The #MondayMusings Industrial Transformation blog series provides insight and analysis for executives from the previous week’s briefings, events, and...
Manufacturers are looking for solutions focused on solving real-world problems. First, there's the need for solutions to the issues that cause grief daily. Then, there's the more urgent need for the things that keep operations leaders up at night. These pressing needs include rising injury and illness rates, higher cost of production, and more roles with less experienced employees.
In an attempt to help manufacturers with these challenges, today's technology vendors aren't just focused on building platforms and modernizing applications but are targeting partnerships to leverage and extend the value for organizations. In a recent example, Augmentir, a Connected Frontline Workforce (CFW) provider, and Hexagon's ETQ, an Enterprise Quality Management System (EQMS) provider, announced an offering that connects these two important functions. Both companies believe their partnership will significantly enhance manufacturing safety, quality, and productivity.
Before we explore the Augmentir and ETQ partnership further, let's first look at how industrial architecture is changing.
Facing Frontline Challenges Provides Exponential Value
Industrial organizations face an environment challenged by post-pandemic disruption, economic uncertainty, supply chain complexity, geopolitical tensions, and environmental concerns. New ways of working are essential for value preservation and value creation. Manufacturers shifting toward a renovated industrial architecture are building a true competitive advantage. Problems identified sooner and quickly communicated enables collaboration across the value chain (e.g., design, sourcing, and manufacturing) to facilitate problem-solving and expedite solutions.
The frontline, roughly 80% of the workforce, is where companies often have the most touch points and the most significant impact on final products. Historically seen as "where the rubber meets the road," a mature workforce has been expected and counted on to "get the job done." Manufacturing continues to experience painful critical labor shortages, skills gaps, and retention issues with emerging CFW applications providing solutions that support, engage, and empower the frontline to achieve operational goals.
LNS Research began defining the connected worker back in 2018. Research shows providing context-relevant, multi-directional flow of data, digital content, information, insights, and actions can rapidly enable the workforce. Value exponentially increases as the adoption of processes and technology supports the worker in a whole new way. This support enables a less experienced employee to work more safely and achieve quality results.
The Evolving Industrial Architecture
Building a "Culture of Quality" has been a long-term objective across many organizations. Yet, for the most part, EQMS solutions have often been disconnected from manufacturing execution and focused more on the Quality department. Manufacturing's quality management has matured over the years to integrate across other functions and systems. As such, EQMS solutions have worked to address business needs for Quality processes and to collect real-time data from equipment and operations across the value chain (e.g., MES systems). This can improve the fundamental problem of shadow Quality costs, the hidden or hard-to-quantify true cost of quality management, and true poor-quality cost.
LNS Research has seen EQMS applications become vital to the evolving industrial architecture to drive a data-driven, fact-based decision-making, and process-oriented culture. CFW applications are next-gen systems deployed on the manufacturing floor to provide data-driven insights to, from, and among frontline workers. Leveraging these technologies can improve onboarding, standardize processes, and embed continuous improvement across operations. CFW applications, designed for and used by the industrial frontline workforce, are gaining traction across industry as the front-end connection needed for enterprise data and information.
LNS Research Operational Architecture
Seamlessly connecting business and manufacturing solutions is transforming operations. Industrial Transformation (IX) Leaders are significantly ahead in implementing capabilities within the plant, at the enterprise, and outside the firewall to connect the entire value chain to identify problems before operational performance is impacted. Engaging 80% of the manufacturing workforce and improving the experience with intuitive tools enables a continuous production and quality feedback loop.
Enabling the Frontline of the Future
As manufacturing workforce challenges intensify, industrials know they must do something. Many are turning to CFW solutions to bridge frontline knowledge gaps with on-demand training, actionable insights, and real-time feedback for better, faster decisions. The LNS Research CFW Applications Solution Selection Matrix (SSM) identified the vendors offering viable solutions for digitally enabling a future-ready frontline workforce.
Augmentir, included in the CFW SSM, has been gaining market traction since being founded in 2017. Their offerings leverage digital technology, including AI, to provide predictive capabilities and skills management across the frontline workforce. The company was founded by a leadership team experienced in the development and delivery of manufacturing solutions for the factory floor, including ThingWorx, Lighthammer, and Wonderware Software. Augmentir has been able to gain and serve customers across industry verticals, most notably in Consumer Goods, Food and Beverage, Paper and Packaging, and Industrial Equipment. A network of go-to-market partnerships, such as Cisco, Hexagon, Workday, UKG, and Zebra Technologies, has enabled the company to expand its reach and increase the value of its offerings to customers.
The upcoming LNS Research EQMS SSM will include vendors with software-based product offerings designed to execute Quality processes and partner with companion applications across the value chain. EQMS core functionality includes non-conforming material handling, corrective and preventive action processing, and audit performance. With the Quality role often playing a part in the competency of those doing the work that can affect product quality, there has been a move toward including training capabilities.
