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Gaming the Factory: Can Data Make Manufacturing Fun Again?

June 7, 2018
The recent data explosion combined with the young workforce's penchant for video games and rewards can give gamification a reset, and allow your plant to hit new high scores.

In the next few years, as more workers don industrial smartglasses and as brightly colored cobots dot work cells, factory floors will more closely resemble giant arcades than the grungy, rugged workplaces of the past.

This makes perfect sense, as the digital transformation movement envelopes old, analog assets, turning machines and humans into beeping, buzzing units full of numbers and buttons, their actions rendered as data on a dashboard for management. Controlling the variables in real time, speeding up a production line by adding an extra body, for example, can yield what any kid with a pocketful of quarters aims for in an arcade: a new high score.

And it’s all being driven by the data.

Game On!

On a car assembly line, tool maker Ingersoll Rand’s current software hooked to a set of its smart screwdrivers can determine when the last fastener of one grouping ends and the next one begins, thus allowing the system to measure intervals between completed units. Jeff Lowe, global product manager, explains that if the average is 27 seconds, but one operator is only hitting 32 seconds, that’s an opportunity to increase production.

Now imagine if a plant manager took that one step further, streaming that dashboard to the plant common area or lunchroom, showing how a specific user or shift was performing versus other teams, individuals or even themselves. And what if the high achiever wouldn’t just receive a handful of tickets to trade in for a fun pack of Skittles or a Whoopee Cushion, but an extra day of vacation or a gift card.

Secretly, the plant is the real winner, as everyone is more engaged, sharing in a common goal, and possibly even having fun.

This is the new world of manufacturing "game theory"—pulling together the combined powers of big data, analytics, the IIoT, smart tools and the workforce’s natural competitive instincts to drive more efficiency and productivity across the enterprise.

As the name suggests, gamification makes a game out of whatever process or initiative you're trying to improve. It's a tactic that combines behavior psychology, an interactive front-end platform such as a company portal or mobile app, and specific business analytics systems, maybe a CRM or ERP, to achieve a specific result. Basically, you are using recognition and rewards as carrots, dangling them from a stick you point at whatever goal you need to meet for that shift or day or quarter or year.

These carrots, though, should not be viewed as merely drivers of efficiencies; they also nourish your workhorses’ egos.

Bursin by Deloitte research found that only 17% of employees think their bosses give them appropriate recognition. Furthermore, two in five millennials—the generation that will comprise 75% of the workforce by 2025—want better recognition programs at work, according to O.C. Tanner, a rewards and recognition solution provider. The company’s insights, based on 10 years of research and 20,000 interviews, also revealed that the reason 79% of people quit is lack of recognition.

The question now is how to recognize them and how to engage them.

Just ask your younger employees how they spend their free time. The time all Americans spend playing board or video games rose 50% from 2003, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The U.S video game market recorded $36 billion in revenue in 2017, an 18% increase over 2016, according to the Entertainment Software Association. To put that in context, the movie industry's domestic box office only hit $11 billion over the same time.

And more telling, a study by economists at Princeton, the University of Rochester and the University of Chicago found that young men without degrees—a key demographic for the factory floor—are spending 75% of the time they had previously used to work by playing video games. So blame Mario for the skills gap, I guess.

Yes, those people may have some serious priority issues, but if your company figures out how to make work more like a game, these disengaged gamers could be getting their daily dose of dopamine from a work station at your factory, as opposed to a PlayStation at mom's house.

This involves putting down the video game controller or smartphone and picking up an actual industrial grade assembly tool.

Power Up

The theory of industrial gamification is not new. Throughout the past decade, companies and theorists have been hacking out clever ways to use video gamification to lure talent.

“Imagine when this generation, with an average of 220 keystrokes per minute, which is multitasking and constantly getting the adrenaline kicks in front of your computer at home, get to the work,” ABB sales manager Susanne Timsjö wrote in 2015. “As a control room operator, there is a maximum need for five keystrokes per hour and a lot of waiting. The outcome—we will get bored operators and this is not good for creativity, productivity or safety.”

