Ken Wong, Executive Vice President of Lenovo and President of Lenovo Solutions and Services Group, discusses how smart factories, the internet of things and artificial intelligence are reshaping workplaces
Watching molten steel pour into containers on a hi-tech production line or suburban trains clank down a railway line at dawn, the first things that spring to mind are probably not edge computing or ‘smart city’ technology.
But innovations from Lenovo are changing the way companies operate and how people work around the world – from keeping workers safe in the steel factories, to enabling engineers to repair train tracks rapidly in the middle of the night, and enabling hybrid workers to work wherever they want.
Connected technology in ‘smart factories’ lets engineers know what is happening on the ground without having to physically be there. Sensors embedded in ‘smart cities’ offer maintenance workers a new way to target their efforts effectively. In offices around the world, Lenovo is partnering with companies to rent out not just PCs and smartphones, but the entire office experience itself.
Staying on track
More than half of the world’s population lives in cities, according to United Nations statistics, and that number is projected to rise to 68% by 2050.
With populations booming, digital technology embedded into the fabric of cities is becoming ever more important to delivering services rapidly and effectively.
And that’s exactly what Lenovo is doing. For example, Lenovo worked with a public transport operator managing a city railway line used by millions to digitise track management which had previously been done manually and, thus, prone to human error.
Lenovo’s technology automated processes including helping to assess whether tracks needed to be repaired and helped to pinpoint problems in a timely fashion.
Lenovo’s approach solved a difficult problem: how to get all the track maintenance work done for several train lines during a short time window (just three to four hours) every night.
The end-to-end digital system Lenovo introduced allowed for real-time updates including showing the exact tracks workers were dealing with, allowing jobs to be allocated far more efficiently. Artificial intelligence also oversees safety checks and balances, ensuring workers are safe. The end result is that trains run on time, 365 days a year.
The client has been so satisfied with Lenovo’s innovative technology that they are working with Lenovo to export the technology to other markets around the world.
One idea that Lenovo is pioneering is the ‘industrial metaverse’, where ‘digital twins’ of machines and factories are used to improve efficiency and keep workers safe.
‘Digital twins’, where a virtual version of an industrial machine displays input gathered from sensors placed on the actual machine, allow engineers to monitor production processes regardless of location. This has the potential to reshape industries, allowing business leaders to take an overview of processes and root out inefficiencies.
Lenovo partnered with a large special steel manufacturer to reduce potential inefficiency. Lenovo engineers mapped out the factory through installing sensors and,smart cameras – replicating the factory into a “digital twin”, which can then be monitored through a command centre.
The Smart Eye camera system replaces manual patrols, watching for abnormal conditions in the production process, using edge computing to ensure that problems are spotted quickly and alarms raised when needed. These sensors can even measure whether molten iron poured into moulds is taking the right shape and is the right temperature.
Utilising AI to analyse data gathered by the smart sensors and cameras, the company was able to save up to 15% in efficiency savings, while reducing downtime by 15%. By automating the production line, the company was also able to achieve the lowest labour costs in high-speed steel production in China.
The manufacturer hopes to work with Lenovo on new systems which will make the production line even more ‘connected’ – paving the way for continuous upgrades to the way the factory works.
The pandemic has changed the way people work around the world – and this has important effects on how companies engage with workers. At Lenovo, we talked to 500 CIOs globally, and found that almost two in five say that their roles have expanded to include elements such as shaping HR and talent strategy.
Attracting employees is not just a matter of an attractive pay packet – and providing IT is no longer just a matter of secure networks and fast PCs. Simple, seamless and scalable digital workplace solutions are needed to help free up IT decision makers to focus on their new expanded role in attracting talent. What if, instead of renting out a few PCs or laptops for an office, businesses rented out the whole office experience instead?
Lenovo’s managed employee experience, where companies rent a whole workplace solution can help improve employee satisfaction and talent retention. To take one example, companies can outsource all IT infrastructure and support so they don’t have to invest in their own IT. This can include services and solutions such as performance analytics as well as cloud and data infrastructure services.
For young, lean companies, it removes another investment they need to make, and another obstacle to scaling their business – freeing staff and business leaders to focus on innovation.
New ways to work
From transportation to heavy industry to the knowledge economy, the way people work is changing. Technological innovation is the spark that is empowering workers with the information they need to work more efficiently: technologies such as internet of things (IOT), sensors and artificial intelligence are working in the background to create new ways to work, in every industry. From ‘smart cities’ to ‘smart factories’ to smarter offices built for a hybrid workforce, innovation is helping to create the workplaces of the future – and helping business leaders to improve efficiency, attract talent, and pave the way for further innovations.
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