Operational Excellence
Apr 29, 2021 Gordana Stok

Three Proven Methods for Empowering Frontline Workers to Drive Operational Excellence

How manufacturers like Danone, Bosch and Barry Callebaut are using a connected worker app to accelerate skills development, working to standard and problem solving.

Connected worker applications have received a lot of attention since the COVID-19 outbreak because of the vital role they play in helping manufacturers to maintain operational continuity and keep factory workers safe.  Digitally connecting workers eliminates the need for in-person interactions and reliance on printed documents, enabling manufacturers to keep information flowing, train and upskill workers, troubleshoot problems in real-time at a distance, and realize many time and cost savings.   

While the technology has largely made it on people’s radar in the past year, some manufacturers like Mars, Danone, Bosch, Tyson Foods and Barry Callebaut have been using connected worker apps for several years now to empower their workers. Recognizing that a highly-skilled workforce is needed to operate their increasingly more complex equipment and that workers hold a wealth of knowledge and experience, these manufacturers have fundamentally changed the role of their frontline workers. By making it faster and easier for them to access information, and communicate and collaborate with one another, workers have become more knowledgeable, productive, agile, engaged and proactive in coming up with solutions to problems and ideas for continuous improvement.

This article explains why a connected worker app is a critical component of manufacturers’ industrial transformation (IX) strategy and how that’s driving operational excellence and a host of other improvements. This includes a 50% reduction in training time, an 8% direct productivity gain, and 12.5% reduction in waste.

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Transforming the Worker Experience

Mars, the world’s largest confectionery and pet food producer in the world, recognized a few years ago that they needed to do something different to build and maintain a skilled workforce that would carry them into the future, and that a connected worker app was key to their success.

“We saw that we had a great learning opportunity with a number of people retiring and new people coming into our factory,” says Avin Krishnan, Factory Director at Mars’ Veckel plant. “We wanted a way to future-proof how our associates learn about our culture and standards, and how they can have a better experience at work every day.” 

Digitally connecting all frontline workers improves their experience by making it faster and easier for everyone to communicate, collaborate and learn from one another, a goal that is also shared by Tyson Foods.

Bringing a connected worker app into the organization allows us to overcome some of the most significant challenges that we have at Tyson Foods with regards to sharing our best practices and factory knowledge,” says Adriana Graham, Senior Director of Information Technology at Tyson Foods.

Moreover, an improved worker experience leads to great efficiency, as explained by Gartner Research in their recent Innovation Insight for the Connected Factory Worker report:

“It’s a new approach to industrial efficiency. It’s as much a technology construct that changes how factory workers access information and knowledge to do their jobs differently, as it is a change management exercise that is rooted in workforce development, behavior shifts and integrated continuous improvement.”

Now let’s look at three concrete examples of how workers use a connected worker app in their daily jobs: training and skills development, working to standard, and troubleshooting problems

Accelerating Training and Skills Development

Accelerating training and skills developmnent with an ipad-based connected worker app.Developing the skills needed to operate complex equipment takes time, requiring workers to be trained on basic tasks when first onboarded and then later upskilled to take on more advanced tasks. However, training is very disruptive, taking both trainees and trainers away from their actual jobs. That’s why manufacturers like the specialized nutrition division of Danone and Barry Callebaut, the world’s leading chocolate manufacturer, have introduced digital, self-paced training as part of their connected worker app.

These manufacturers have reduced their reliance on formal classroom training events and on-the-floor shadowing. Instead, operators watch video micro-lessons on a tablet at their own pace. When done, they complete an online exam practice in front of a more senior operator or supervisor until they demonstrate that they’ve mastered the skill. Further, because the digital lessons are always available to operators at their stations, they don’t need to learn all skills at once. They learn “just in time” as the need arises and skill is required.

“Operators take the lead in their own learning,” explains Jorn Vroegh, Learning & Development Coordinator, at Danone. “They learn when they need to, the right way, and without constantly taking other operators away from their work.”

By moving to digital training and skills development, Danone decreased the time and cost of shadowing by 40%, while Barry Callebaut saw a 50% reduction in compliance training time.

“Our expectations have been exceeded in every respect,” says John Schouten, Director Global Operational Excellence at Barry Callebaut. “Overall, we were able to increase productivity by 4%, which is a great success in an already very efficient factory.”

Moreover, the benefits of using video micro-lessons extend beyond training. They also make it easier and clearer for operators to follow work instructions and troubleshooting tips.

Making It Easier to Follow Work Standards

Working to standard through digital work instructions and checklists.Consulting SOPs and equipment manuals can be a time-consuming process, especially if workers are forced to sift through hundreds of pages to find the information they need. As a result, these critical documents are rarely accessed. That’s why Riviera, a specialty dairy producer, and Leclerc, a leading food manufacturer in Canada, enable their workers to access digital versions of these documents directly at their stations.