You may have even been an early adopter from the early days, approved some rewards-based system, handed out prizes, and had little to show for it. You are right to be skeptical now. And you still should be—gamification is not a panacea for production bottlenecks or a steroid for low-achieving units.

Not all video games work (otherwise Atari wouldn’t have buried all those E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial cartridges in the New Mexico desert) and not all gamification will either. and not all gamification will either. In 2012, Gartner listed poor design as the culprit for 80% of gamification failures.

But now, manufacturers have a powerful new tool to help make gamification work: big data.

The New Booms

Two new raw materials are poised to fuel gamification: vast oceans of data right under your feet and hungry young workforce forged by the Information Age who should be knocking on your door, but aren't.

Better yet: Anyone can tap into this well of resources. Data services have matured to the point where a multitude of solution providers are clamoring to fill the cloud with your data, where they can analyze how to make you more efficient, and share in the profits when the new efficiencies make it rain.

Let’s start with how data fixes a big bug in the gaming model.

“The entire industry has been fixated on the feedback mechanism (points, badges, leaderboards) and its delivery,” writes Michael Wu, chief scientist at software developer Lithium Technologies. “Blindly applying the feedback mechanisms, whether badges or leaderboards, without having a sophisticated understanding of behavior science has proven ineffective.”

Wu goes on to say that because big data, sophisticated analytics and mature behavior tracking weren’t implemented in the behavior feedback loop, companies were just counting numbers.

“This is why gamification has failed to live up to its promise,” Wu explains.

But now things are much more promising as big data has become a big part of manufacturing’s future.

John Mills, executive vice president of business development at Rideau Recognition Solutions, says the Montreal-based Rideau has an algorithm built by an industrial psychologist firm to power its Vistance RQ platform to provide managers with real-time data analysis, while a typical employee engagement survey provides a “rear-view mirror” look from the previous year.

One client in the oil business with safety and production concerns reported that Rideau’s solution led to changing certain time-based behaviors, though Mills couldn’t share the actual data.

Leading enterprise gamification provider Badgeville, now owned by SAP, showed positive results from several clients, such as a 40% decreased ticket response time for Engine Yard and 32% increase in idea submissions to promote collaboration at CA Technologies.

Badgeville user profiles keep track of accomplishments like a high score screen for the whole company to see--and beat.

As CIOs implement more AI and analytics into their businesses, gamification engines will gobble up these up like Pac-Man to boost the industry. Statista predicts that the $4.91 billion spent worldwide on gamification in 2016 will expand to $11.94 billion in 2021.

“Not only is gamification not dead, some might say it is so alive that it is becoming a part of everything we do and soon people won’t think of it as something separate at all,” Wu concludes.

Arcadian Rhythms

As previously mentioned, Ingersoll Rand has gone all in on the data side of this game on the assembly line. The tool manufacturer has a line of precision fastening tools, from screwdrivers to angle wrenches, capable of measuring physical data such as torsional load and peak torque, sending this data, along with more than 20 other bits of data, including tool ID info, to a control module.

It is part of a new movement of digitally infused physical tools that sit directly at the crossroads of the digital transformation. And, just like any other asset in this IIoT/big data age, the full scope of applications for the tech hasn't even been discovered yet.

“We probably don't even know the right way or the best way to use them yet,” Lowe says. But the avid gamer sees these devices as possibly playing a big part in the rising gamification movement.

“Driving desired behavior through gamification, we could be a player in that because of the rich data that we provide,” he says.

Think of the these tools as a gaming console, and it’s up to third parties to develop fun games to boost engagement. As with the variety of video games out there, from sports to shoot 'em ups to puzzles, the ways to leverage this tech depend on the game maker's creativity.

“All the data that gets created cannot only be used to monitor accuracy of the tool, but the productivity, how many cycles users are doing in a minute and how many failures they’re having,” Lowe says. “Sometimes they are releasing the trigger before the tool stops, which is an indication that the operator needs more training, because they're trying to jump the gun—literally.”

