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Future Work with AI Foreman in Digital Factory

How the new technologies can be used to improve well-being and productivity of employees? Milla Immonen from VTT, Mikko Jukkanen from ABB and Anna Rohunen from the University of Oulu have been working on the Reboot IoT Factory Grand Challenge 3: Labor at Digital Work Environment. We had the chance to discuss with them how to develop a factory towards a digital working environment.

The big picture of developing the digital working environment consists of commitment of executives, rapid testing of new technologies and involving the workers on the factory floor. Gathering data about human resources requires empathy and legal control as well as appropriate tools.

How to Measure Stress?

The starting point of the work was tracking the well-being and performance of the employees at a factory – gathering data of the stress of factory floor work and limitations and preferences of the workers. The topic is sensitive, and it is important to explore thoroughly how to handle it with workers and their representatives.

“We have discussed the implementations of data collecting. Not big volume, just basics like how current algorithms can help measuring preferences. This begins with research”, explains Mikko Jukkanen from ABB factory.

“In the beginning we thought a lot of how the load of different work tasks could be measured. There are different kinds of workload: e.g. physical and cognitive. Together with the factory we have been building a concept of the worker information that could be used in work allocation to enhance the wellbeing and satisfaction of the workers”, Milla Immonen from VTT explains.

Mikko adds that other factors affecting the work have been mapped as well: the data of employee well-being, personal strengths and preferences completes the picture, and makes it possible to create a digital twin of an employee. The concept of employee digital twin is something VTT has created and it is in testing phase.

As Mikko says, “These measurements help taking care of well-being and tailoring the work for each worker. Creating a virtual pool of workers’ skills and combining the information to the order backlog helps making decisions and enhancing the production process.”

Listening the Factory Floor

The topic faces challenges in getting the factory workers receptive of the idea. The purpose is not to watch behind their backs but to support their performance and wellbeing. This requires a lot of background research especially in questions of privacy and confidentiality.

Anna Rohunen is a data expert who advices researchers in legal questions concentrating on privacy protection: “Collecting and using personal information is often considered sensitive in the context of employment. Privacy legislation regulates the data usage to guarantee the employees’ rights. We need to carefully make sure that the system is compliant with the legislative requirements”, she highlights.

It is very important to listen the workers and they have done exactly that by interviewing them. The pilot services have involved volunteers to test them and the workers got a chance to keep track of their own data and shape their own job.

”We have piloted gamification in production. The service tracks the production and records skill data to a matrix that collects the expertise of each worker. Each employee can then access and visualize their own personal data through GUI of the MES system. There have been promising results: we got good feedback from the volunteers and some of them continued to use the service,” Mikko talks about ABB’s pilot.

Another challenge is the attitude towards data collection. “When presenting the new solutions to the employees the focus needs to be on the positive effects and telling openly what data is collected. The solution is supposed to enhance well-being, safety, and satisfaction at work. The common fear is being constantly monitored and watched”, adds Milla.

Future vision: AI Foreman

Using AI in the production will increase in the future. AI Foreman is a solution developed by VTT that carries out work management with AI. Humanising AI is a future vision that these projects are aiming at. It is important to make digital environment and AI humane and user centred.

“The legal obligations are challenging and it is not yet completely clear how to interpret them in our context. References are still scarce in this field”, reminds Anna when speaking of AI-based data processing at work environment.

Mikko depicts a future vision: “AI foreman distributes tasks based on a worker’s digital twin. When a worker checks in the AI foreman greets and guides them. The worker’s preferences and skills have been mapped and the information is combined to the orders. The system monitors the day’s progress and how the goals are met. The AI basically takes care of resourcing and that everything goes well.”

Read more about Grand Challenge 3: Labor at digital work environment


Text: Veera Kiurujoki, Design Inspis Oy

Picture: Design Inspis Oy

Reboot IoT Factory


Reboot IoT Factory brings together service and solution providers, industrial leaders and top research organizations to improve the competitiveness of Finnish manufacturing industry through digitalization

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