Author Archives: USCCG

 

The rise in food prices is all over the news these days. The USDA and the Consumer Price Index tell us that, in 2023, grocery store purchases were up 5% from the previous year, while eating out cost an average of 7.1% more. This year, those costs are set to bump up another 1.3%. But, if you work in food manufacturing, (or buy groceries for your household) you don’t need the government to tell you those prices are rising.

It’s the trickle-down effect. Challenges facing food manufacturers mean higher production costs, which are ultimately influencing everyone’s grocery bills.

Here’s why, and what food manufacturers can do to save money on the front end to stop that trickle down.

Challenges affecting food prices

Some of the issues food manufacturers are navigating through that can ultimately show up in prices at the grocery store include:

Supply chain disruptions. Whether it’s geopolitical tensions, droughts, wildfires, strikes, or other events, it can disrupt the supply of raw materials food manufacturers use to get the job done. This can and does create delays, backlogs and other costly challenges.

Price inflation. Before price increases hit the grocery store shelves, the rising cost of things like grain, meat and dairy affects manufacturers who use those raw materials to make their goods.

Shipping costs. Rising fuel prices affect how much it costs to get those raw materials to food manufacturers, whether it’s coming from across town or across the world.

Labor shortages. The continuing battle to hire and train good people, and retain the ones you have, contributes to labor costs at the plant, which contributes to rising costs for the end user.

Evolving demand. Consumers are ever changing in their preferences and expectations. People are increasingly demanding sustainability, ethical sourcing, friendly practices like free-ranging and more. And dietary trends shift too, with plant-based alternatives growing in popularity on the one hand and minimally-processed meals on the other. This makes it difficult for manufacturers to forecast to accommodate the demand.

Regulations. Compliance with FDA regulations can be complex at best and lead to inefficiency and higher costs for manufacturers at worst. It’s especially prevalent in yield, when manufacturers are trying to hit the “wiggle room” the government allows between what the package label says and how much product is actually in the package. Not wanting to be out of compliance, manufacturers often overfill packaging to reach that sweet spot, but it means they’re actually giving away product… and profits.

All of these challenges can have a direct impact on manufacturing costs and will inevitably trickle down to their customers. It boils down to:

Higher production costs. This is by no means unique to the food manufacturing industry. Higher production costs on things like raw materials, labor, transportation and more mean higher costs to the customer – that’s a fact of life for most every business.

Supply and demand uncertainty. Supply chain disruption leads to shortages, which cause prices to rise.

How food manufacturers can tackle these challenges

In the short term, agility is key. But strategic planning, process improvements, and a focus on efficiency can shore up food manufacturers for the long run.

Sales, Inventory & Operations Planning which we call SIOP, takes the sales and operations planning (S&OP) process that most manufacturers use and adds inventory to the mix. At USCCG, we find inventory is often left out of the planning process, but it can be as important of a variable and a strategic tool. Following this methodology helps manufacturers eliminate waste, increase efficiencies and achieve an optimal level between not enough and too much.

It’s also an unparalleled tool for inventory management, which is a tricky business today given all of the challenges this industry is facing.

If you would like to learn more about SIOP, download our (free) eBook, “Sales, Inventory & Operations Planning: It’s About Time.”

Sales Inventory and Operations Planning eBook

Process improvements. One way streamlining and refocusing your processes can help manufacturers now is in the area of yield. Getting a handle on yield — improving processes so you’re not giving away product — can save millions of dollars. To learn more about how one food distributor saved $2.3 million per year by improving their yield, read “Food Distributor Masters Management by the Numbers to Improve Yield.”  And speaking of management by the numbers…

Implement a Solid Management Operations System. Many manufacturers, whether food or other industries, tend to manage on the basis of what has worked in the past, a gut feeling by seasoned managers, and other methods. At USCCG, we like hard numbers, streamlined processes and everyone doing the same job the same way. And about that…

Focus on training. It’s crucial to have all shifts, all facilities and all employees working in tandem, doing the same job the same way. It’s how you create the proverbial well-oiled machine.

None of these tactics will stop challenges from happening, but they can and do make your operations more efficient, and in turn, save you money. Not only will it improve your bottom line, but you might just be able to trickle the savings down to your customers, too.

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The automotive industry is driving automation by having the largest number of robots working in factories around the world — operational stock hit a new record of about one million units, according to the International Federation of Robotics (IFR). With the prevalence of automation rising in the automotive industry, the benefits associated with its use in manufacturing cannot be understated. With advantages that work to bring productivity and efficiency all around, advancements in technology such as the integration of artificial intelligence underline the many innovative applications to come.

Exploring the current advantages of automation

“The automotive industry effectively invented automated manufacturing,” notes Marina Bill, the President of the IFR. “Today, robots are playing a vital role in enabling this industry’s transition from combustion engines to electric power. Robotic automation helps car manufacturers manage the wholesale changes to long-established manufacturing methods and technologies.” The IFR goes on to highlight the recent density of robots in the automotive industry — in the Republic of Korea, 2,867 industrial robots per 10,000 employees were in operation in 2021, while Germany had 1,500 units followed by the United States with 1,457 units.

Automation plays a variety of roles in automotive manufacturing, including taking on tasks such as screw driving, windshield installation, and wheel mounting. Automate highlights one example of a valuable role that automation plays in the manufacturing process, via an automated vehicle floor plug insertion system developed by FANUC for General Motors. As a result, the system effectively helps relieve workers from “the ergonomic strain of the manual process and improves production time.” Apart from assembly, Robotics and Automation News notes additional uses for automation in manufacturing include car painting, welding, polishing and material removal, and quality inspection. Regarding the benefits, automation in automotive manufacturing is known to have a wide variety of advantages that heighten productivity in immense ways — including lowering costs, improving accuracy and safety, and amping up efficiency.

