Get in the Game

Making processes more productive is one big benefit of data-driven manufacturing, but so is making people more motivated and more creative. We can learn from the appeal of video games.

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Two of the most interesting presentations at the recent [MC]2 conference in Dallas, Texas, brought up the subject of video games, suggesting that they hold clues to improving the interactions of shopfloor personnel. Because video games are a dynamic mix of human behavior and digital functionality, they can help us understand the value of moving to the connected, data-driven factory.

In his keynote talk, Jordan Brandt, the CEO/ cofounder of inpher.io, a startup data security company, cited the popular video game Minecraft as a model for how products and factories might be designed collaboratively online. Minecraft uses a modular, building-block approach that enables players to construct landscapes, structures, cities and civilizations. Jordan suggested that product developers and process engineers could create new products and innovative production systems, using a similar digital space in which interactive building blocks representing product features, electronic components and production steps can be assembled to simulate their capability.

Later in the conference, Brad Rossacci from 900lbs of Creative, a design studio that specializes in interactive experiences for conference events, museum displays and corporate welcome centers, described how studying video games helped his company engage, inform and motivate visitors. For example, video games rely heavily on a constant cycle of stimulus, action and reward. Best-selling games involve several senses at once (color, motion, sound) and several cognitive processes (discovery, recognition, learning) at the same time. Brad implied that developers of industrial software applications ought to borrow some of these techniques.

This is intriguing stuff. What struck me is that lessons from game playing have been applied to workplace management for a long time. What is different today is that the connected factory makes it possible to integrate game-playing principles with greater immediacy and effect.

Whether at work or at play, people tend to improve performance when

  • there are clearly defined goals;

  • keeping score gives a measure of success;

  • there is frequent and affirmative feedback;

  • participants have freedom to develop skills;

  • there is constant and consistent coaching.

Many machine monitoring systems, for example, incorporate these principles. Simply looking at the big-screen displays most shops install as part of their monitoring system makes this clear. Everyone in the shop can see how they are doing, as OEE ratings, uptime indicators and part counts move up or down. Shops can pinpoint specific problems such as excessive setup time, scheduling bottlenecks, maintenance snags and so on, and then employees can work as a team to resolve them.

If gamification can make the experience of using a manufacturing software application more engaging, compelling and gratifying, this is serious business indeed. Data-driven manufacturing signifies that empowerment is shared by people and their machines. Let’s work hard at winning this game.

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