Connected worker platforms are growing across all manufacturing industries and plastic and packaging are no exception.
According to Adroit Market Research, the connected worker market is expanding due to the adoption of related technologies such as the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and other industrial automation technologies within the Industry 4.0 framework. The rising demand for worker safety in risky sectors is another contributing factor. For all of these reasons, the firm estimates that the global connected worker market is going to reach $23.4bn by 2029.
Connected worker platforms are known for increasing safety, efficiency, productivity and sustainability on the shop floor, aided by real-time data analysis, facilitating informed decision-making.
Here’s how connected worker platforms are impacting plastic and packaging manufacturing in particular.
Increased worker safety
Plastic and packaging manufacturing can be hazardous for workers.
Plastic manufacturing involves the use of toxic chemicals like styrene, acrylonitrile and polyvinyl chloride (PVC). These can put workers at risk of respiratory issues, skin irritation and more. It also involves the use of heavy machinery that produces high levels of heat and noise, making workers prone to burns, hearing damage and other physical harm due to electrical and mechanical hazards.
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Workers in packaging manufacturing face similar risks: the use of certain chemicals, repetitive motions that cause back injuries or other ergonomic problems, manual handling injuries and those derived from slips, trips and falling objects.
However, Frito-Lay managed to promote better ergonomic practices and reduce improper postures by 72% with the integration of connected worker technology in wearable devices. This technology automatically detected improper posture and sent alerts to the workers to correct it.
Connected worker platforms can also help prevent human errors or equipment failures that lead to accidents. When integrated with IoT sensors in machinery, connected worker platforms can detect unusual measures that indicate potential equipment failure and alert workers in a timely manner.
Being interconnected through the platform, workers can communicate and share safety data and instructions instantly, even if they are not in the same physical space. They can also consult training materials or security protocols when they need them from their mobile device, enabling quicker problem-solving and preserving worker health and safety.
Productivity and efficiency
There are many ways in which connected worker technologies streamline workflows and processes in plastic and packaging manufacturing.
First, they can connect with cloud-based systems and replace physical terminals. This allows workers to access all the information they need to complete tasks remotely from any device with an internet connection.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, when social distancing was essential to ensure worker health and safety, multinational food packaging firm Tetra Pak implemented smart manufacturing technology. The solution included a connected worker platform that provided workers with access to information through mobile and wearable devices. Some of this information involved vast amounts of data extracted from sensors on machinery. This data was interpreted using advanced analytics so that it would be usable.
Second, when integrated with IoT systems, connected worker platforms can monitor the health and performance of machines and predict maintenance requirements. This is called predictive maintenance. It prevents unexpected breakdowns and downtime, which negatively impact productivity.
Third, connected worker platforms help prevent human errors that affect packaging quality. They can guide workers during packaging production processes and provide relevant data to quality control teams.
The platforms can deliver step-by-step instructions for packaging tasks directly to the worker, typically through a wearable device or a mobile app. This guidance can be in the form of text, images, or even augmented reality overlays, showing workers exactly how to carry out a task correctly and efficiently.
They often include communication features, allowing workers to ask questions, report issues, or collaborate with their colleagues more effectively. Another common feature is monitoring the performance of workers in real time, which enables the system or supervisors to provide immediate feedback if an error or an issue is detected.
The platforms can also be integrated with automated control systems to alert workers about potential issues so that they can address them proactively, ensure product quality and reduce waste.
Last but not least, connected worker platforms can be programmed to track inventory levels in real-time, update the inventory when materials are used and send alerts to workers so that they can order new materials, avoiding stock-outs that lead to lost production time.
Connected worker technologies contribute to the sustainability efforts of the packaging and plastic industry, which already have an environmental responsibility due to the ongoing problem of plastic pollution.
In this regard, connected worker platforms can be game-changing as they can collect real-time data about waste generation at different stages of the production process, including packaging. This data can then be used to reduce waste or manage it more efficiently by optimising materials or other solutions that minimise the environmental impact of plastic and packaging manufacturing.
Apart from this, connected worker platforms can help plastic and packaging manufacturers save energy. Working with sensors, these platforms can gather real-time data about energy consumption and detect energy inefficiencies so that they can be corrected. This way, factories can reduce their carbon footprint and the costs associated with power.
Additionally, connected worker platforms are paperless. Paper consumption is problematic as paper production contributes to deforestation and air pollution. It also represents an additional cost for manufacturers, who must purchase printers and ink apart from the paper itself.
Digitalisation through connected worker platforms eliminates the need for a physical paper trail and enables real-time updates for everyone on the shop floor, reducing manufacturers’ carbon footprints.
Ultimately, connected worker platforms revolutionise the plastic and packaging manufacturing industry by improving safety, efficiency and sustainability.
Most importantly, they empower workers and help manufacturers harness the full potential of their workforce and increase productivity and profitability on their plastic and packaging manufacturing floor.
Connected worker platforms involve multiple collaborative tools that, along with data-driven analytics, help workers and managers identify areas of improvement and make better decisions, addressing health and safety risks, efficiency problems and the environmental impact of their activities more quickly and easily.
About the author: After an extensive career as a reliability and business improvement consultant, Eric joined L2L, where he currently serves as the Director of Smart Manufacturing. His role in this position is to help clients learn and implement L2L’s pragmatic and simple approach to corporate digital transformation.