The long crisis of the manufacturing forced most of the local governments to acknowledge how this sector, strategic for many countries, is less resilient than expected. New business models are arising together with a large variety of new professions and competence areas. Manufacturing is not keeping the pace with most of these changes, maintaining in most of the cases its well-consolidated structure. In this period is crucial that Europe would look for a roadmap to the future production systems. Factories, often a symbol of resilience and robustness, are going to change dramatically. This change will not regard only the technologies that will be used but most important of all, the role and activities that the workers will play within them. The information revolution (internet revolution) that is changing the approach and the tools that we use to communicate with others must find their way also to the production plant in order to have modern and attractive workplaces. The arising stimulus toward digitization, which could be resumed in the principles of Industry 4.0, is going to provide to most of the production companies a reliable ICT infrastructure. However, technology is not the only driver that will allow European companies to remain successful: the human factor must be taken into the loop as well. The FACTS4WORKERS project aims to include in the definition of near-future companies also the human factor.
One of the Industrial Challenges of FACTS4WORKERS is the development of a worker-centric knowledge sharing and management system, while another deals with the setup of self-learning manufacturing workplaces. Both these two industrial challenges require that the competences and expertise of the workers will be shared within the plant. This is a requirement that intends to boost the satisfaction of the workers by creating a more collaborative, supportive and open-minded environment, where a worker could access a shared “treasure” of good practices and knowledge. In order to develop such a picture, FACTS4WORKERS consortium is developing and testing tools and approaches in real industrial environments. Regarding the software tools developed, the challenge is to create a user interface to the system as simple as possible and adopt strategies and tools similar to the ones already available on the most famous social platforms. In particular, the selection of the features to be considered for creating a social factory are the easiness to post multimedia content, the possibility to rate the quality of the posted content or to add comments and to be included in “feeds” and other distribution lists on specific topics.
Starting from these ideas, a system to share the knowledge of the workers in a social environment has been developed. The basic principle is to empower a worker using the shared experience of all the others in order to enable him to carry out tasks that are more complex and to gain autonomy. The social approach is responsible also for a more friendly and open-minded environment, where all the people are entitled to share their ideas and collaborate to the complex and common goal of managing a successful company. In order to have all the needed information on the top of the fingertips and allow a high degree of mobility, the selected HMI is a tablet-like solution. The application developed for the tablet allows each worker to look for possible solutions for an arising problem, to share ideas with peers, to rate the colleague’s content, and to have a social feedback about the submitted ideas and solutions. Additional features are the possibility to keep a continuous contact with the other colleagues, thanks to chat and video chat functionalities, and to be aware of the real-time performances of the process. A screenshot of the developed application is reported in the picture.
This is just a first step of a larger picture that wants to create a supportive environment within the factory in order to increase the satisfaction of every worker and the attractiveness of a job in a production system.