Long-held dreams of fully automatic manufacturing plants devoid of people stubbornly refuse to come true. For many years ahead, workers will be irreplaceable in industry. However, while there is a lot of so-called Industry 4.0 R&D focusing on optimizing machinery and processes, there is very little research aimed at improving the attractiveness of workplaces in manufacturing, while this is increasingly important in order to find and retain highly qualified staff.
In the European SatisFactory project Fraunhofer FIT collaborates in investigating how sensor networks and other IoT technologies can be used to increase the attractiveness of workplaces in manufacturing plants. FIT contributes the well-established LinkSmart middleware to the technology used in the project. In addition, FIT is responsible for the project's user-centered design process. We conducted a large series of interviews in the three plants involved in the project, a battery plant, a plant manufacturing robots and a chemical plant, to explore the needs of the men and women working there. These people will also be involved in the whole system design process and in the evaluation of the prototype solutions developed in the project.
FIT also aims to provide technical support for the social interaction within a plant. Here we are developing and will deploy an electronic version of the employee suggestion system. It will make sure that each suggestion is brought to the attention of the appropriate decision-maker and it will also provide feedback as to whether the suggestion will be implemented, or why it was rejected, to the person who submitted it. Generally, an employee suggestion system is a way to show the management's appreciation of the fact that employees contribute to improving the quality of the plant's operation. Our electronic version will make sure that the suggestion system works smoothly and thus avoids the frustration and withdrawal often found with manual systems due to a lack of rapid and significant feedback.