The pandemic has impacted almost every industry worldwide and forced businesses to implement remote work strategies and create social distancing in workplaces. The remote connected worker drove the use of many newer technologies, workplace policies and changes in 2020. While some companies had technologies in place to maintain productivity and keep the workers connected and safe, other operations were forced to implement new technologies and procedures to enable business continuity. Technologies and procedures were implemented that enabled remote data-based decisions. These newer technologies include connecting workers to the right data and information often from data silos, deploying data to the cloud, enabling modern digital platforms, and using digital dashboards and other visualization technologies.
Early on during the pandemic, ARC Advisory Group did a survey with Automation.com about what was being done to address the pandemic in operations. One interesting question we asked in the survey was “if you could do something different or the same in operations regarding people, processes, and technologies to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, what would you do or are already doing that you could have done differently?” Answers ranged from anyone who could work remotely from home, should, to some newer initiatives that were being done to accommodate people remotely off-site and for those working remotely on site. Some industrial companies added newer more secure network technology and other technologies that supported remote workers. We found that some suppliers were giving technology licenses for free to enable remote workers for remote maintenance. We saw companies using digital twins and virtual reality to emulate processes in one location where they were closing a border to reproduce the process faster in another location where borders were still open. There were companies that wanted to reproduce control room dashboards for remote workers with multiple screens so they could monitor processes, make data-driven decisions, and alert workers to emergencies or other issues safely at home. We also saw the implementation of cameras, robotics, advanced analytics, like AI, being implemented to help remote workers.
An increasing volume of industrial data was moved to the cloud during the pandemic. On site, there were initiatives around sanitizing, separating employees, temperature checks and more - all to keep employees that had to work remotely on site safer. Resolving supply chain issues became paramount because companies were closing borders in one location or country, shutting down facilities and relocating quickly to another location. ARC found that all companies were focused on business continuity – keeping the business running. But most of the initial issues came down to resolving remote connected worker challenges so they were able to obtain real-time data and information for the right worker at the right time.
Companies performed virtual factory acceptance tests, online training, remote maintenance for software upgrades, installed new equipment virtually, with one worker on site and others remote to keep them separated. The remote connected worker is about teamwork and collaborating remotely.
There are all kinds of devices today that enable remote workers whether they are on site remotely or at home, and these range from digital dashboards to virtual reality, augmented reality visualization with smart glasses that walk you through safety checks or virtual maintenance or chat bots to exoskeletons, wearables for security because they may be using gloves or eyeglasses, so finger or eye scans do not work, locations and even checking health of employees. We have also seen cameras, video and robotics being used for activities that may not be safe for humans on site.
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Keywords: Remote Connected Worker, Industrial Worker, Pandemic Worker, Digital Transformation, COVID-19, ARC Advisory Group.