DIGITAL work InStructions for cognitive work (DIGITALIS)
Digitalisation and automation in industry can have major positive and negative effects on social sustainability. On one hand it can be a basis for monotonous, uncreative and even dangerous workplaces and in some cases might even result in people losing their work. On the other hand, it can be a base for ergonomically sound and inclusive work, engaging everyone in improvements.
This project aims for moving the focus on positive effects for social sustainability while still staying cost efficient and effective in economic and ecologic sustainability for digitalization and automation of work instructions and training in manual operations like assembly, machine operation & setup, maintenance, and material handling. The Industry 4.0 paradigm offers radically increased opportunities for doing just that. For example, increased digitization can create efficiency improvements through shorter lead times and reduced disruptions to production.
New generations of technology and software as well as information dissemination can be accelerated and the traceability of products and materials in the industrial systems can be greatly increased. Digitization also provides opportunities to increase industrial resilience to challenges coming from elsewhere, such as demographic change and climate threats. Advanced application of digitization is seen by industries and decision-makers as the most important enabler for achieving the strategic sustainability goals and Agenda2030.
A crucial factor for competitiveness is the human contribution. Here too, digitalisation is radically changing the conditions. In the last 20 years, work instructions have been transformed from printed text on paper into an increasingly digital representation. As knowledge increases about how work instructions for the manufacturing industry should be designed, in reality they are rarely designed according to user conditions. At best, this results in a missed opportunity for performance improvements and at worst, it could potentially result in quality deficiencies, efficiency deficiencies and a lower degree of inclusion of staff groups.
Digitization and automation permeate both society and industry more and more and there are many different technologies on the market. These can contribute to both increased efficiency and flexibility for the industry. However, there are a lot of challenges to both implement, design, and use instructions. Studies conducted in industry 2014–2018 show that operators and assembly workers only use instructions in 20–25% of cases in the operational phase when they are perceived as inefficient. Of course, this also increases the risks of, for example, assembly errors by not using instructions to the extent that they should be used.
The corporate culture and standards are also an important part of how instructions are created and used. Depending on the structure and condition of the company and the production unit, for example, an assembly instruction at one company may include information about the product, process, and work environment, while an assembly instruction at another company includes completely different or only parts of this information. Of course, this is a natural consequence of sometimes far-inherited corporate cultures and traditions, but experience has also shown that it is to a very large extent the nature of work that defines the type of support system needed.
In line with increased automation and increasing product variation as a result of increased customisation, operators’ tasks will require more creative work than before where the aim is to enable and handle the results of individual workers’ creative thoughts about improvements in their own work situation, increasing cognitive load. The development of digitalisation has created new opportunities for improved communication among employees in the manufacturing industry. Therefore, this technological development can and should support operators cognitively.
Although many new digital technologies are being developed and are available, it is still difficult to implement these so that people’s cognitive work is supported. This is often due to the fact that the implementation does not take place in a way that people are comfortable with. In many cases, humans are expected to adapt to technology and not the other way around. To implement better support for their operators, companies should focus on identifying the information needs that exist and then visualize it in a way that is useful to operators.
The central aim for the project is to demonstrate how knowledge and systematic development of cognitive support and information design can increase quality and flexibility in future production and how this can be taken into account in the implementation of digital work instructions. In the industrial case studies, current stateof-practice in information presentation will be investigated and analysed together with state-of-the art knowledge and technology in an effort to map successful efforts in industry, identify what it is that makes them successful, or how a particularly challenging situation can be further improved through our knowledge of cognitive work in production.
The project has significant experimental content, with data collection and prototype testing in a real and simulated environments. Relevant test persons shall represent the diversity of the industrial worker group. The project’s expected direct effects include reduction of human error, increased production rate and improved working conditions.
Peter Thorvald, University of Skövde
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