Increasing automation highlights a productive future

According to CBT News, automakers are “likely to introduce more robots and other forms of automation over time.” Currently, CBT notes that many robots on production lines are called ‘cobots,’ as they work alongside workers in order to complete tasks that are physically demanding or more challenging to do — Ford, for example, has “at least 100 of these cobots across two dozen of their plants around the world.” Automakers are already planning for increased automation in the future in order to achieve various goals. Tesla is a pioneer regarding factory automation and robots; Elon Musk, for example, has said that introducing more automated equipment at Tesla as part of a goal to cut the costs of making future models by 50%, according to CBT News.

To further underline the presence of automation in auto manufacturing, a 2021 article from The Korea Economic Daily Global Edition highlights the use of robots and artificial intelligence (AI) by Kia Corp., South Korea’s second-largest automaker. According to the article, the company had released a video “showing a highly automated production line of the all-electric mid-size crossover utility vehicle (CUV) at a smart factory powered by artificial intelligence and robot technology.” Crossovers have risen in popularity in the US, with the vehicle featuring an SUV-style body based on a car (rather than a truck platform), therefore using unit-body construction. Today’s crossovers offer a variety of features, with top-rated crossovers offering those such as a spacious interior and a smooth engine.

Innovation foreshadows advancements to come

In addition to simply expanding automation efforts throughout auto manufacturing, ‘smart manufacturing’ employs technology in addition to automation. Also called Industry 4.0, RT Insights notes that data-driven decision-making and predictive maintenance are just the beginning of the advantages associated with smart manufacturing, with benefits extending to areas such as energy efficiency and supply chain optimization. “The resulting factors of having a smart manufacturing set-up are efficiency, production optimization, trackability, quick turnaround during downtime, safer working conditions, and responsible manufacturing,” notes Mobility Outlook.

AI and machine learning (ML) are both components that are driving the future of smart manufacturing, with Mobility Outlook explaining that AI systems analyze data sets and historical records of Internet of Things (IoT) devices. As a result, AI can identify patterns and trends which would otherwise go unnoticed by workers. ML algorithms, on the other hand, can “learn from data, make predictions, and make suggestions to improve manufacturing processes.” Predictive maintenance can also make a major difference in the future of automotive manufacturing, with the analysis of data allowing for minimized repair costs and proactive maintenance. Furthermore, Mobility Outlook highlights the value of quality control systems powered by AI — with this technology, defects can be detected in real-time, allowing for waste reduction and improved product quality across the board.

Automation brings a variety of benefits to automotive manufacturing. While automakers are already making use of the technology, technological advancements like AI are driving the future of ‘smart manufacturing,’ effectively foreshadowing a range of advantages to come.

*This article is written by Lottie Westfield. Lottie spent more than a decade working in quality management in the automotive sector before taking a step back to start a family. She has since reconnected with her first love of writing and enjoys contributing to a range of publications, both print and online.

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Mining companies know all too well how expensive and dangerous the industry can be, and the demand for safer and more efficient training and procedures is increasing year on year.

The good news is that technology is keeping up with this demand and mining companies are starting to welcome and integrate innovative tech into their procedures.

From virtual reality training sessions to 3D mapping and printing, mining technology is helping streamline complex processes and tasks while reducing safety risks and costs.

In this article, we’re going to look at 7 mining technology innovations that are driving the mining industry forward and the benefits they bring.

1. Mining Drones

Drones have been around for the best part of a decade now and have become popular pieces of mining technology to access hard-to-reach areas and sites.

Drones are transforming the way operators map and survey mining sites. Surveying and mapping sites on foot are often expensive and time-consuming, but drones can relay geophysical imagery and data to surveyors quickly and efficiently without putting anyone’s safety at risk.

Another obvious benefit of drones is the time saved surveying sites and carrying out inspections. Operators are able to use drones to conduct visual inspections of sites and equipment as well as provide surveying and mapping data.

Companies like Exyn Technologies use drones to map out a 3-dimensional landscape of underground mines without compromising employee safety. These drones deliver hyper-accurate, survey-grade 3D maps in real-time. Plus, they’re able to navigate mines with little to no light with ease.

To learn more about Exyn technology and how it compares to more traditional methods, check out our study of Mining’s Top Innovations.

2. Virtual Reality

One of the best implementations of VR in the mining industry is how it’s being used to train employees. Mining companies can now use VR to provide immersive and realistic training simulations to allow employees to practice and navigate complex tasks in a safe and controlled environment.

VR also allows miners to virtually explore mining sites without needing to physically be there. Again, this negates the safety issues concerning visiting dangerous mining sites, but also saves money on travel expenses and transporting cumbersome equipment around the world.

Employees can practice using hyper-realistic machinery through VR, allowing them to experience operating heavy and often complex machinery off-site. This means trainees can learn and make mistakes on the job without severe consequences.

3. 3D Printing

3D printing looks to have a bright future in the mining industry. The ability to print and replicate complex and often expensive mining equipment can save companies a small fortune.

For example, if a piece of equipment becomes damaged during use, companies can use 3D printing to replace this equipment quickly and with incredible accuracy. Sourcing mining equipment is often costly and can take time to deliver specific equipment to mining sites. With 3D printing, both of these issues are negated.

While 3D printing is seeing a steady introduction to the mining industry, the potential it brings could be game-changing. Being able to instantly find, print and install specific tools or parts onsite to damaged machinery can reduce lead times and negate the need to transport expensive equipment to remote sites.

