Transforming the workforce with digital technologies

Article by Amanda Jasi


Automation execs share thoughts on how to help workers adapt

OPTIMISING industrial transformation was the theme of the 2023 global Honeywell Users Group (HUG) conference, hosted in Florida, US, in June.

Pramesh Maheshwari, president of automation major Honeywell Process Solutions, noted in his welcome session (pictured, above) that “all industries are transforming”. He acknowledged that the optimised route to transformation will vary across industries and companies, but highlighted key, universal trends including digital transformation and demographic change that he expects will influence the paths taken.

He said that as automation advances, demographic change will become more critical. He said 2.7m manufacturing workers are set to retire by 2030, which will cause a “massive” demographic shift.

“Knowledge and expertise accumulated over decades are departing, creating a pressure, a need to capture that wisdom. Simultaneously, a new generation with different approaches to working and learning is emerging.”

He said industry will face the twin challenge of preserving the expertise of experienced workers, while rapidly developing the skills of the new workers from generalist to specialist.

“We must support the changing workforce with tools and technologies to build competencies and ensure work is done safely and effectively,” he added.

For improvement not replacement

While Maheshwari said that automation will replace workers in certain roles, he told The Chemical Engineer that he thinks this will be in high-risk and unsafe locations, “dirty” locations, and those which involve continuous repetitive tasks. Technology will augment people, allowing them to do a better job, he said.

In a breakout session with the press, he said: “It’s not about eliminating [people]. It’s about making them perform better, giving more options to them, so that when they’re doing the job, they have better gadgets with them, they have better skills with them, they have better knowledge with them…they are more competent.”


Manas Dutta, general manager of workforce excellence at Honeywell, talked about technology which will help to address the workforce challenges and opportunities that Maheshwari discussed.

Honeywell’s Workforce360 is a programme that provides tools to improve human reliability, and data to enable safer and more efficient operations.

Dutta said that the process involves evaluation, training, prediction, and assistance.

Evaluation aims to understand the existing level of competency in a company and reveal gaps. Dutta said Honeywell’s Highly Augmented Lookahead Operations (HALO) Operator Advisor collects and analyses historical plant data to develop a benchmark on how best to handle different situations, and then it compares this to worker performance.

The workers are then trained using virtual reality (VR) that allows them to gain hands-on experience in different situations without the risks of making mistakes in a real plant. Dutta said through effective use of VR, learning that would normally take 2–3 years can be achieved in just 6–8 months. This allows companies to get a return on their training investment from a younger generation that only spends years in a role, compared to decades spent in roles by some of the retiring workforce. Dutta also noted that this method of learning helps to keep the attention of younger workers, who are habituated to technologies through the likes of gaming.

Using predictive insights offered by Honeywell technology, the trained staff can spot incoming problems and work to mitigate them in advance.

Lastly, assistance relates to field operators using devices in the field that allows them to get remote help from experts when needed, as well as to access historical and other data, so that they can make more informed decisions and solve problems faster.

He also noted benefits for companies including savings in on-the-job training, reduced plant downtime and overtime costs, and accident avoidance.

“All those things can be achieved by using technology as an enabler for the workforce to do their work right.”

Article by Amanda Jasi

Staff reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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