industry insightsindustry insights

smart shopfloor communication.

Carla Märkl

Carla Märkl

In most manufacturing companies, shopfloor communication takes place in a highly dispersed and ineffective manner: On the one hand, information is often only passed on to a small extent across departments, and on the other hand, this information is usually still raw information that is neither appropriately prioritized nor individually prepared. Smart Communication addresses these problems and aims to communicate individually prepared information and action steps for each workplace in real time. In this article you will find out what exactly Smart Communication is all about.

how you can achieve not only industry 4.0, but also communication 4.0

When you get a bird’s-eye view of your manufacturing company’s shop floor, you will see a complex communication network of workstations, departments, and project groups. Every process, every machine, every incoming order, every sensor and now also every employee is constantly producing data and knowledge. However, this communication takes place in a highly dispersed and less effective manner because it consists of systems, projects and platforms all operating in parallel: be it department- or project-specific collaboration solutions, bulletin boards, the dashboards of individual machines or the classic intranet.

supporting every employee – with intelligent communication

For your shopfloor communications, this means that a lot of information often arrives too slowly, incompletely or, in some cases, does not arrive at all in those places where it may be needed most urgently.
This fundamental problem can be avoided by approaching the topic of communication strategically: Which workplace needs which type of information from which source on site to be able to work as effectively as possible? With a strategic approach we call “Smart Communication”, you can successfully face this challenge.

networking instead of isolation

In technical terms, a cross-departmental exchange of information can frequently only take place in a limited manner. This is because the flow of information is different depending on the department and the associated “information sphere” and not harmonized with each other. This becomes especially problematic when processes need to function in a cross-departmental manner: Taken in isolation, a breakdown of a machine on production line A is raw information that affects production, planning process, and possibly also the utilization of personnel. However, this event is also relevant for logistics. To be sure, what is relevant here is not the fact that a machine is at a standstill and therefore there are new tasks to be completed in production. Rather there are follow up questions here that are targeted to logistics-specific tasks: Can we deliver the goods that are supposed to be produced by this machine on time? And if not, then when will this be possible? Which current idle times and new capacity planning requirements are the result of this and if we need to catch up on the delivery, which bottlenecks need to be considered because of this? When the raw information “machine breakdown” is simply forwarded to intralogistics, then this ultimately means communicative isolation.

A smart communication approach would look like the following in this situation: Relevant follow-up questions like those listed above as examples are automated and defined in real time from the machine breakdown in information loop A (production) for information loop B (logistics). Based on this, the relevant information is then communicated to logistics and the reaction to this situation is also defined. Therefore, specific key figures and concrete work orders for logistics result from a machine’s error messages.
The more complex the cooperation of the different departments is, the more important it is that relevant instructions are communicated to each individual department that provide them with a clear overview and allow them to work effectively.
This may sound self-evident, but the flow of information within most companies is currently not being applied as it should: the intelligent communication of cross-departmental processes and therefore the higher success rates of various areas of a shop floor are intrinsically linked to one another.


data quality over quantity

The large amount of information that is produced by the various shop floor elements brings with it a second significant challenge: to prioritize, reduce, and individualize communication exactly for each instance. This means ensuring that each relevant workstation or relevant individual person has access to the most important information for the next process step.
Error messages are constantly occurring in a large production hall at various production lines and are displayed at each respective machine. The problem is that most of the error and warning messages is relatively irrelevant for most workers. And, with several different lines, having each message constantly in view with all the implications is not just confusing, but superfluous as well.
Here, smart communication would mean that the information from all production lines would be collected automatically, subjected to a filter logic, and the messages would then be bundled, and the relevant messages would be displayed at the location that signifies a prioritized task for a specific worker. Neither he nor his other colleagues would then have to read irrelevant information or perform irrelevant tasks. At the same time, it is also less likely that problems will be overlooked, or key figures interpreted incorrectly. This kind of logic is characterized by the fact that it individually separates what is relevant and irrelevant for individual workstations and simultaneously prioritizes this information.


better communication – better results

Once you have overcome both of these central communication weaknesses, the various departments, every workstation, and, lastly, every employee will have a constant communications link with one another. And the communication will be appropriate and useful for the respective location.
This added value for your digital shop floor management not only provides better communication, but also improves your processes as a whole. In particular, in terms of the following points:

Employees will develop a better understanding of overall processes, they will be able to better allocate their tasks within these processes, and they will also work more independently. Shift supervisors and managers can fulfill their leadership roles more effectively and optimize processes in real time. And individually collected information, e.g., from production data acquisition (PDA), also helps data analysts and planners develop a comprehensive database, improved evaluations, and a common process logic for the various production elements. A continuous improvement process (CIP) will therefore take place at the various hierarchy levels in entirely different ways. As a result, this means a reduction in the number of errors and time required in tangible terms, as well as improved reaction times, optimized utilization, and more refined planning options.

In most companies, communication primarily takes place in one direction only: top down. Feedback cycles and bottom-up communication cannot take place at all or only slowly, and if so, via major detours. Smart communication helps to enable exactly this type of exchange via transparent communication and direct feedback cycles. This helps to ensure indirect improvement of organizational development due to the improved integration and commitment of employees.

Controlling work profits from an expedited and better coordinated interaction between company management and the operational areas. Conclusions and decisions from the systematic analysis of one’s own company can be distributed “top down” from management systems equipped with transformation logics directly to the lowest levels and, above all, communicated individually. Thus, it becomes easier to implement the goals of improved business processes as well as improved customer and supplier relationships via the above-mentioned areas of process optimization and employee commitment.

A logical consequence of these improvements is improved output and success that can be specifically measured. Improved communication (meaning communication that is faster, targeted and containing informative content) always pays off when it comes to business success. However, this does not just affect a company’s balance sheets. Improvements in other areas, e.g., innovation and customer loyalty and customer satisfaction, can also be expected due to the aspects related to higher employee commitment and bidirectional communication.

centralized solutions ruled out

Smart networking of the various shopfloor areas and individual processing of information can only succeed if communication takes place in real time and, above all, is constantly adaptable. The infrastructure for this has to be agile and easily adaptable. This means, for example, that it can select and process information from any IT structures that have evolved, such as cloud applications, Excel spreadsheets, PLCs, SFDC, MES, or ERP systems, and then prepare it individually at any location.

It would be dubious to claim that all these requirements for intelligent communication in the company can be met with a central solution alone. Neither an ERP nor BDE system nor an MES or a BI solution as an analysis system of historical data, which originates from controlling, can guarantee this flexibility and real-time. Either there is a lack of speed, processing, display, and functional adaptation options or a lack of sufficient connection to the various components around the shopfloor such as PLCs.

A centralized approach is therefore not compatible with smart communication. Instead, it is more a matter of using a higher-level, decentralized, and complementary logic to find the best solution in each case at the necessary locations, which creates connections between all existing information circuits and offers the best added value for employees.

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