Plus, you don’t need a warehouse to store these parts – as every part can be stored digitally!

4. 3D Mapping

3D mapping is a form of mining technology that provides extremely accurate and detailed digital representations of mining sites.

For example, 3D mapping tools can highlight and pinpoint important areas for excavation, without wasting time and valuable resources. Additionally, it isn’t limited to just mining sites – 3D mapping can also be used to map quarries, waste deposits and transportation routes.

According to the statistics, the global 3D market is expected to grow from $3.8 billion in 2020 to $7.6 billion by 2025.

5. Artificial Intelligence

It would be an understatement to say that AI dominated the technology headlines of 2023. The introduction of ChatGPT, Midjourney and BingChat had (and continues to have) a massive impact on operational processes in almost every industry.

In the mining industry, AI is leveraging smart data and machine learning. Not only does this mean safer training and better mining processes, but it cuts the time to perform these tasks in half. This enables onsite engineers to make decisions faster and with more accuracy.

For example, AI is helping mining companies locate and extract valuable minerals with precision. Additionally, through advanced algorithms and data analysis, AI systems can identify optimal mining sites, predict potential resource deposits, and even guide exploration efforts with exceptional efficiency.

We’re already seeing how AI mining technology is aiding autonomous equipment like self-driving vehicles for tunneling excursions and optimizing drilling systems, and we’ll likely see more processes utilizing AI going into the future.

6. Automation

Automation is becoming increasingly popular in the mining world. Truckless conveyor-belt ore transport systems, subterranean electric vehicles and drones are some of the core automation shifts we’re seeing.

One of the biggest benefits of automation is that it allows mining companies to work around the clock without having to be physically present. By automating processes like ore delivery and transport, site monitoring and drilling and ventilation systems, miners do not have to jeopardize their health and safety by venturing into mines and handling hazardous materials and minerals.

Instead, miners can be trained on how to operate heavy machinery remotely from a control center above ground, providing a safer and more comfortable working environment.

Yes, time and resources will need to be invested in training miners on how to use this mining technology. However, the benefits far outweigh the cons. Miners face fewer health and safety risks, speed and efficiency will likely increase and in the long term the industry will experience significant cost savings.

7. Digital Twinning

Digital twinning allows mining companies to create a digital replica of their entire mining ecosystem. This includes mining equipment, geological formations and other relevant objects or assets.

By integrating data from sensors, IoT devices, and other sources, digital twinning provides a dynamic and detailed simulation that mirrors the physical reality of the mining site.

The main aim of digital twinning in the mining industry is to improve decision-making and operational efficiency. Digital twinning also allows miners to simulate various conditions and assess the impact of different variables on operations. This approach means fewer safety risks for employees.

Digital twinning is changing how mining companies do things. It lets them make a digital copy of their entire mining setup, including their equipment, geology, and processes, in an instance.

In essence, digital twinning is making mining operations more efficient, sustainable, and competitive.

Conclusion

The mining industry has been calling out for more innovative and efficient ways to streamline their processes and improve the safety conditions of their employees.

The mining technology at their disposal today is revolutionizing traditional mining processes and more companies will inevitably invest in this new technology.

Improved productivity, enhanced safety and substantial cost savings are just a few of the benefits technology brings to the mining industry. In the next few years, mining companies will need to adopt this technology into their processes to stay competitive and meet the growing demands for sustainability and efficiency.

Embracing these technological advancements is not just a choice; it’s a necessity for the mining industry to thrive in the evolving landscape.

*This article is written by Sophie Bishop. Sophie is an experienced freelance writer with a passion for sharing insights and her experience within the health and safety sector. Sophie aims to spread awareness through her writing around issues to do with healthcare, wellbeing and sustainability within the industry and is looking to connect with an engaged audience. Contact Sophie via her website: https://sophiebishop.uk/.

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If you suspect your employees are burned out, you’re probably onto something. The 2023-2024 Aflac WorkForces Report revealed almost 60% of U.S. workers across all industries are experiencing some level of burnout. That’s a significant jump from 2021 when the number was 52%. And, it’s coming close to the quicksand trap of burnout we saw during the height of the pandemic in 2020… which, as we all know, led to the Great Resignation. Many industries still haven’t recovered from that unprecedented mass exodus of workers.

Here are a few more fast facts about workplace fatigue from the Aflac report:

Admittedly, those numbers seem pretty grim. It’s especially concerning when it comes to employee engagement and retention, which are problems bedeviling many industries right now, including manufacturing, mining, food and beverage and others.

The result of employee burnout and workplace fatigue looks like a laundry list of a manager’s worst day: lagging production, employees just phoning it in, growing malaise and discontent among workers. It can lead to errors, too – potentially serious ones. It all adds up to bad news for your bottom line.

That’s why it’s important for managers and higher ups to take a look at their company — the people on the shop floor, the workers in the mines, the longtime employees on the assembly line, even the white collars in the office, wherever your employees get the job done — through the lens of employee burnout.

What causes employee burnout and what can you do about it?

Causes of employee burnout

When tackling a challenge, it’s always best to look for the root cause. For employee burnout, we’re talking about:

But, it’s not just those types of pressures that contribute to burnout. There’s also:

What executives can do about workplace burnout

There are many fixes for this challenging situation and some of them can be implemented fairly easily. Here are some ways we’ve found to help our clients deal with workplace burnout and reenergize their employees.

Investigate automation… This doesn’t mean investing millions in AI to transform your shop into a bot-dominated sci-fi thriller. It means taking a look at the kinds of repetitive tasks that might be better done by a machine. Automation reduces the need for manual labor, but it also reduces human error and increases consistency and efficiency. Payment and accounting, order processing, and inventory management are some areas to consider automating.