The goal here is, of course, to identify and correct the behavior. Timing is huge in video games, from the jumping over barrels in Donkey Kong to sniping a Nazi zombie in a Call of Duty game. The way you get better is hitting by "Continue" when that “Game Over” screen pops up. More recent games allow for the player to make deep dives into analytics. In some Call of Duty games, you can see an aggregate of where your bullets hit on enemies. If a higher percentage is arm or leg shots, you know your aim is off.

Using this basic model, and by making work more fun and productive, everybody wins.

“As a Xennial, someone with an analog childhood and digital adolescence, I can see how the C-suite is trying to interact with people on the line, typically the younger generation," Lowe says. “Having something like this would really bridge the gap between what they do in their personal life and what they’re being asked to do professionally. And with the way digital data is now, the opportunity to do that is greater than ever before.”

Boss Battle

Using gamification merely as motivator for the factory floor, or for a sales or customer service team, seems like a fairly reductive solution, like playing Pong on an Xbox.

All that data flowing in can power a much bigger, more immersive game for executives. CRMs, ERPs and MES platforms already have the basic inputs. So why not turn your factory, or several of them, into video games?

In 2011, Siemens sort of did this by rolling out a game called Plantville. It's like the social game Farmville, but you're a plant manager trying to improve key performance indicators (KPIs). And last year, IBM created a shoe factory simulation to show off Watson’s cognitive power that looked like a video game.

These offer a great start, but the best games are all about offering the most control—how are all the little actions I'm taking influencing the outcome?

Dassault Systèmes has teamed with Honda do just that with its 3DEXPERIENCE-powered DELMIA V6 platform, specifically for new model process development for the CRV. Using CATIA data, a plant manager can not only see the product being built, but the entire line, adjacent lines, and even the material handling vehicles moving the product throughout the plant.

“Capturing based off real-world data, we have the ability to really make different scenarios come to life and look at the problems a little differently and come up with new ways to solve them,” explains Eric Green, a VP for Dassault’s DELMIA.

Green says virtually all variables are taken into account and can be adjusted up or down to see how they affect the overall production.

If the conveyor is set for 100 units per minute, and the reality is effectively 82 parts per minute, the simulation would indicate that overrun of the equipment would increase wear and tear, creating a stoppage for maintenance, Green says.

“It is a good analogy to video games,” he agrees. “With the dials or settings, turning one up gives you feedback, indicating if it's good for model or not good and renders that as output.”

An exec in the office endlessly tweaking these speeds, or introducing new materials or equipment, is really not much different than a kid in their room searching a level for power-ups to beat the bad guy. In both scenarios, the goal is to win faster and easier.

For Honda, it was a way to focus on the “gemba,” or actual place. “We want the simulation, the virtual world, to look exactly like our manufacturing situation,” explained Ron Emerson, Honda's manager for Virtual Maturation Team. Instead of just a part number and 2D models, the production line is fully realized, with each position in the simulation accurately reflecting all the materials used on the CRV to that point.

Simulating the plant allows Honda to play out scenarios and line changes to see how it will perform, like a really expensive version of the game RollerCoaster Tycoon.

Now, the R&D team’s 3D data is integrated and combined with architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) to create a virtual factory so detailed it shows the kinetics, conveyance system and entire work area. Because every plant is different, this allows Honda to fully understand how each factory operates and find any potential conflicts in design or process, such as if the line was not able to sustain a model bigger than the CRV in the future.

“You can imagine the logistics, the carts running around inside the plant, to simulate that and find the optimal delivery routes,” Emerson says.

Unlike the Grand Theft Auto games, the point here is not to run over the people, but ensure proper clearance and plan best paths.

Overall, switching from physical to digital verification “has enhanced our time to market and also our productivity,” he adds.

For the manufacturing CEO of the future, this could be the ultimate way to ensure the optimal efficiencies.

“If you look at the executives 10 to 15 years from now, they're going to be looking at problems differently and they’re going to be expecting tools and capabilities to make those decisions," Green says. “They all came up in world having an iPhone or game controller in their hand. They’re going to expect a certain level of experience from the solutions and tools that they have to support their business processes.” 

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