Improving Competitiveness through Communication
It's fair to say that businesses across all industries haven't had it easy lately. Not only having to contend with the fallout from a global pandemic, but also the repercussions of Brexit, have meant that businesses are under greater pressure than ever before. Particularly within industries such as manufacturing, organisations are now tasked with finding new ways to adapt and become more competitive, and they must capitalise on opportunities to improve efficiency, productivity and ultimately, profitability.
If we want our economy to not only bounce back, but bounce back better and deliver the growth that is needed – businesses need to act now. As the world is recovering from the pandemic we know that new opportunities will arise so we need to empower our businesses to capitalise on these opportunities. To enable this, they require investment which must be channelled through to the right businesses as quickly as possible, whilst the opportunities are there.
Businesses cannot afford to wait for the pandemic to be over and for the impact of Brexit to settle before making changes. Enormous efforts are already being witnessed within manufacturing companies to ensure processes are not only more streamlined, but that workplaces and processes have been arranged in a way that tasks can be completed most effectively and just in time processes have been established with the same objectives.
However, when it comes to detecting and fixing critical issues which can cause production lines to stop or slow down, create waste, or harm staff or the environment, the same level of efficiency has not yet been reached. But sectors that operate industrial machinery, such as utilities and manufacturing, cannot afford such delays to their operations. As Klaus Allion, MD, ANT Telecom, explains, now is the time for organisations to make changes for the better and unlock greater productivity, safety and efficiency gains to achieve a competitive advantage, even with fewer people physically on site.
Deploying human and machine skill
The impact of the pandemic has demonstrated how important technology is to support critical business processes and infrastructure, and equally, the role that human resources have to play. However, businesses are still not accurately identifying where human and technical skill could be used most effectively, leaving huge gaps where greater efficiencies could be gained.
Many companies have rightly invested in highly qualified staff and training to increase employee skill sets, but all too often they continue to use this resource for tasks they're overqualified for. Instead, these experts should be able to concentrate on putting the processes and documentation in place, instead of constantly fighting the same fires.
There is one element that can overcome the challenges of resource allocation and detecting machinery issues: using technology more effectively and in some areas taking human latency out of the equation. By automating processes and even decision-making, valuable time can be gained, enabling employees to concentrate on the issues where human engagement is required to find a solution.
Overall Equipment Effectiveness
Any monitoring technology should be smarter than just reporting on a binary level (i.e. working or not working). Continuous monitoring can show change and variation in patterns, for example increased vibration that if undetected or ignored could lead to an unexpected and sudden breakdown. This continued monitoring can ensure that preventative action can be taken ahead of escalation, at a time when it is least disruptive to the business.
Often, errors, miscommunication and confusion can occur within complex team setups where there is a lack of clarity over who can fix an issue when it occurs, and how quickly it can be done. A centralised operations function may seem the best approach, but once an issue is flagged, what is the delegation process? They would need to first assess who needs to be contacted regarding the issue. Perhaps the problem requires a local third party or a specialist, but what if they are unavailable and the issue requires an urgent fix? Do they have a list of alternative options to contact? This process takes up valuable time – particularly wasteful for repeat incidents.
What many managers may not realise is that if a machine or process issue can use automation to communicate an error to a central platform, automation can also be used to communicate the issue to relevant parties that can resolve or assist in its overall management. The key is having the flexibility in place to report the issue to the right person or group with the right skill sets to fix the issue efficiently and to a high standard. In some cases the right person might be an engineer or first aider who happens to be close to the incident at the time. Automation platforms can help to not only distribute alerts to the appropriately skilled person, but also to the person(s) in the right area geographically. With the right workflows in place based on the event or incident detected, the most appropriate staff can be alerted depending on the issue at hand, rather than the same team having to deal with every issue and delegate accordingly.
Additionally, with a 360 degree process, an alarm management platform can record the entire alarm chain as part of an audit trail, as staff interactions and actions are logged. Reoccurring issues can be documented and fault analysis checklist and troubleshooting guides can be distributed together with the alert. This ensures the fault analyses and resolution process is consistent across the organisation and issues are resolved as efficiently as possible.
Intervening with technology
Technology can also allow any issues that cannot be resolved quickly and efficiently on site to be escalated to remote experts. Using technology that allows efficient collaboration with a support or expert team will further improve responsiveness. Being able to reach a group of experts with one button click to quickly identify the most appropriate one to help is quicker than having to make multiple calls and waiting for responses. With this approach, staff are freed up to concentrate on specialist tasks, and employees with less experience can then be upskilled, without impacting efficiency. Furthermore, it ensures the organisation's fault resolution process is consistent, so that even if an expert leaves the company, the process will be able to continue seamlessly.
By automating processes and securing the right balance of using both technology and human intervention, higher productivity and greater efficiencies can be gained, even with fewer people onsite. As a result, the organisation will not only remain competitive, but will also be resilient, profitable, and above all, able to operate safely.
Considering lone workers
In a lone worker scenario, consideration of how responders can locate the member of staff in an emergency must be a priority. Any lone worker solution should have the ability to provide location information, such as GPS, or for more accurate indoor location, WiFi triangulation or beacons.
In any emergency response scenario, instant communication is critical to ensure a timely resolution – especially if a worker's life may be at risk. But rapid communication is also important for a critical machinery incident – if experts or support can be reached with simply the press of a button, then any parts, tools, actions or advice needed can be delivered immediately. Companies need to deploy technology solutions, such as integrated lone worker and communication devices – for example, Push to Talk over Cellular (PoC) or Digital Radio – to ensure that all employees are connected. This is imperative for ensuring optimum team communication, collaboration, morale, welfare, mental and physical health and personal safety.
UK businesses can greatly improve their competitiveness by improving efficiency. But this needn't be an overwhelming task for any organisation as often existing technology can be used – it's about using the technology more effectively and in some cases, taking human latency out of the equation. The sooner you can help your organisation to improve efficiency, the faster your company can benefit from opportunities arising. Capitalising on these now will be the difference between surviving and thriving.
Now is the time to analyse where your immediate wins are and to safeguard your organisation in the future.