Why involving operators contributes to the successful digitalization of production lines

There's no getting around it: products and services are increasingly becoming technological marvels. And that's making the jobs of production line operators more and more complex. Digitalization can provide solutions but is just as often a potential hurdle. So, how do you maximize the return you get from a digitalization process? Here are some of our insights into the matter.

More involvement = more alignment

Whichever way you look at it, in-depth process expertise in many companies is still stored in the operators' heads. If you're looking to thoroughly digitalize these processes, you have to convert a large part of that know-how and those procedures and rules and integrate them into the tools you use. That way, different generations of workers will work together more productively and efficiently. In addition, you'll be equipping your new employees with tools that are wholly consistent with current technology. But how do you tackle that kind of digital transformation? And how do you ensure that the end users—i.e. the operators—and management see eye to eye? The answer is: by generating more involvement.

Of course, research must be conducted on the business side, but more importantly, end users/operators have to be involved in the digitalization process from the get-go. Not just at the end, but from A to Z. Because they know all about the issues affecting day-to-day operations: they know what is required, what their roles are, and what the priorities are. To arrive at these insights and acquire this information, exploratory discussions and workshops have to be organized. In some cases, actually observing the production lines can be crucial. That often brings to light inefficiencies which the operators themselves no longer notice, but which are clear as day to external partners.

Also, the ideas originating on the business side have to be checked against reality. Are certain optimizations relevant? Are the proposed changes necessary to up the speed and quality of the processes? That sort of information is crucial if you are looking to proactively track down possible errors.

Based on all the information and feedback gathered, realistic prototypes of the new applications are developed. These are immediately subjected to usability testing. The operators are then confronted with the prototype as if it were the finished product and are presented with several tasks. This approach yields extremely valuable reactions and input, which can inform improvements. That way, you work towards a final version of the application that is both very reliable and completely customizable. Customizability implies considering different user roles, needs, and requirements. Allowing the operators to configure the finished application as they see fit. That’s another great way of boosting involvement.

Change management... the necessity of change

Obviously, thorough digitalization of production lines entails a great deal of change. Usually, that change is necessary—which does not mean operators will immediately embrace it with open arms. That's because they're expected to start working differently and, to a certain extent, reconsider their own roles and functions. And that may meet with resistance. That's why it's crucial to explain to the operators exactly why this change is so relevant and valuable. Pointing out to them that they are in charge of producing mostly state-of-the-art products and services, a process often fraught with great complexity. And that's exactly where applications with an intuitive user interface come in. They boost simplicity, reduce margins of error, and ensure operators can carry out their work much more productively and efficiently.

A second opportunity to make this transition gradual is also related to the extent that operators are involved. All too often, they're only consulted when the application has already been developed. If you involve the operators from the outset, they'll have the chance to provide feedback, about both their own workstation and other key points in the production process. If they get to have their say, they'll be quicker to accept and embrace the digital transformation.

The long-term importance of digitalizing production lines

Not everyone seems to have fully grasped the importance of digitalizing production lines. It will, however, become an essential competence if you don't want to be left behind. On the one hand, production processes are improved, dialling up productivity and efficiency. On the other, digitalization is crucial from a human capital standpoint. Production processes are becoming increasingly complex for operators. You need to counter that complexity if you want to keep your operators on board. That's why you have to map process complexity and information readability and ergonomics. Again, involvement is key, making sure operators will enjoy working with the new applications. In addition, digitalizing will enable you to react faster to quickly fluctuating production quantities and the number of people required. That's because it will become a whole lot easier to call in temporary workers to carry out complex tasks, if you need them.

And of course, there are the younger generations, who are used to working with intuitive systems. If you'd like to present yourself as an attractive employer, it speaks for itself that you should have a digital identity. Younger operators want to work with tools in sync with current tech, and not have to slog through 20 steps in an interface just to carry out a certain task. In that regard, digitalization is about uniting generations, transitioningfrom old to new, in more ways than one.

Inspired by how we look at digital transformation? Curious to see how we can help you optimize your business processes? Why not get in touch? Together with you, we'll look at what solution can best help your business move forward!