…and train employees for higher-skilled jobs. Yes, some tasks can be done faster and more efficiently by the bots. But the people who previously held those jobs are still valuable to your company. Upskilling those employees has more benefits than letting them go. Training is a magic bullet to increasing job satisfaction and employee retention. It gives people a clear view into a path forward, a sense that you value their contributions and are committed to their growth. Training also has another magic power – it increases overall, on-the-job efficiency.

Give workers more autonomy and voice. At USC Consulting Group, we are famous for encouraging top-level executives to get more familiar with the people who are on the front lines. We can all but guarantee that spending a few hours with the seasoned employees doing those jobs will give you a new perspective. They know how the job can and should get done, and are a wealth of information about ways to improve it. Listening to their ideas and better yet, implementing them, pays off in countless ways. Not only do you get a more efficient and productive line, your employees feel respected, listened to and valued. Now that’s a win-win.

Strive for operational excellence. Operational excellence is your organization running on all cylinders, eliminating bottlenecks, reducing waste and ramping up productivity. You have the right people in the right jobs and are using data and key metrics to “manage by the numbers.” How does this combat employee burnout? Just think about how great it feels at work when everything goes right. When you and your employees are clicking. When you don’t just meet but exceed expectations. That great feeling is called job satisfaction and it’s a powerful antidote for burnout.

Need help handling employee burnout? At USC Consulting Group, we’re here to help companies become more efficient, effective and profitable through process improvements — including implementing strategies to increase employee satisfaction and retention. Give us a call today to find out more.

Contact USC Consulting Group

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All roads are leading most industries to adopt increasingly more sustainable practices. The pressure for manufacturers to go green is growing in the face of climate change, supply chain challenges and especially consumer preferences.

A report from the Roundup, “Environmentally Conscious Consumer Statistics,” paints a pretty clear picture.

Consumers are opting for products that are sustainable, but that’s not the only headline for manufacturers. Because, it’s not just products. It’s the companies, too. Some 29% of consumers said they are “often or always” influenced by a company’s commitment to adopting more sustainable practices.

Sustainability challenges: It’s not easy being green

Many in the manufacturing industry are undoubtedly feeling some kinship to Kermit the Frog these days. Despite the pressure to adopt more sustainable practices, as the Muppet so famously lamented: “It’s not easy being green.”

It’s all well and good to work toward shoring up the environment (and we need to) but it’s a challenging lift for manufacturers. Some obstacles include:

High upfront costs. New technologies, processes and materials come at a price. It’s especially tough for manufacturers in industries like food and beverage, which has razor-thin margins.

Long wait for return-on-investment. ROI from major expenses can take years to come to fruition.

Supply chain challenges. Even if your company has shifted to more sustainable practices, what about your suppliers?

Skilled labor shortage. It’s difficult enough to find warm bodies to work on the line. But new technologies come with new skills requirements.

Opportunities are emerging

At USC Consulting Group, we help companies look for the opportunities within challenging situations. We always find the silver linings. Here are a few:

Cost reduction. Yes, there are upfront costs. But sustainable practices can lead to reduced energy and water consumption, the possibility of lower regulatory compliance costs, and lower materials costs by using recycled materials.

New partners, suppliers and revenue streams. The sustainable marketplace is an ecosystem all its own. It’s possible to find new partners, customers and even suppliers.

Attract and retain top talent. Yes, there is a labor shortage. But the companies with strong sustainable practices are attracting the best people out there. Companies that care for the environment also find their employees are more engaged and involved.

Governmental tax breaks. The government is committed to rewarding companies for adopting more sustainable practices with tax breaks and other financial incentives.

Strategies for manufacturers

One of the best ways to adopt more sustainable practices is to first look in the mirror. It’s not necessarily about investing in new technologies and turning the world upside down. First, look at your processes and operating systems. You’ll likely find efficiencies you didn’t even know were there. Places to start:

Minimizing waste. Lean Six Sigma methodologies can find hidden wastes and lead to more efficient operations. Not only will it save you considerable money, but minimizing waste is a key principle in sustainability. That’s a win-win.

Operations improvements. How efficient are your operations? A solid management operations system, which is a structured approach to your operations, creates much greater efficiency. The best MOS focus on processes, systems, roles and structures to map out how the job gets done, and by whom. Learn more about it in our short video, Stop the Firefighting Mentality to Improve Your Bottom Line.

Sales, inventory and operations planning. You’ve heard of S&OP. We added the “I.” We find inventory to be a key piece of the operations puzzle. When doing sales forecasting and planning for demand and supply, adding inventory elevates the process a notch. It makes inventory a strategic tool. Learn more about it in our free eBook, “Sales, Inventory and Operations Planning: It’s About Time.”

Training. About that skilled labor shortage. A way to combat that is by training and upskilling your people. And solid training for not just employees on the line but managers, too, will get everyone on the same page, creating greater efficiency organization-wide.

By moving toward more sustainable practices, manufacturers can ultimately reduce costs, find greater efficiencies, attract both consumers and employees and help the planet in the process. But it’s not easy. At USC Consulting Group, we’re the experts on helping companies become more efficient, effective and profitable. With more than 55 years behind us, we’ve seen trends come and go. The key is turning challenges into opportunities. Get in touch to find out more.

Contact USC Consulting Group

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Businesses across the nation are adjusting to slimmer profit margins. The Financial Times reports that price spikes, labor shortages, and supply chain struggles are continuing to eat into profits while consumers are spending less in response to inflation.

As a business leader, you can discover new levels of profitability and boost your bottom line by maximizing efficiency in the workplace.

