.0 stories at https://www.controleng.com/iiot-industrie-4-0/

CONSIDER THIS 

What impact is digital transformation having at your facility?

REFERENCES

Vatanparest, S. (2019) Why poor shift handover can lead to serious oil & gas incidents. EHS Today. August 13, 2019. https://www.hazardexonthenet.net/article/178567/The-role-of-poor-shift-handover-in-oil-and-gas-incidents.aspx

https://www.eschbach.com/en/industries/index.php 


Author Bio: Andreas Eschbach is the CEO of eschbach.