Video analysis could revolutionise manufacturing – but privacy must come first

Video analysis could revolutionise manufacturing – but privacy must come first

Intelligent video systems can offer much more than simply surveillance as an anti-theft measure. It can instead gather useful data about patterns, trends and anomalies in manufacturing procedures and employees’ activities, which can lead to safer workplaces and more efficient processes. But it is important to make sure privacy rules are adhered to. Simon Randall, CEO at Pimloc, a video privacy and security company, explains how companies can make the most of intelligent video systems.

Intelligent video systems can help streamline production processes, apprehend thieves and improve employee safety – but are organisations prepared to take on responsibility for the data these camera feeds collect?

Introducing video cameras to a factory or warehouse may not, initially, seem like an exciting prospect. Surveillance has long been used as a simple anti-theft measure – but now, combined with innovative AI and Deep Learning technology, intelligent video analytics systems can offer manufacturing organisations much more. Capturing a comprehensive visual overview of the workplace, video analysis offers decision-makers the dense, reliable information they need to implement the right changes. However, with cameras recording the personal information of every employee, customer and visitor, businesses have a significant responsibility to reckon with: how to store, handle and share this data securely.

Analysing patterns for safety and efficiency

Video analysis systems have the ability to categorise people and objects based on parameters like shape, size and colour, facilitating interventions that can improve employee safety and optimise production processes. Cameras in a warehouse can be programmed to detect whether protective helmets and safety vests are being worn or identify anomalies in dwell times and positions that may reveal a worker has fallen. Capturing this information in real-time accelerates the response to a potential incident, meaning that medical assistance can arrive as soon as possible if needed or managers can even intervene before anyone gets hurt.

The same technology can ensure that heavy machinery is being used safely. Video systems can detect when a machine approaches the edge of clearly-marked safety lines, while thermal imaging can identify any risk of overheating and trigger an alarm to warn employees in the area. If the machinery is linked to the video systems, interventions can even be put in place to automatically stop the machine before a potential safety incident occurs.

Over a long period of time, intelligent video systems can also record and aggregate data about vehicle traffic, warehouse occupancy and specific manufacturing procedures. When this information is compiled, decision-makers have access to a clearer view of the trends that may be leading to bottlenecks or inefficiencies. With this knowledge, individuals at every level – from the most junior to the CEO – can make more informed decisions to optimise their workflows. Organisations can implement significant improvements, without the manpower and time needed to identify these changes manually.

With great data comes great responsibility

There is clearly much to be gained from video analytics, but if organisations do not handle the data gathered properly, they also have much to lose. Since GDPR was introduced in 2016, the rules on data handling are far stricter than ever before. If these regulations are not met, businesses face significant financial repercussions as well as reputational damage that impacts relationships with partners, customers and employees. Recent violations by Instagram and Amazon have led to fines totaling hundreds of millions of euros; manufacturing organisations must be diligent about data protection to avoid making the same mistakes as these tech giants.

Unfortunately, video data is often uploaded to the cloud without adequate security precautions, shared without concern and stored indefinitely. It may be that organisations do not understand that the information they are collecting is extremely sensitive – and extremely valuable to cybercriminals. Concerns around data security largely focus on information such as bank details and passwords but faces themselves are also a significant piece of personally identifiable information. With facial recognition increasingly used to access technology, finances and even travel, organisations could be risking their employees’ data security by recording every facial expression and action throughout the working day. Factoring in clients and customers, cameras in warehouses and factories may be gathering this information for thousands of individuals and businesses must do everything in their power to mitigate the risk of a data breach or hack.

Decision-makers must also be mindful that employees may feel that introducing video cameras to their workplace is an invasion of privacy. If employers do not communicate about this well, it can lead to a breakdown of trust and low morale, effectively undermining any gains realised by video analytics systems. Individuals may feel that their personal freedom is being infringed and fear the potential consequences of their data being mishandled, leading to poor employee retention and difficulty attracting new talent.
Insight without invading privacy

These concerns, however, do not entail a dead end for the potential of video analytics in manufacturing. As with any new implementation to the workplace, business leaders must be completely transparent with employees as to the purpose of cameras and who will have access to the data. Individuals are far more likely to welcome video analysis when they have a clear idea of its benefits; if they know it could save time and prevent workplace accidents. It is also important for employers to be upfront about what data is being collected and how it will be protected. Anyone recorded on the cameras should have the ability to request access to all personal data so that they can confirm its accuracy and request its erasure. It is also beneficial to make the implementation as collaborative as possible, by obtaining consent from employees, trade unions and work councils.

When processing huge amounts of information like those collected by video systems, organisations can find themselves torn between maximising the potential of analytics and protecting individuals’ data. But business leaders don’t need to compromise on either: with proper planning and the right tools, video analytics can deliver crucial insights while safeguarding sensitive data. Implementing software that makes personally identifiable information such as faces, heads and number plates unrecognisable renders video footage anonymous. This allows the recording to become exempt from GDPR, reducing the restrictions on its usage and handling.

What remains is the useful data about patterns, trends and anomalies in manufacturing procedures and employees’ activities. Video analysis can thus still deliver on its potential to keep warehouse workers safer and processes more efficient, without compromising on data security.

If manufacturing organisations prioritise data privacy, the insights from video analytics feeds can bring huge benefits, while minimising the time and manpower it would take to make the same observations manually. With technology constantly evolving, the uses for intelligent video systems are likely to continue growing. But to harness this potential, business leaders must be willing and able to contend with the risks that come with collecting such a huge amount of data. Anonymising camera feeds from factories, warehouses and other manufacturing facilities ensures that this data is not only handled and stored responsibly, but is also recorded in a legally secure way. Organisations can reap the benefits of reliable intelligence without exposing themselves to the dangers of a data breach or hack.

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