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With Halloween just around the corner, we started thinking about nightmares that can occur to manufacturers. Is something bedeviling your productivity leading to more tricks than treats? Is there a ghost in the machine? Here are some of the most common “monsters” that haunt manufacturing managers, and ways to banish them from your operation for good.
Things that go bump in the night (or day). Every manufacturing plant on the planet has experienced an “unexpected shutdown” that seemingly comes out of nowhere. Something broke, wore out, went awry or otherwise seized up, causing production to grind to a halt. These unexpected dark periods, whether they last an hour, a day or longer until the problem is resolved, are extremely costly in lost productivity and revenue, delays in shipments and deliveries, and more.
Banish it! Regular shutdowns for maintenance need to be an essential part of your yearly calendar. Yes, these planned maintenance periods still mean downtime, but the point is, you build them into your schedule and plan accordingly for shift scheduling, delivery and other variables.
Zombies on the line. Unmotivated teams can bedevil companies in any industry. From the Great Resignation to Quiet Quitting, employee morale has taken a tumble since the pandemic. People are just going through the motions out there. Couple that with some spooky stats: According to a Gallup survey, only 36% of U.S. employees are engaged at work and 74% say they are actively looking for new jobs. Low morale costs companies in just about every way possible — increased absenteeism, dips in quality and efficiency, and rock-bottom motivation levels among them.
Banish it! There are many spells you can cast to break that zombie curse. Invest in training and development for your employees. Hold listening sessions to get ideas for improvements on the job. Walk the floor and talk to your people regularly, something management just doesn’t do enough. Build a promotion pipeline from your front lines. All of these will help increase employee engagement and get their heads back in the game.
Process poltergeists. Are you constantly putting out fires that seem to combust without warning? Human errors, unforeseen backups, supply chain bottlenecks, inventory imbalances (too much or too little), glitches on the line. It can feel like you have a firefighting mentality, and it’s counterproductive to, well, productivity. When you’re in a constant state of troubleshooting, you’re not efficient at doing the job today or laying the groundwork for tomorrow.
Banish it! A solid Management Operating System, which is a structured approach to your operations, will help stop trouble before it starts. This allows you to make adjustments and otherwise pivot so your operations aren’t adversely impacted. The best management operating systems focus on processes, systems, roles and structures to map out how the job gets done, and by whom. To learn about MOS in more detail, watch our short (and dare we say fun) video, Stop the Firefighting Mentality.
“20% of each dollar is wasted in manufacturing due to inefficient processes each year”
Wasting disease. Waste can hide on your shop floor like a monster under the bed. It hides where you least expect it, like time, energy, employee talent, productivity and more. Here’s a figure that will keep you up at night: 20% of each dollar is wasted in manufacturing due to inefficient processes each year, adding up to $8 trillion globally.
Banish it! Waste is such an enormous problem in manufacturing, Toyota (or Henry Ford, depending on who you ask) created a process methodology about it. Lean is all about identifying and eliminating waste in manufacturing operations. The classic Seven Deadly Wastes (we think it’s eight, but let’s not split hairs) include overproduction, waiting, transporting, processing, inventory, motion and defects. (People is our eighth.) Lean is the process to minimize or eliminate those, boosting your bottom line. Read more about it by downloading our eBook, “Lean Six Sigma: Do You Really Know These Methodologies?”
The invisible man (or woman). The loss of institutional knowledge happens when your best workers vanish (retire or quit) and take all their hard-earned, on-the-job know-how with them. It’s the tips, tricks and tactics that aren’t in the employee manual. The loss of this irreplaceable knowledge is a growing issue for manufacturing, because the workforce is aging, and there is a lack of skilled younger workers to take their place.
Banish it! Capture that knowledge before your seasoned pros retire or otherwise leave the workforce. Create mentorship programs pairing older workers with younger ones, ask those older employees to participate in roundtable sessions that can focus on “what’s not in the manual” knowledge, and solicit their advice on how to do the job better.
While this is a lighthearted look at manufacturing problems, these issues are no joke. They can seriously hamper your efficiency, productivity and ultimately, your bottom line. At USC Consulting Group, we’re the experts in helping companies reach operational excellence. If you’d like to learn more, please give us a call.
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Remarkable innovations emerge seemingly every day in the world of manufacturing. One area specifically experiencing significant modernizations is in automated and numerical control precision machining. There’s so much progress, in fact, the level of growth in the precision parts and production market is expected to grow at least 12% by 2024.