This is particularly important today, as modern workers report that they are only productive for 2 hours 53 minutes per day. As a leader, reclaiming this lost productivity should be your top priority while keeping staff healthy and happy.

Cost Savings

Rising costs will undermine your profits if you fail to adjust. This is true regardless of what stage of business growth you are in today. Even well-established brands can suddenly go bust if they ignore rising costs and become overleveraged with debt.

Continuously re-evaluating your operations will help you discover costly bottlenecks and address fundamental issues. Adopting a process improvement mindset can help you respond to industry changes and remain relevant for consumers. Further cost-saving benefits of process improvement include:

Embracing process improvement can improve your firm’s ability to meet compliance requirements. This is helpful if you plan on growing your business and want to avoid fees and fines due to ineffective compliance protocols.

Employee Wellbeing

Your employees are the backbone of your business. Without them, efficiency would grind to a halt. However, many business leaders overlook employee wellbeing when profitability starts to decline.

If you want to enhance your operational efficiency, then keeping your employees healthy and happy should be a priority. Unhealthy, unhappy staff are extremely expensive, as you will be forced to pay for sick leave and will have to bring on new hires when they leave for greener pastures.

Stress can have a profound impact on employee well-being and health, too. Left untreated, chronic stress can increase the risk of musculoskeletal disorders, hypertension, heart attack, and stroke. Employees who are stressed are also more likely to suffer from oral ailments like gum disease, tooth decay, and cankers. This will sideline your employees and leave you short-staffed when you need employees the most.

Increasing Safety

Nothing will derail your business like an accident at work. In 2021 alone, workplace accidents and injuries cost a total of $167 billion. Injuries and accidents also resulted in 103,000,000 lost days of work, as many employees have to take extended time away after a mishap.

As a business owner, you should explore efficiency upgrades that improve safety. Even simple changes, like reducing workers’ workload, can significantly reduce the risk of accidents. Folks are far less likely to make a misstep when they are not overworked, burnt out, and fatigued by their workload.

You can improve worker safety and increase business efficiency by embracing the Internet of Things (IoT). IoT tech, like electronic logging devices, can improve safety and efficiency by tracking metrics related to employee safety. This is particularly important if you work in high-risk fields like delivery driving. Keep a tab on key data points like speed and braking. This reduces the risk of accidents and helps you retrain certain staff.

Customer Service

In today’s competitive business environment, you need to stand out from the crowd by providing excellent customer service. Effective, efficient customer service can improve brand loyalty, minimize damaging reviews, and convince consumers to make repeat purchases.

A recent survey of 3,200 consumers by Super Office found that 12% of all consumers expect a response time of under 15 minutes, while 46% say they want to hear back within 4 hours. This suggests that efficient, fast responses are key to heightened customer satisfaction.

If you cannot afford to employ a fleet of customer service agents, consider investing in automation software instead. Automated chatbots are capable of answering FAQs quickly and accurately. They can also send pre-generated responses to folks who get in contact during out-of-office hours. This can reassure customers that their query has been seen and that they will get a response soon.

Foregrounding efficiency in your customer service department can reduce the amount you spend on returns, too. US retailers predict that $761 billion of items will be returned every year. This can eat into profits and derail your day-to-day operations. You cannot avoid all returns, but you can mitigate many hasty returns with responsive, positive customer service.

Automation

Automating your business is not just good for customer service. Embracing the future of AI and automation can improve your efficiency and bolster your bottom line. Strategic changes, like automating your customer relationship management (CRM) software, can reduce the amount of time staff spend on menial responsibilities and free up time for creative, profit-boosting tasks.

If you are new to the idea of automation, start with low-hanging fruit like:

As your firm grows, you can explore more complex automation strategies. For example, if you currently run an e-commerce business, you can use automated software to keep stock of your inventory and automatically order new materials when supplies run low. This reduces lead time at your firm and ensures that you are always ready to take on new orders.

Communication

Effective communication keeps internal and external stakeholders happy and can maximize your operational efficiency. This is crucial when trying to boost your profits, as you’ll need buy-in from investors and employees alike.

As a business leader, you can guide your firm to higher levels of profitability and productivity by improving your own communication skills. Ask plenty of questions when conversing with other employees and focus on listening to them without interruption. If you struggle to listen without jumping in, consider taking notes to channel your thoughts and show your staff that you care about their insights.

You should review your communication strategy on an annual basis. This will ensure that your firm is up-to-date with the latest communication tech and can help you identify potential issues in your current strategy. A well-planned communication strategy improves collaboration in your company, too. This reduces the risk of costly oversights and helps you get more out of your most talented employees.

Conclusion

Boosting your bottom line is about more than cutting costs and raising your prices. Spark a period of profitable growth at your firm by embracing an ethos of process improvement. Continuous process improvement also helps you take advantage of breakthroughs in business tech like CRM automation, IoT tracking, and customer service chatbots. In sum, process improvement isn’t just ensuring short-term solutions, it’s ensuring the long-term success of your company.

*This article is written by Ainsley Lawrence. View more of Ainsley’s articles here.

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How’s your supply chain running these days? If you’re like most manufacturers, you’re still experiencing challenges. Big challenges. The pandemic threw the worldwide supply chain into chaos and it hasn’t yet recovered, but the truth is, there have always been supply chain issues bedeviling the industry. The pandemic just exacerbated what already had the potential to go wrong and uncovered new problems lurking just below the surface.

Just-in-time strategies, which were (and continue to be) popular methods of having just the right amount of inventory on hand at any given time, left manufacturers vulnerable to supply chain disruptions. The increasing complexity of global supply chains didn’t help the situation, nor did the pervasive lack of visibility into supply chains themselves.

