How do manufacturers leverage the Digital Transformation to reduce risk due to labor shortages?
My first question asked when engaging with a new client always is "what keeps you up at night?" The majority of the time, the answer has something to do with labor. The two most common responses are "We cannot get our workforce to show up on time or at all" or "We cannot find qualified people to fill our open positions." Unfortunately, the labor shortage will continue to get worse. Baby boomers continue to retire and there are not enough millennials out there with the proper skillsets and experience to fill the labor gap.
With the labor shortage, manufacturers must look at alternatives to reduce the risk of not having the workforce required to keep their facilities running to meet customer demand. Fortunately, we now have several off the shelf viable technologies available that reduces your labor risks including manual task automation, augmented reality deployment, and artificial intelligence.
Moving data manually is not only inefficient, but inaccurate. Physical paperwork on the plant floor can be replaced with digital records. Automating manual records not only frees up your work force to focus on more value-added tasks, but also eliminates the risk of human error and "pencil whipping." Furthermore, development and deployment of Robotic Process Automation (RPA or bots) eliminates the manual transfer of data from databases to external applications such as excel to another database. Bots automate mundane data tasks and free up your workforce.
The days of referencing manuals and SOPs are history. Millennials especially prefer "Lego Assembly Mode" instructions - step-by-step how to videos and applications. Augmented Reality (AR) applications such as Vuforia can be leveraged to create new, efficient means of training material and reference material that captures the domain expert's knowledge and passes it to the new workforce without the need for the domain expert to be present. AR captures the tribal knowledge before your experienced operators, mechanics, electricians and engineers retire and provides an efficient means of using it in future.
Many manufacturers are data rich and analysis poor. Plant floor data resides all over the place - PLCs, Distributed Control Systems, historians, SQL databases, ERPs, local storage, excel, etc. Badge agnostic platforms now provide the architecture necessary to bring all these different data resources together so the data can be used to not only make better better business decisions, but develop Artificial Intelligence (AI) applications that enhance your workforce. For example, AI empowers your plant floor maintenance team to become predictive and proactive instead of reactive. AI algorithms in the form of machine learning predict asset failure. Machine Learning reduces unplanned downtime, reduces unnecessary preventative maintenance and extend assets' remaining useful life and makes plant floor maintenance more efficient.
The US department of labor predicts that by 2025, the United States will have 2 million manufacturing jobs that go unfilled due to the retirement of baby boomers. Manufacturers must look at alternatives to the traditional workforce now so that they are prepared for this massive labor shortage. It's tough to fill open positions now and it will only get worse. Embracing the digital transformation will reduce your exposure to the labor shortage and ensure that you will have the resources needed to meet customer demand for your products.
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Tim Malyszko is the founder of Intelligent Industrial Strategies. When he’s not serving his clients, he can be found on the golf course or creating a new piece of art in his woodworking shop. He calls St. Louis, Missouri home.
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