Below, we’ll briefly go over what precision manufacturing is and how important it has become for manufacturers across the various industries.
What is precision manufacturing? Essentially, it’s an advanced method of industrial manufacturing using processes and techniques designed to produce versatile parts with tight or rigid specifications. It could pertain to a wide range of operations for precision metal cutting and tooling, such as the utilization of metal stamping in tandem with accurate tooling by metal fabricators. The goal is to produce identical high-precision parts and components, often for assembly into a larger product.
Precision manufacturing is important for many types of production, however, this method is particularly attractive to industries with tight tolerance requirements or under strict regulations. Several of the leading industries — which are not only driving the economy, but also generating improvements for our quality of life — would be incapable of meeting rising demands without it. What’s more, manufacturing products with complex geometries and tiny components is often accomplished more cost effectively via precision manufacturing.
Another reason why precision manufacturing has become so meaningful is its ability to generate output quickly and consistently. A consistent quality is essential for countless parts, components, and products on the market. If there are flaws in the part or product’s design, it leads to wasted materials, higher costs, and increased time to market. Precision manufacturing approaches — such as CNC precision machining — avoid these shortcomings by using automation and computer programming to create products with exact specifications.
It isn’t only the manufacturers who stand to benefit from precision in automation and manufacturing, but also it’s those receiving the products. For instance, within the medical device industry, product accuracy and reliability are paramount. Whether it’s endoscopies, respirators, or PPE, these incredibly important life-saving pieces of equipment could make all the difference in a patient’s outcome or caregiver’s safety. Because of that, product precision is key.
These are only a few of the reasons why precision manufacturing is quickly becoming one of the most sought-after advancements in industrial manufacturing. For further information on the capabilities, benefits, and importance of precision in automation and manufacturing, please see the accompanying resource.
Precision in Automation from American Tool and Die, a cnc machining service
Have questions about how to improve your manufacturing operations? Contact us today.
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Strikes have been in the headlines lately, with the writers’ strike bringing Hollywood to a standstill and President Biden making history as the first sitting president to ever walk a picket line (he did it in Michigan in support of the United Auto Workers strike), and most recently healthcare workers are threatening to walk out as well. The average Joe is certainly impacted by these disputes between management and workers. The writers’ strike, which was recently resolved, means no new scripted programming this fall season (say it ain’t so, Law & Order!). The auto workers’ strike means new car prices are expected to rise… as if inflation and interest rates hadn’t handled that already. And a nurses’ strike will certainly impact the care people receive.
So, it’s easy to see how everyday people are affected by strikes. How do labor strikes impact the business side of the manufacturing industry? They can wreak havoc in many facets of operations, obviously bringing production to a screeching halt during the strike itself.
But those effects, and others, can linger when employees exchange the picket line for the production line, impacting operations long after the strike is resolved. Here’s how.
Decreased output. Obviously, production is brought to a stand-still during the strike itself. So, when employees get back on the job, the entire operation is behind. It affects everything from hitting forecasted numbers to earning revenue.
Inventory snags. Other parts of the industry, like the supply chain, can be unaffected by a strike, so inventory can accumulate. Getting inventory just right is a core principle for efficiency, and it’s a delicate balancing act between too much and not enough. Strikes can throw that balance off in a big way.
Delivery delays. Product isn’t being produced during a strike, period, so obviously it’s not going to be delivered on time. But even after the strike is over, delays can continue as companies play catchup. Those delays and shortages have a ripple effect, first hitting your partners and clients, but then rippling out to their partners and clients.
Damaged relationships. Employee morale is like gold in any industry, but after a strike, especially if it’s a prolonged one, relations between employees and management can sink to an all-time low. Distrust of higher-ups can seep onto the production line, disputes may not be completely resolved to both parties’ satisfaction, collaboration can suffer. With the battle for qualified, experienced workers in manufacturing, this is a tough setback.
Bottom-line woes. All of those production delays can result in fewer orders, distrust among your clients and vendors, stock prices could even take a tumble. All of it will eat away at your profits.
How manufacturing can bounce back after strikes
When the negotiation is done and the workers are back on the job, management’s next steps can mean the difference between bouncing back quickly from a strike or feeling those nagging, lingering effects. At USC Consulting Group, we’re the experts in helping management streamline operations, become more efficient, create effective training and more — all crucial elements in the next steps after a strike.
Careful scheduling to increase production. This doesn’t mean piling on the work to make up for the shortfall. But it might mean adding additional shifts, giving people extra hours or even hiring temporary help to close that gap.