What are manufacturers facing this year in terms of their supply chain? Let’s take a look at these issues, and examine some ways USC can help.

Manufacturers supply chain challenges for 2024

Materials shortages. Global instability, the lingering effects of the pandemic and other factors are leading to shortages of raw materials and components. Production delays, increased costs and unhappy customers are the result. And speaking of costs…

Rising freight costs. As fuel prices ride the same roller coaster we’re all seeing at the gas pump, and labor shortages and ongoing congestion at ports collide, it means costs to get those components and materials are going up, eating into your profits. And speaking of labor shortages…

Labor shortages. This problem is ongoing, and we have to say, it’s one thing that wasn’t caused by the pandemic. Manufacturing workers are aging and retiring, and there isn’t a large pipeline of younger people with the skills to replace them. It means reduced output and productivity, dwindling motivation and drive, and the loss of institutional knowledge.

DRIP. It stands for data rich, information poor. When you’re talking about the supply chain, it means you need to use data to its fullest. Outdated inventory systems won’t cut it.

Tactics that can help

Diversifying supply chains. Having too many eggs in one basket has proven costly when that basket falls apart. Reliance on any one supplier, especially if that supplier is overseas, is becoming yesterday’s strategy that is just not working in today’s market.

Reshoring. Supply chain disruption, ongoing global instability, higher costs (including higher labor costs in China), increased lead times and more hassles are leading companies to reconsider foreign sources. Many are already doing it. Yahoo Finance reported in June 2023 that 80% of manufacturers are now considering or acting on reshoring some or all of their production. A couple of quick examples: General Motors invested $7 billion in production facilities in Michigan to not just manufacture electric vehicles but the batteries that power them. Intel invested $20 billion in a new semiconductor manufacturing plant in Ohio, and is investing $30 billion for a similar facility in Arizona. Some manufacturers are “nearshoring,” bringing production closer to home, from China to Mexico, say. Not only will this reduce lead times, improve quality control and leave companies less vulnerable to global unrest, it will also create jobs here at home.

SIOP. We laud this tactic often because it really does improve efficiency, but in the age of supply chain disruption, it’s crucial. Sales, Inventory and Operations Planning (SIOP) is a collaborative process that aligns all departments. It involves using inventory as a strategic tool, demand management and supply planning, giving you the ability to capture, analyze, integrate and interpret data to give you a strategic advantage.

Learn more about SIOP in our free eBook, Sales, Inventory and Operations Planning: It’s About Time.

Solid training. The labor shortage isn’t going away, and we’re finding that many manufacturers are investing in training, ensuring that everyone is doing the job the same way, with rock-solid operating procedures. It’s a powerful way to keep institutional knowledge within your facilities, instead of losing it when people retire.

At USC Consulting Group, we have over 55 years of experience helping manufacturers ramp up their efficiency, production and operations. It’s especially crucial to be firing on all cylinders during challenging times… and we’re in them, right now. Give us a call and let’s talk about how we can help.

Looking to optimize your supply chain

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Industrial and collaborative robots have had a tremendous impact on the automotive industry, changing the standards for production, quality control and safety. In assembly, they have permanently shifted how workers and plant managers interact with machinery.

The State of Robots and Cobots in the Automotive Sector

Industrial and collaborative robots are foundational to the automotive sector. While they can seem similar at first glance, the two have fundamental differences. Their specialized designs and applications give them each a unique place in the industry.

Of course, industrial robots came first and have become the standard. They brought tremendous value to operations, leading to the automotive industry becoming one of the most mechanized industries. These heavy-duty machines outperform their human counterparts in tasks like material handling and part insertion.

Collaborative robots — often referred to as cobots — are meant to act as support rather than replacements. Their place on the factory floor is directly next to workers since they’re much safer than their industrial counterparts. They excel at precision-based tasks like bin picking, screw-driving and product dispensing.

Although traditional industrial robots have long been the industry standard, cobots have quickly grown in popularity. In the automotive sector alone, their combined global sales value was roughly 3.8 billion in 2022. Both technologies have significantly impacted worker safety, assembly efficiency and production yields.

The Rise of Robots and Cobots

In the automotive sector, the popularity of robotics is plain to see. Industrial robot installation increased by 31% between 2020 and 2021 alone, demonstrating how it has room to expand despite already being an industry staple. What makes this technology so highly sought-after?

Industrial robots have existed for ages and they are reliable. They are what’s known as mature technology, meaning their user base has eliminated most of their faults over the years. This consistency is crucial in the automotive sector, given the complex nature of the assembly line.

Cobots have quickly reached the popularity of industrial robots because they can adapt rapidly and outperform their counterpart regarding safety. Instead of being trapped in cages far away from humans, they work alongside employees on the factory floor. They open up many new opportunities for broadened automation and efficiency improvements.

Although most robot and cobot applications involve automation, worker safety and production capacity improvements have also proven significant. Humans no longer have to lift obscenely heavy objects or work in intense heat because their role requires it. Instead, the machines take over the dirty, complex and challenging tasks.

The Role of Robotics in Automotive Assembly

Robots and cobots have made a substantial impact on automotive assembly. Many factory floors now have humans and machinery working alongside each other instead of separately. Because of this development, plant managers have been able to automate duties they never previously could’ve.

Typically, monotonous manual work takes up most of the workweek. Across various industries, more than 40% of employees spend the majority of their workday on repetitive duties. Although the widespread adoption of industrial robotics has made the automotive sector somewhat of an outlier in this sense, there are still plenty of jobs left to partially or fully automate.

