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Industry 4.0: Gamification in the area of industrial production

Jörg Niesenhaus
November 18th, 2013

A few months ago we discussed the challenges and potentials of gamification and the process of implementing gamification methods. We pointed out that an extensive analysis of the existing processes and well adapted gamification mechanisms increase the chances of success – for instance to optimize the efficiency of a process or raise the employee satisfaction.

In our current blog article we dive into the widely debated industry 4.0 theme and focus on the application area of industrial production and the role gamification methods could play within this area, and also which specific requirements have to be fulfilled to enable the implementation of playful elements.

Gamification in the field of industrial production

In the area of industrial assembly the process structure is geared to the functionality of the machines. In order to achieve an optimal throughput, high quality products and minimal downtimes, the collaboration of the operators and maintenance personnel is of vital significance. Thereby most of the gamification mechanisms presented in this article focus on the operators and their activities. In addition, it is also possible to think of playful mechanisms for other departments like management, sales or plant engineering.

Visual and auditive feedback

A vital element of games is the immediate visual and auditive feedback in response to a user’s input. The feedback confirms the recognition of the input and furthermore emphasizes the feeling of self-efficacy of the operator through the type of visualization or sound on vision. Due to the absence of displays or raised noise level it is not always possible to work with visual or auditive feedback in the context of industrial assembly. In case operators are already working on or with displays it makes sense to use them in the best possible way. Often displays only visualize static conditions in which at certain points operators have to provide an input. This interaction can be enriched by the integration of animations and graphical accentuation to not only provide feedback but also visualize coherences or processes in a distinctive way. At the same time it is possible to reward each single step of a procedure through collecting low point values, so that each action and process step has a positive impact on the individual operator’s points account or on the whole team if this is desired. Moreover, both animations and auditive feedback can communicate an ideal rhythm or timing, which is orientated towards other operators or other machines on the same plant. This mechanism can support operators in entering the mental state of flow in which a person performs an activity fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus and enjoyment. When it comes to applying animations and sounds it is important to make sure they are minimal-invasive and will not be perceived as distracting in the long term. Also the current status can be visualized appealingly through playful elements: What is my current daily goal? How many components per hour did I handle? Is our team over or below the average throughput? Visualizations like TO-DO lists, a step-by-step completing status bar or a tachometer, which shows the produced units per hour offer individual feedback about the current state and accomplishment.

A well-known example of a feedback display, which is able to motivate people to achieve an extra effort, can be found in many cars: A lot of drivers feel challenged by their route guidance system to undermatch the estimated time of arrival. If this is achieved, drivers often have a feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction.

Precise description of malfunction

Another important feedback for operators is information regarding malfunctions or mistakes in the current assembly process, which may only be noticed later on in the production process or during quality control. Often these malfunctions can be traced back to a specific assembly step or operating station, so that the respective operator can be informed – often with a delay of a few minutes depending on when the malfunction is registered. The message for the operator should not only contain a short description of the problem but also provide more details on the malfunction and include a corresponding approach to solve the problem. Given this information the operator can reconstruct the context of the malfunction and subsequently prevent similar malfunctions or mistakes in the future. Automatically generated photos or animated 3D models can be used to visualize the problem. Dynamic 3D visualization can help to locate and highlight problems, especially in complex assembly processes in the automotive industry and in machine engineering. A facility management prototype developed by Centigrade highlights the potential of dynamic visualization of malfunctions and problems in order to identify and remedy them quickly and effectively.

Optimization of idle time

A further example for the application of playful elements is the management of work breaks. At production plants with multiple operators it is often unfavorable for two or more operators to take breaks at the same time, because this might lower the plants’ throughput due to the missing personnel. One mechanism of a gamification system can be the suggestion of optimal idle times, which are generated on request of an operator. The system will still offer starting an immediate break, but will also calculate an optimal beginning for the assembly line, which can be chosen voluntarily. If the operator choses the optimal beginning of the break a countdown starts. If the operator takes his break in the time frame highlighted by the countdown he receives bonus points for his flexibility.

Rewards for teams

We already mentioned the example of leaderboards, which are used to compare the effort of individual employees or teams. This mechanism is controversial because it does not only generate winners but also losers. Especially in the case of larger production facilities it is important to strengthen the social bonds between employees instead of weakening them by introducing misguided types of competition. A model which has proven itself successful is rewarding teams for the collaboration between team members. In this case not only efficiency data or daily target numbers are rated but also the support of other team members in handling problems, or entering suggestions for optimizing the workflow are taking into account when generating the team score. To gather this information short questionnaires are presented at the time of the logout of the system, which ask each team member e.g. to choose the most valuable colleague of the shift, or provide information on which station is the most difficult one to handle. Points can be collected for answering the questions, which again, has a positive impact on the team score.

Increasing motivation through rewards

A topic discussed very intensely in the area of gamification is the concept of rewards, which can be promised for the successful participation in gamification processes. Rewards increase the probability that the rewarded behavior will occur more often. In psychology this behavior is called positive reinforcement. In this context, experts for behavioral research question whether extrinsic motivation through rewards puts out the right message. Games often inspire an intrinsic motivation, so that people play because of the joy they experience while playing. In an ideal case a playfully enriched process would need no additional rewards because the process itself is motivation enough. But according to our experience, the integration of gamification mechanisms benefits from additional reward systems. Possible rewards might be additional free time or leave days, special payments or presents, which can be unlocked step by step by collecting points.

Using playful mechanisms in production processes

The integration of game mechanisms in the processes of industrial production is unknown territory for many companies. But still, the increasing number of respective projects in the context of industry 4.0 highlights the companies’ interest in creative and playful solutions on lowering the error rate, increasing the efficiency of their processes and furthermore motivating their employees.

Please note: This article is a shorter version of an already published article in the SPS magazine (German publication) of October.

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