How Quality 4.0 is Changing the Future of Business: Part 4

In the last few weeks, we’ve explored some of the different ways in which Quality 4.0 is changing the future of quality in areas such as logistics and maintenance. In this installment, we’ll look at the impact of Quality 4.0 on health and safety. 


Healthy Operator 4.0 


In traditional manufacturing environments, keeping workers safe is an ongoing concern. While most organizations dedicate significant resources to worker safety, variability in job roles and individual performance can make it difficult to prescribe operating procedures that prevent injury and illness from over-exertion or cognitive overload. Humans, after all, are not machines, and small differences between the way people perform a task like carrying a heavy load can mean the difference between safety and crippling musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) that are both painful and expensive. 

Industry 4.0 provides the technology to collect real-time data on job performance. This can be used to design physical labor to prevent debilitating injuries and control exposure to toxic environments. In addition, Industry 4.0 technologies can be used to address cognitive overload from more complex and data-rich production environments. Worker performance, as well, can be augmented by AI and virtual reality. 

“Healthy Operator 4.0” leverages cyber-physical systems, human machine interaction, automation, and human-augmentation-through-technology to achieve a safer and more efficient workplace. Workers wear smart trackers with advanced Human-Machine Interaction (HMI) and Human Automation Interfacing/Interaction (HAI) to collect and analyze biodata in real time to proactively prevent injury and illness. Romero et al (2018) present several scenarios for Healthy Operator 4.0. 

  • Smart exoskeletons are wearable devices powered by motors or hydraulics that augment human physical strength and endurance while encouraging correct physical techniques during laborious work. Smart exoskeletons use on-board sensors to collect biodata to ensure workers are not straining against physical limits and inflicting minor musculoskeletal injuries that could compound over time. This data can also be collected, aggregated, and analyzed to create a database that is used to predict and prevent injuries among other workers in similar roles. 
  • Wearable devices such as gas monitors, biosensors, and smart personal protective equipment (PPE) can alert workers to exposure to excess levels of toxic chemicals, gas, or sound; trigger an alert to others nearby that the worker is in distress, and; issue an emergency stop to heavy machinery. Sensors on equipment and other objects, such as shipping containers, can send alerts to workers in the production environment to warn them of objects in motion and prevent human-equipment collision.  
  • Smart Cognitive Support Tools (SCST) use augmented reality and AI to enhance human cognition and decision-making abilities. The efficiency and data production in the Industry 4.0 environment can be overwhelming for workers whose situational awareness is challenged by too much sensory input. SCSTs work in conjunction with wearable sensors that measure breathing, temperature, blood pressure, heart rate, and eye movement to determine the stress level the worker reaches while performing cognitively challenging tasks. The SCST then presents information to the worker commensurate with their current cognitive capacity, which prevents information overload that can lead to unsafe situations and injury. 
  • Adaptive collaborative robots (or “cobots”) are machines that work alongside humans and collaborate on physical and cognitive tasks. Cobots can scale up or scale down their efforts based on the biodata collected from the wearable sensors the human workers wear, which will signify when the worker has reached cognitive overload or physical limitations. 


Healthy Operator 4.0 will revolutionize the production environment and vastly improve the lives of skilled workers by reducing worker injury, creating a more satisfied and engaged workforce, predicting worker health, and preventing worker attrition.  

References 


Romero, D., Mattsson, S., Fast-Berglund, Å., Wuest, T., Gorecky, D., & Stahre, J. (2018, August). Digitalizing occupational health, safety and productivity for the operator 4.0. In IFIP International Conference on Advances in Production Management Systems (pp. 473-481). Springer, Cham. 

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