The Future of Factory Communications How to Improve Alerting
Published on : Saturday 05-06-2021
Audio alerts can help factories avoid any dangerous scenarios, and therefore any associated costs, says Arjun Chandar.
Manufacturing facilities are fraught with risks and dangers, from the heavy machinery to the toxicity or heat involved in producing certain materials. As greater production volume puts more strain on factories, having communication solutions that can create mass alerts could prevent injuries and even save lives.
Factories have previously relied on the crude method of a person physically raising the alarm themselves when noticing an issue on the production line. However, with the manufacturing industry operating from so many different facilities and workspaces, it becomes challenging to reach every single person at every single location.
This is why utilising communication technology that keeps all of the relevant stakeholders in the loop is so important. In fact, a Mckinsey report in collaboration with the World Economic Forum, puts the value creation potential of manufacturers which are able to implement "Industry 4.0" – the automation of traditional practices – in their operations at $3.7 trillion by 2025.
Let's examine a burgeoning technology which will be very influential in terms of improving factory communications, alerting, and long-term productivity.
The issue with alerts
Industrial sensors have become a key element of factory automation, having the capability to monitor environmental factors (like temperature and humidity), motion and vibration, and imaging to prevent safety threats. There are a number of ways that alerts can be generated, usually in some kind of visual or text form. If an error occurs and a certain setting on the machinery is breached, such as the furnace temperature being too high in a steel factory, the onboard screen equipment will often light up red.
Factories able to send alerts through software can do so through any media such as email, Slack, and more. Factories that are partnered with IndustrialML, for example, can send alerts through various channels to different stakeholders within a facility. However, this does not solve the problem for a line operator faced with many distractions. Oftentimes, they're not allowed to have phones on the production floor, so solutions with dashboard monitoring may not be ideal because operators are still required to stare at a screen instead of focusing on their product.
What's the solution?
There is a new medium for sending alerts which can solve this visibility problem. Alerts can now be generated and sent to the cloud, before being run through a text-to-speech algorithm. Bonx.io has created audio distribution software that then sends these audio files to different third-party bone conduction headsets worn by those working in the factory.
Now, ongoing visual display, text to different media, and audio transmission are all available as options for alerting and creating long-lasting or ephemeral notifications. Factories can decide which type of alert is suitable for whichever situation. For example, active alerts displayed in visual form on dashboards would be long-lasting and suitable for a production manager, whereas an ephemeral notification through a headset for a settings error on a piece of machinery would be ideal for a floor operator. Furthermore, it is possible to use this technology to set policies for specific alerts to be received only by operators of the relevant stations, rather than the entire factory.
Why should factories consider using audio alerts?
The main advantage of this kind of communication tool is safety. A visual system for an operator can be a perilous distraction; if an operator is using their hands in a potentially dangerous task, they need to keep their eyes focused at all times. Alerts via headsets are also a lot more effective in ensuring that the operator actually receives the message. A red light indicator can be easily overlooked, whereas a direct voice message into a headset forces an operator to take notice.
This technology also allows factories to communicate amongst their stakeholders in a way that hasn't previously been possible. Operators, managers, and engineers usually need to hold a meeting, or a call, or start an extensive email chain to inform each other about a situation. If factories are able to simultaneously communicate via text and audio, they're able to reach all of their stakeholders with the message immediately.
Alerting via audio messaging has the potential to make an operator's life on the production floor much safer. Managers do not have to physically be in the factory in order to communicate with an operator, even if the situation is critical. This technology is in-keeping with a changing landscape for factories, where remote work will soon become commonplace. Factories that invest in organisational safety through effective communications will better protect their employees, visitors, and the equipment. Audio alerts can help these factories to avoid any dangerous scenarios, and therefore any associated costs.
Arjun Chandar is Founder & CTO of IndustrialML, is an entrepreneur, business leader, data scientist, engineer and inventor, and an expert in Industry 4.0. IndustrialML is a platform that integrates live process monitoring, visual analysis, and ML to deliver actionable insights to operators and engineers in real-time.