Even if demand changes, manufacturers can use cobots to continue automating whatever they need to. Since these machines are reprogrammable, their duties can adjust depending on a plant’s needs. For example, they could easily switch from bin picking to sealant dispensing to make up for an unexpected job vacancy or a sudden shift in consumer expectations.

Robots also protect the automotive industry from common pain points like labor shortages, human error and assembly line bottlenecks. This development is clearly visible with cobots, considering plant managers can support any manual duty with them and reprogram them at will.

These machines can safeguard production rates even in unforeseen circumstances. The COVID-19 pandemic impacted the sector significantly, causing unprecedented downtime. More than 50% of automotive companies experienced substantial disruption during this period. If facilities had a combination of robots and cobots, they likely could’ve avoided the effects of the sudden labor shortage.

The Impact of Robotics in Automotive Assembly

With robots and cobots, plant managers can fully or partially automate virtually any position in the assembly line. As a result, they can pursue highly-trained employees with more specialized skills. This development might eventually give rise to product quality improvements.

Robotics has also made labor condition improvements possible. In the past, workers had to do every hazardous or strenuous task by hand. Even with the introduction of industrial robots, they still risked injury and exhaustion. The development of cobots allowed them to work alongside each other.

Most importantly, robotics has vastly improved product yields. While Industrial robots are an industry staple, their large size, operational skill requirements and ability to injure workers hold them back. Cobots closed the gap, allowing plant managers to automate what was left.

Robotics Innovate Automotive Assembly

While cobots have quickly risen in popularity, traditional industrial robots are still vital parts of automotive assembly because they excel in heavy-duty tasks. A combination of both helps maximize efficiency, worker safety and product yields.

*This article is written by Jack Shaw. Jack is a seasoned automotive industry writer with over six years of experience. As the senior writer for Modded, he combines his passion for vehicles, manufacturing and technology with his expertise to deliver engaging content that resonates with enthusiasts worldwide.

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Challenges are not new to the mining industry and 2024 is shaping up to hold several, from ESG pressure to labor shortages. But by focusing on challenges as opportunities to optimize, this resilient industry will no doubt weather these headwinds.

Here are the top issues, challenges and trends we’re seeing on the road ahead.

ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance)

According to 2024 research at EY, mining executives are looking at ESG as the biggest risk to their business — the third consecutive year ESG has received that dubious ranking. Why? It’s because of increasing scrutiny from investors and other stakeholders, and the likelihood of more strict regulations in the area of environmental protection and governance practices. All of which could lead to higher capital costs for mining companies that have to play catch-up in terms of ESG measures and compliance, like investment in new technologies and efforts toward carbon capture and storage. However, there’s a silver lining here for companies that take the lead in these efforts. It can put them on top in terms of attracting the best talent and capital investments, both of which are poised to be problematic this coming year.

Another thing about the environment …

In addition to mounting governmental pressure and stricter regulations in terms of ESG, there are other factors (and fallout) related to the environment as well. Shifting demand could mean changes in operations and production. For some companies, it may mean less demand for the materials they’re mining. For others, especially those that are focusing on nickel and lithium used in EV batteries, it means a boom.

Capital investments

That EY survey of mining executives cites capital as the second most pressing issue for the industry, behind (and hand-in-hand with) ESG. It’s shaping up to be a race for investments to facilitate the exploration for and extraction of minerals like nickel, copper and lithium, all crucial to the energy and environmental initiatives coming down the pike.

Delivering on growth projects

Linking to capital investments is the ability to develop new assets. Bringing new assets on-line faster, more responsibly and safer is more important than ever, especially in stable regions. Excelling in development projects is no longer a competitive advantage, it is an expectation from all stakeholders. Local communities and authorities expect a faster and larger return while shareholders expect a faster return on their investments. Executing growth projects on time, within budget and responsibly will define the exceptional from the pack.

Geopolitical instability

Ukraine, Israel, Gaza, and that’s just what’s making the headlines. Barring a holiday miracle, geopolitical instability isn’t going away anytime soon. In addition to the human toll, it means continued supply chain disruption, price volatility and more for the mining industry. It might mean trade tensions, embargoes, tariffs and other measures that impact the mineral trade, including “resource nationalism.”

Labor shortage

It seems like every year, we’re talking about a labor shortage in terms of recruitment and retention, and this year is no different for the mining industry. It’s particularly pressing because it’s a problem on two fronts. The labor shortage is impacting productivity today when you don’t have enough people to get the job done now. But it’s also the lack of a skilled workforce pipeline, people coming up and getting the skills they need to replace older, experienced workers who are retiring or leaving the workforce for other reasons. Workforce training, like we provide at USC Consulting, is the key to getting everyone on the same page, doing the same job the same way. It boosts productivity, which is an absolute necessity when you are feeling a labor crunch.

Technology

Technology and innovation will be big in 2024 for mining, as it will for most industries on the planet. Investments in automation will improve efficiency and safety, and it might help with the labor shortage as well. But technology advancements in mining aren’t really about the bots taking over people’s jobs. They can create new jobs and new opportunities for skilled workers which, in turn, will ratchet up productivity and process improvements mine-wide. Investments in new technologies will also help in areas of exploration, discovery and mineral extraction, again boosting productivity.

Cybersecurity

As data becomes king in all industries, not just mining, increasing digitalization heightens the risk of cyberattacks. Mining companies are considered high-value targets and are vulnerable to disruption, financial losses and more. Employee training, having a response plan in place and digital security measures are all important areas of focus for the coming year.

Remaining competitive through economic cycles or shocks

Many natural resource companies struggle to remain competitive through economic cycles or market and commodity shocks. The best possible operating efficiencies, productivity and lowest possible unit costs are the best insurance against these cyclical and adverse events. Companies design and develop good systems, but it is at the point of execution or operator level where the best distinguish itself from the others.

