These days, we’re surrounded by talk of Industry 4.0: the fourth industrial revolution that’s driving pervasive digitization of industrial value chains and processes, using technologies ranging from the Internet of Things (IoT) to 3D printing to generate massive benefits in industrial processing and manufacturing. Indeed, this month I’ll be speaking about Industry 4.0 as a member of an all-female panel at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing event in Houston, sponsored by AnitaB.org.
The question for the panel will be to describe the impacts and implications of Industry 4.0 and digital manufacturing with 3D printing. However, I’ll be asking my fellow panelists and the audience to think further and wider – looking beyond Industry 4.0 to the next revolution which we call Industry X.0: the point where industrial businesses aren’t just digitized, but truly reinvented through smart, connected living and learning technologies.
What will this look like? The best way to visualize the transformational impacts of Industry X.0 is by zeroing in on a concrete real-world example. One that I find especially exciting is the advent of the “connected worker” in asset-intensive industries: a member of an industrial workforce that will be safer, more efficient, and potentially more diverse than ever before.
The connected industrial workforce will deliver these benefits by combining mobile IoT sensors, analytics, and wearable technologies to enable workers to undertake tasks more securely and effectively. Sensors and digital connectivity will enable the business to have constant situational awareness of where its people are, what they’re doing, how well they’re doing it, and what risks they face – such as environmental toxins – in their surrounding environment. And wearable devices such as smart glasses support the industrial worker with routine or break-in tasks.
The result? Companies within these asset-intensive industries, such as oil & gas and further afield into chemicals companies, optimize their operations and increase production, while also benefitting from an agile organization. At the same time, workers will be more productive, more engaged through being able to do their jobs better, and safer than they are today – wherever and whenever they’re working.
So, where will oil & gas companies – and their employees – see these benefits coming to the fore? I think they’ll feel the positive impacts of the connected workforce particularly strongly in four key areas.
First, maintenance. Workforce connectivity enabled by digital technology will transform maintenance processes in the field across the asset life-cycle. It’ll do this through the use of wearables and mobility-enabled solutions to manage and execute tasks such as work orders, in-field asset data management, and workflow improvements between workers, crews, and sites.
Second, shutdown/turnaround. Digital turnaround solutions will help asset-intensive companies minimize downtime during planned shutdowns and turnarounds, while also realizing the opportunities they present to undertake mandatory inspections, maintenance, improvement and expansion tasks that can’t be carried out when a facility is online. Workforce connectivity will also help companies manage the associated safety risks through integrated worker tracking and monitoring.
Third, operations. The use of digital tools, wearables and mobility-enabled solutions to prioritize, manage, support and automate high-frequency operator work tasks will transform the efficiency and safety of field operations. Use cases include the creation of configurable forms and checklists, and safety and housekeeping audits.
Fourth, capital projects. The combination of workforce connectivity and digital capital projects solutions will enable companies to deliver greater value from projects at a higher speed. These benefits will be driven by better control, reduced time to market, minimized budget variances and improved asset performance. At the same time, better management and execution of field construction and commissioning tasks will boost safety and efficiency.
Across all these areas and more, the connected industrial workforce will also help to support a further benefit on top of those I’ve already mentioned: greater diversity. By sharing insight and experience seamlessly across the workforce, and using automation to shift the emphasis from physical effort and strength to dexterity and digital skills, the connected workforce will become open to a wider range of people – enabling an infusion of gender and age diversity that will help to make these industrial businesses both more productive and a more engaging and inclusive place to work.
Enabled by Industry X.0, the connected industrial workforce is starting to take shape. It’s time to embrace it.