Workers use a tablet to scan the barcode of their equipment to instantly pinpoint the precise work instructions and checklists they need. The visual instructions combined with a step-by-step checklist make it faster and easier for operators to follow the proper procedures.

Connecting workers in this way have led to a 5.9% reduction in equipment downtime at Leclerc and a 9% reduction in waste at Riviera.

Making it easier for operators to follow proper procedures and troubleshoot problems on their own reduces the need for equipment experts to be involved and leads to faster problem resolution. But, when they can’t, the same connected worker app helps workers to collaboratively solve problems at a distance.

Faster Collaborative Problem Solving

Escalate and troubleshoot issues using the digital communicaitons feed.Minimizing equipment downtime is an integral part of driving manufacturing excellence and requires a collaborative effort between operators, maintenance and process and equipment experts. However, experts aren’t always on-site to respond to a call-for-help, especially during nights shifts and weekends. That’s why operators at Bosch, Barry Callebaut, and C.H. Guenther, a privately owned food manufacturer in the US,  use the digital communications feed in their connected worker app to escalate and troubleshoot issues.  

Instead of ringing the Andon bell and waiting for a supervisor or maintenance technician to come to the rescue, operators use their connected worker app to post a call for help. This includes a photo or video of the problem taken using their workstations’ tablet. All experts and workers assigned to that equipment are automatically notified, and anyone can respond if they have a solution.

They then can post a comment, photo or video of how to solve the problem in the feed. All content captured as part of the call-for-help can then be easily saved in a knowledge base as a troubleshooting tip, and instantly shared across their plants. Streamlining the way production and maintenance communicate and collaborate to solve problems has resulted in an 8% direct productivity gain at Bosch. 

At C.H. Guenther, digitally connecting frontline workers have changed the manufacturer’s expectations for its 3,800 employee workforce. 

“We want 3,800 problem solvers,” says Rick Crook, Sr. Director, Operations & Global GPS Leader at C.H. Guenther. “We want everyone in our company to solve problems whether it be related to food, safety, quality, or our operations.”

The expectation for workers to be actively engaged and contribute to solving problems and continuous improvement is echoed at Barry Callebaut.

“People are not here just to work, but also to think,” says Johan de Langhe, Global CI Champion, at Barry Callebaut. “They use the communication and collaboration tools (of our connected worker app) to share their experience and insights, improve problem-solving, and eliminate gaps in standards and execution.”

 Proven ‘Out-of-the-Box’ Solution

Poka is an industry-leading 'out-of-the-box' connected worker solution.

Poka combines digital communication and collaboration, training and skills management, work instructions, issues management, and forms and checklists in a single integrated platform to make it faster and easier for busy frontline workers to use in the flow of work.

“Poka was everything we were looking for in a software package for frontline collaboration, both from a strategic and tactical level,” says Rick Crook at C.H. Guenther.

Moreover, Poka fosters a culture of continuous learning and improvement where common problems are quickly understood and resolved while constantly adding to a company’s knowledge base.

“Everyone was on-board from the start,” adds Vroegh at Danone. “Operators are the most excited by the system because it really is for them. They use it every day. While management benefits by being able to see (what’s happening on the floor), it‘s really for the people on the floor.” 

“The use of a digital platform, like Poka, clearly can make a difference in the speed and depth of the implementation of an operator-centric culture,” adds Langhe at Barry Callebaut.

A Connected Worker is an Empowered Worker

Up until the pandemic manufacturers have largely focused their industrial transformation (IX) initiatives and operational (OT) investments on connecting assets so that data can be shared in real-time. However, the growing skills gap exacerbated by the pandemic is now prompting manufacturers to acknowledge that digital transformation must also be extended to frontline workers.

These essential workers must be empowered to be more knowledgeable,  productive, agile, engaged and proactive in supporting operational excellence. In short, a highly skilled workforce is more important than ever for delivering the highest quality products to customers at the best cost. 

Thankfully, a new class of connected worker apps enables manufacturers to quickly transform their factory floor so they not only survive this pandemic but also thrive for many years to come. To learn more about Poka discover what the day in the life of a connected factory worker looks like, watch our product video.

Gartner does not endorse any vendor, product or service depicted in its research publications, and does not advise technology users to select only those vendors with the highest ratings or other designation. Gartner research publications consist of the opinions of Gartner’s research organization and should not be construed as statements of fact. Gartner disclaims all warranties, expressed or implied, with respect to this research, including any warranties of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose.

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