blog banner

Factories for humans: smart technologies and solutions to ensure employees well being and work quality

On November, 24th 2020 more than 20 professionals from Italy, Hungary and Belgium attended the vitual Learning Network Event organised by AFIL around the topic of “Factories for Humans”.

Starting from the consideration that the human factor remains the ”Key to The future“, the LNE agenda was focused on advanced technologies and solutions implemented in the workplace to enhance employees work quality ensuring safety and ergonomics as well as efficiency.

The session was introduced by a key-note speech from Alessandro Marini, AFIL senior advisor and ADMA expert highlighing the importance of bringing humans back at the center of the factories as a stategic asset for the Factories of the Future.

In spite of the last 20-30 years trend who pushed toward the “de-humanisation of factories”, it is important now to focus not only on making factories intelligent, but also to keep humans at the core of the manufacturing processes leveraging on the creation of a working environment able to i) provide support and inclusion to workers, ii) enable the collaboration and interaction of operators with the machines and the systems, iii) valorize the flexibility of the human being and iv) ensure safety.

“As it directly impacted human productivity, our latest, most productive investment was on safety
HITACHI – CFI Lighthouse Plant

People in the factory have to be focused on the machines which need to be intelligent allowing operators to perform their jobs in the best and safest way. New tools and perspectives are indeed fundamental to manage the complexity of intelligent machines and enable operators to easily interact and utilise them.

Collaboration between humans and machines should be pursued to extract the best from these interactions, namely the intelligence from humans combined with the machine’s ability to perform repetitive, heavy and/or dangerous tasks.

From the design to the implementation of solutions for humans in the factory

Innovations and strategic decisions, form the design to the implementation, can not ignore employees’ feelings and needs, which should be taken into account in all the stages of innovation processes. This will also allow companies to recognise competence gaps and highlight the needs of reshaping human activities in the factory, upgrading available skills or introducing new profiles.

In order to discuss on these contents, the meeting continued with a panel session in which technology providers and manufacturing companies shared their inspiring experiences.

“Human-centred automation as cornerstone for mature factories of the future”
Alessandro Pollini – BSD Design

BSD is a design studio dealing with HMI design, they usually start their activities around humans trying to understand all the aspect of the workplace and the tasks to which the human is connected. Their approach is therefore integrating ergonomics and design with the aim to bring automation to the machine according to a person’s limits, abilities and needs. Only in this way, human-Centred Automation may deploy a man-machine interaction/integration continuum, a relation in which both the entities autonomously act and collaborate throughout the production process and the product lifecycle, in order to consistently reach productivity and wellbeing together.

Innovation in our factories will be successfully realised only if people will play a role in innovative processes.

A case study on a Grinding machine tools applied in the automotive sector was presented as an example of an integrated ergonomics and interaction design project. This project has seen the development of man-machine interaction models as holistic interface towards data, services, and automation management in a complex socio-technical system.

Field analysis, system modelling, user interaction and interface design were presented as the main steps implemented to make complexity manageable and to support digital transformation in mature factories allowing at the same time to increase awareness and autonomy in operators.

Make processes visually accessible and create mental model to support operators in better understanding the processes is the key to enable the human machine partnership.

Humans and machines in their interactions are sharing resources, doubts and even uncertainty, so this relationship has to be considered and managed as partnership.

TXT –  “Augmented Human in the Factory”
Michele Sesana – TXT Group

TXT is a software engineering company providing I4.0 solutions leveraging on the new technologies which are emerging in the latest years introducing a paradigm shift in production processes. This has contributed to the creation of highly automated shop floors, so we really need to focus on understanding the human’s role in such an environment as well as their needs and related implications.

The key of future human work will be the collaboration with the different digital systems that are available in the factory. Those systems are going to augment operators’ perception, efficiency and safety in operations

The ingredients of this collaboration are:

  • Augmented Human (human intelligence connected with digital systems),
  • IoT for the collection and processing of real time data,
  • AI focused on reasoning and continuous learning,
  • Collaborative Robots to accomplish repetitive tasks

Several use-cases are developed by TXT in partnership with companies around these areas. An example was brought to the audience showcasing a Festo pilot line installed at Politecnico di Milano lab, executing collaborative maintenance including troubleshooting on a drill bit which is requiring the interaction among human AI and IOT activities.