A laser focus on employee relations. Now is the time for the C-suite to get out on the production line, if they haven’t already been walking that floor. Employee relations can be at an all-time low after a strike, so it’s vital to focus on employee retention efforts, additional training and other methods to make your employees feel valued and needed.
Involve employees in the fix. Items may have been hammered out at the negotiation table, but it doesn’t mean all employees will be on board with what the union agrees to. The old adage, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, applies here, only in reverse. It was “broke.” Involving the people on the front lines in the “fix” in terms of streamlining operations can go a long way.
Strive for operational excellence. This means efficiency and ease all the way down the line. When your shop is running on all cylinders, it’s not just good for your company’s bottom line. Employees like their jobs better when snags, delays and other frustrations aren’t happening.
Have labor strikes affected your manufacturing operations? Need some help improving your processes to please your employees and bottom line? Contact us today and we will walk you through the steps.
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Statistical process control (SPC) is a commonly used machine learning software in manufacturing that measures the consistency of a product’s performance based on its design specifications. Minimizing variability is a crucial part of avoiding defects and maintaining resilient manufacturing operations.
This guide outlines the different ways that businesses can effectively utilize SPC and reap all of the benefits this technology has to offer.
How Statistical Process Control Works
SPC is a tried and true technology that businesses have been using for more than 100 years to improve their manufacturing operations. It conducts ongoing statistical analyses, taking into account factors such as the materials, design, employees who handled the product and the machinery used to create the product.
SPC’s constant vigilance enables businesses to make swift and accurate resolutions to quality control problems. However, it’s not fully autonomous like other manufacturing software that can identify statistical correlations without human help. Instead, it relies on large amounts of training datasets that another source must manually input to achieve the desired results.
This form of machine learning is known as supervised learning. Businesses can input human-labeled datasets by themselves, or they can recruit another algorithm to automatically input statistics in a process called “machine annotation.” In either case, SPC needs to absorb as much raw data as possible to maximize its efficiency.
SPC displays its findings in easy-to-read control charts, and it’s the business’s responsibility to set the parameters for each chart by providing the software with enough information. This process includes six basic steps:
- Define the manufacturing process you want to monitor and control by establishing the input variables, output variables, equipment, materials and any other external factors that might affect the process.
- Collect the data that the software extrapolated from the variables you provided, then organize it into a digestible format — usually a chart or spreadsheet.
- Select and construct the control charts based on the type of data you’re using, such as weight, length, temperature and any defects that might have occurred.
- Look for patterns in the control charts that indicate special cause variations in performance due to underlying defects. You can calculate process variability through a capability index, such as C, Cpk, Pp and PPk.
- Investigate the root causes of the variations and make the necessary equipment, material or operational adjustments to correct them.
- Continue to collect and organize data to identify more variations, updating the control specifications as needed.
This process sounds awfully similar to Statistical Quality Control (SQC), but there are some key differences. Statistical Process Control measures independent variables, while SQC strictly focuses on dependent process outputs. SQC also carries out acceptance tests by screening individual product samples, while SPC relies on large datasets and doesn’t have an acceptance testing feature.
Types of SPC Tools
Many types of analysis tools have developed during SPC’s century-long evolution. These tools are split into two main categories — basic tools of quality (7-QC tools) and supplemental tools (7-SUPP tools). Here’s a quick rundown of how businesses can use the 7-QC tools:
- Stratification: separating data into subcategories by unique characteristics to clarify the origins of an existing problem.
- Histogram: A bar graph that displays the frequency of variability and the most common offenders.
- Check sheet: A document with tabular or metric format that tracks the number of special cause variations.
- Cause-and-effect diagram: A chart that shows all of the factors that lead to special cause variations and draws potential correlations between them.
- Scatter diagram: A dotted diagram that displays the overlap between dependent variables on the y-axis and independent variables on the x-axis.
- Control chart: A line-based graph that shows processes’ stability levels and pinpoints the likely variation within produced items.
- Pareto chart: This chart applies the 80/20 principle — 20% of variables cause 80% of problems — to display the most common causes of manufacturing failures.
Stratification also often appears in the 7-SUPP tools category because of its versatility and importance to statistical analysis. Breaking up large datasets into smaller digestible chunks makes SPC software more accurate at identifying problems and reducing variability. Here are the other six 7-SUPP tools:
- Flowchart: A straightforward diagram that outlines the step-by-step process of a manufacturing sequence.