At USC Consulting Group, we understand what it takes to weather the headwinds for the Mining industry in 2024. We focus on optimizing processes and procedures, creating operational excellence and improving production to ultimately boost your bottom line and shore you up against whatever the coming year can dish out. Call us today to find out more.

Improve operating performance by identifying these gaps and opportunities in your management operating system

 

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Manufacturers today deal with greater demands from consumers than ever before. It is vital for manufacturers to deliver on time, every time. Fail to do so and they will lose customers, revenue, and credibility.

Therefore, streamlining operations is essential. This doesn’t mean manufacturers need to invest in expensive equipment or high-performance technology. Often, what needs to change is how people work and the strategies businesses can employ to support this.

Let’s get started.

Why is it so Important to Streamline Manufacturing Operations?

Streamlining manufacturing processes ultimately maximizes a company’s profits and helps them stay competitive. Here are just some of the reasons why it’s so important:

6 Ways Manufacturers Can Streamline Operations

Streamlining operations can feel like an overwhelming task at first. However, with the right strategies in place, it doesn’t take long to improve efficiency and boost productivity. Here are six tips to get you started:

1. Identify Issues in the Production Line

Every manufacturing operation has a bottleneck. This is a stage in the manufacturing process where things slow down or perhaps even stop. Bottlenecks are a nuisance and can lead to severe delays, time and labor inefficiencies, and increased costs. Identifying bottlenecks is essential for optimizing the production line and helping everything run more efficiently.

There are a few ways you can identify issues in your production line. For instance, you should look for signs of the following:

2. Support Faster Payment Processing

As a business owner, you know the importance of faster payment processing. Whether you’re paying your suppliers or your customers are buying your products, faster payment processing keeps everything running smoothly.

The simpler your payment process is, the better so spend time to find the best card reader for your business operation. Streamlining both the supplier and customer experience by offering online payments is a game-changer.

Online payments make it easier for customers to purchase from you, removing delays in the payment process and reducing cash flow issues. This helps streamline operations and keep everything running smoothly.

3. Adopt Lean Manufacturing Methodology

Lean manufacturing methodology focuses on reducing costs by limiting waste and improving manufacturing efficiency. Lean manufacturing is a great methodology to apply to your business if you’re looking to streamline operations.

For lean manufacturing methodology to be effective, all types of waste in the manufacturing process must be identified and then removed. There are four types of waste you should focus on eliminating as a priority. These include:

  1. Unnecessary transportation of materials such as equipment, tools, and employees can be avoided simply by optimizing factory layouts.
  2. Excess inventory. Whether it’s products, materials, or equipment, having excess inventory is a waste as it increases storage costs and slows down processes.
  3. Waiting time: time-wasting is common in manufacturing operations, either due to idle workers or idle machines. It typically occurs when workers can’t work because they’re waiting on materials or equipment. Machines can be idle when waiting on maintenance or replacement. Optimizing manufacturing processes eliminates this time wasting and boosts operational efficiency.
  4. Defective products are a waste that must be reduced as much as possible. For every defective product, you have an unhappy customer. This means returns are made and apologies are required, which increases costs and wastes time.

Reducing unnecessary waste goes a long way towards reducing lead times, boosting customer satisfaction, and improving operational efficiency. It is a process of continuous improvement and manufacturers will find that regular adjustments need to be made as customer demand fluctuates. However, adopting the lean manufacturing approach will go a long way towards streamlining your operations now and in the future.

4. Embrace Automation

Automation (utilizing production management software or robots to operate machinery) reduces the need for manual labor. It avoids human error and allows for consistency across all aspects of your manufacturing process.

Many areas within manufacturing can benefit from automation, most notably: payment and accounting processes, order processing, marketing efforts, and inventory management (to name a few!)

According to Industrial Machinery Digest, “One obvious byproduct of automation is increased productivity […] The market should see more businesses turning to industrial automation on various scales. When this happens, the market will be able to see not only more innovative products produced on a larger and quicker scale, but the quality increasing with production speed.”

Adopting automation as part of your manufacturing process will help streamline your operations like nothing else. It will allow your organization to keep up with customer demands and grow as your business grows.

5. Reduce Downtime (where possible)

As mentioned earlier in this article, many things can cause your processes to bottleneck. One of these is downtime.

Downtime is a significant cause of inefficiency in the manufacturing process. Therefore, finding ways to reduce it can improve efficiency. A few common causes of downtime are:

To improve on these it is important to monitor your production processes closely. This will let you identify and address any issues quickly and efficiently.

6. Train Employees Well

For employees to do a good job and support a streamlined manufacturing process, they need to know what they’re doing and proper training supports this. Proper employee training is a surefire way to improve efficiency, boost company morale, and support business success.

Establishing an effective team through professional training lets employees add real value to your business by preparing them for higher responsibilities, increasing their productivity, strengthening any weaknesses, improving workplace safety, and boosting production overall.

If you want to streamline your manufacturing operations, it is essential that you properly train your employees. This will go a long way towards supporting your business success.

In Summary

We hope the tips shared in this article have highlighted the importance of optimizing your manufacturing processes and how to achieve this! We know that streamlining your operations can feel a little daunting at first (we’ve all been there!) But with the right strategies we know you can transform your manufacturing process and take your business to new heights.

*This article is written by Sophie Bishop. Sophie is an experienced construction writer with a passion for sharing insights and her experience within the health and safety sector. Sophie aims to spread awareness through her writing around issues to do with healthcare, wellbeing and sustainability within the industry and is looking to connect with an engaged audience. Contact Sophie via her website: https://sophiebishop.uk/.

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