Collaborative troubleshooting leverages on the complementary peculiarities of human and digital system.

From the operator perspective two are the key elements:

  • Human input and decision: the augmented operator become part of the system and integrated by handheld devices (tablet) and/or wearable devices (HoloLens) with analytic services (predictive maintenance, prescriptive analytics, dashboards, etc.) and troubleshooting activities that can be triggered by the system. The human collaborates in collecting more information from the system, receiving request forms & more operations (checks, calibrations, setup, etc.). The output of the process is the decision of what to execute.
  • Action: fully electronic digital instructions are available by handheld devices (tablet) and/or wearable devices (HoloLens). The augmented operator sees both digital instructions and augmented layer that guides him to the operations step by step which minimize the execution time and errors. Parametric procedures can adapt to the actual real time status of the system for more precise operations; system simulations can be connected as well if cases evaluation before the execution.

Collaborative Applications with the Intelligent Devices for Handling INDEVA
Silvana Donati – Scaglia INDEVA

INDEVA is producing industrial manipulators, Automated Guided Vehicle (AGV) and COBOTS. Smart solutions that can enhance employees wellbeing and safety conditions.

The presentation was particularly focused on smart industrial manipulators which are intelligent devices for handling which enable operators to lift and transport loads with complete ease. These solutions are equipped with an advanced electronic control system, the manipulators provide ergonomic load handling, reducing the stress and strain associated with manual handling.  A practical case implemented by an agricultural cooperative that slaughters cows and pigs was illustrated. In that working environment manipulators are used to move animals of different loads and this solution allowed the companies to:

  • Improve overall productivity
  • Improve operators’ health reducing injuries hazard
  • Ensuring high quality and hygiene production standards
  • Improve ergonomics and health standards for the operators

This device is operating as an extension of the operator’s arm and, differently from pneumatic manipulator, it is able to ensure an automatic detection of load weight and counterbalancing as well as real time response to the operator intention guaranteeing high precision in load placing and ergonomic effortless load handling.

Smart Factory for Humans: a new approach in practice
Maurizio Sbetti – ADIGE BLM GROUP

Adige is a company of BLM GROUP who builds intelligent laser machines to produce complex components directly from tubes. The project introduced by the R&D Manager was nicely nicknamed “Save Giovanni (the planner) and all his colleagues in production”. This mission was defined to cope with the complexity of their product portfolio. Indeed, in a single machine they can have a modular configuration of 13 loading systems, 10 transfer systems, 24 portals, 22 unloading units, each of them having 1000’s of components.

Starting from the growing complexity through years, the company focused its attention on the needs of the shopfloor identifying 3 strategic timelines:

  • Lead time production : 5 months (total) of which
  • Avg customer order lead time : 12 weeks
  • Assembly lead time : 6 weeks

In order to maintain their service level (from 50 to 500 product configurations and 98% Ontime delivery on promised due date) thy need to cope with this complexity by creating a new digitized production facility 4.0 to improve productivity, quality and personnel wellbeing thanks to the application of anti-complexity solutions at different levels (i.e. product, planning and programming, supply-chain and logistics)

They have also introduced the level of digital factory, supporting humans in the execution of their operations. As a result, humans at the centre of the execution and control of the process supported by smart tools, digital checklists, supply chain control system and AI solution supporting the planned.

ADIGE 4.0 factory has a strong focus on humans providing a better working environment, introducing solutions who can foster operators support and inclusion, facilitate their interaction with the machines in the direction of an higher wellness and the execution of value added task.

In conclusion, the event aimed at giving a comprehensive view on the topics providing different perspectives from the HMI design to the factory implementation, going through software and hardware solutions. These contributions highlighted that human intelligence is still important and strategic for manufacturing processes. Indeed smartness, empathy, lateral thinking are peculiarities of people that are still representing a strategic value added.

Share this post on social media