ETQ, currently being evaluated for the EQMS SSM, has been in the quality, compliance, and safety software solutions space for over three decades. Many customers in the first decade(s) were those within heavily regulated industries needing to comply with various ISO and ISO-derived Quality standards. ETQ was able to expand its customer footprint across industry verticals as manufacturers turned to quality management as a means of protecting brand reputation. When Hexagon acquired ETQ in February 2022, the promise of "connected quality," a direct link between enterprise-level quality management processes and plant-level quality control processes, was made.
The Search for Seamless Solutions
Connecting the frontline workforce within operations and across operational management systems can engage the workforce in better identifying, easily communicating, and more quickly resolving problems. CFW and EQMS solutions may be just what manufacturing needs to digitally enable the "Culture of Quality" while solving some of the most complex workforce challenges we may have seen yet. Individual solutions can offer a means to drive manufacturing process improvements with out-of-the-box offerings and low-code/no-code tools that enable citizen developers to create custom solutions quickly.
Seamless solutions can connect workers with computing capabilities closer to the source rather than being limited to corporate data centers. Manufacturers can capitalize more on the data being created and collected by creating a digital thread of connected data and information from, through, and to manufacturing systems. In the words of my colleague James Well, an LNS Research Analyst, "An EQMS connected to a CFW app is ideal for worker certification and evaluation-type training on the shop floor."
The next-gen workforce expects employers to provide more autonomy and a personalized digital tool to complete the job. The concept of closed-loop Quality with digital tools connecting the back office to the shop floor engages more of the workforce in being a part of something bigger, breaking down silos and solving problems quicker.
Example Use Case of Augmentir and ETQ Partnership
The Augmentir and ETQ partnership and the resulting launch of the ETQ Reliance Connected Worker solution have the potential to provide organizations across all levels of the digital maturity curve the ability to deploy next-gen EQMS and CFW solutions. LNS Research sees this new partnership as a positive new step, but the proof will be in the pudding. While this offering is in the earlier stages, moving to a productized integration can offer significant cost savings over time. Customer testimonials, future investments, additional product integration, and broader use cases will be key to recognizing this partnership as a truly seamless solution.
Bottom-line for Manufacturers
Manufacturing leaders should be looking for solutions from providers who can partner for success and following the lead from those who are improving injury and illness rates, lowering the cost of production, and doing more with less experienced employees. Nearly every industry vertical is working to improve employee attraction, training, and retention to optimize individual and operational performance and achieve bold Sustainability/ESG goals. At the same time, we are seeing significant investment in new OT Ecosystems.
Operations and Quality VPs should be looking at the organization's current strategy and working together to ensure the foundation will be in place to support the next-gen workforce. Moreover, these leaders should consider the following:
Antiquated Architecture: Manufacturers must assess the technology landscape and shed disjointed solutions that don't easily communicate with one another. It should become an ancient artifact if it doesn't readily support the digital thread. When evaluating providers, look for a roadmap to ensure existing solutions and new offerings can readily connect data and insights across people, process, and technology.
Enabled Employees: Sustainable operations in the future will require industrials to take a whole new approach to reducing risk, improving operations, and unlocking hidden value. The great news is the next-gen worker is up for the challenge. Manufacturing leaders should be looking for ways to knock down roadblocks and silos by leveraging the power of Advanced Industrial Analytics on the data that lives across the enterprise (e.g., EHS, MES/MOM, ERP, APM, EQMS, and CFW).
Powered by Partnership: Technology providers can significantly extend the value of offerings with strong partnerships. As manufacturers look to transform operations, this can be an excellent opportunity to solve real-world problems in a more real-time fashion. Current users of Augmentir, ETQ, and/or Hexagon products should be engaging with these vendors to discuss opportunities to streamline integration across the organization.
Big Companies and Big Aspirations: A growing trend seen across big software players is the move towards building a more industrial software-focused portfolio. Hexagon's acquisitions of ETQ and Infor EAM target growth within EHS, ESG, and Quality. They aren't the only ones with big aspirations and acquisitions of cloud native providers with IFS acquiring Poka and Falkonry and QAD Redzone with the addition of Livejourney. These acquisitions reflect the expected growth in the market as manufacturers look to software solutions as a part of the overall strategy to improve safety performance, operational efficiency, product quality, and asset management. As CFW applications prove significant value and the ability to scale, we expect the big players to expand solution offerings to provide software that enables a future-ready frontline workforce.
All entries in this Industrial Transformation blog represent the opinions of the authors based on their industry experience and their view of the information collected using the methods described in our Research Integrity. All product and company names are trademarks™ or registered® trademarks of their respective holders. Use of them does not imply any affiliation with or endorsement by them.