- Defect mapping: A chart that shows the different types of known product flaws within a business’s manufacturing operations.
- Events logs: A variable summary showing the chain of events that resulted from an undesired occurrence.
- Progress centers: Centralized locations dedicated to tracking improvements and supporting informed decision making.
- Randomization: The deployment of random manual and automated input variables to eliminate human bias.
- Sample size determination: Choosing the number of subjects to include in a representative group when tracking manufacturing trends.
Today’s SPC software modules include all of these tools, allowing businesses to access dashboards that display the various charts and diagrams in one place. These insights can lead to identification of quantifiable improvement opportunities that maximize operational efficiency.
Benefits of Using SPC
SPC is one of the most effective machine learning resources for achieving consistent performance in manufacturing operations. Eliminating process errors allows businesses to simultaneously address the three biggest challenges in material handling — workplace hazards, equipment damage and carbon emissions — in many ways:
- Reduces manufacturing costs
- Monitors employee productivity
- Improves resource utilization
- Optimizes manual inspections
- Reduces rework and warranty claims
When these benefits combine, the final result is a more satisfied client base and a more profitable business. While SPC software can’t do all of the inspection work on its own, the tools and insights it provides are invaluable in a manufacturing environment.
Use Statistical Process Control to Its Full Potential
Business leaders who are willing to put in the necessary effort to provide SPC software with large datasets can use this technology to its full potential. They will gain access to numerous eye-opening statistics about operational inefficiencies and have all the knowledge they need to make accurate adjustments.
*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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Studies have shown that over 40% of workers across various industries spend a significant portion of their workweek on repetitive manual tasks. In the manufacturing sector, these tasks often involve data collection and manual data entry, which many consider to be inefficient given the availability of advanced automation software in today’s market.
Innovative automation programs are designed to automatically collect, upload, or synchronize data into a system of record. This automation can help eliminate production bottlenecks and streamline manufacturing processes, ultimately improving output. Moreover, automation can significantly reduce the risk of human error, which can lead to injuries. In fact, a majority of workers (nearly 60%) believe that they could save six or more hours per week if the repetitive aspects of their jobs were automated.
Automation is not limited to the field personnel, as managers are also looking to streamline their own tasks. A renowned technological research and consulting firm predicts that by 2024, 69% of day-to-day managerial work will be fully automated. Examples of automatable managerial tasks include approvals, sign-offs, status updates, and confirmation requests. Increased efficiency in these operations can free up time for employees at all levels to contribute more strategically to the success of a business.
In addition to automation, cutting-edge robotic technology is also being utilized in many manufacturing organizations. Programmed robots or robot-controlled machines that use artificial intelligence (AI) can enhance a company’s assembly, material handling, and processing capabilities. Robots excel in predictable environments and can handle physically demanding or monotonous tasks that may negatively impact employee well-being or morale. This results in increased productivity and reduced labor costs.
Another type of robot gaining popularity is the collaborative robot, or cobot, which is specifically designed for direct human-robot interaction. Cobots are relatively new but are projected to have exponential growth in the market, with an estimated worth of nearly $2 billion by 2026, up from $590.5 million in 2020. Industry experts predict that by 2025, 34% of industrial robots sold will be cobots. Cobots are cost-effective, safe, and flexible, making them an ideal tool for small and mid-sized manufacturers to modernize their operations, reduce redundant tasks, improve productivity, and achieve peak performance.
To learn more about the impact of repetitive tasks in manufacturing and how technology can counter them, please refer to the infographic below:
Repetitive Tasks in Manufacturing from Acieta, a manufacturing robotic company
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The COVID-era supply chain disruptions are slowly but surely easing up for manufacturers around the globe. While the worldwide market is not yet fully recovered, signs point to a strong resurgence in 2023, with a return to normalcy by 2024. Even though good news is on the horizon for manufacturers, there are still a number of challenges to be aware of that will impact day-to-day operations. Here’s an overview of a few of the top manufacturing challenges for 2023, and how to handle them.
Challenge: Legacy technologies
Many manufacturers operate with legacy technologies — outdated hardware or software systems. These outdated systems can cause disruption for an organization in a few key areas.
The first problem: Legacy technologies can cause efficiency issues. Since these systems can be years (and sometimes decades) old, they simply don’t have the same features and capabilities of newer software on the market. Additionally, these legacy systems can pose a security risk. Older technology doesn’t have the same safeguards as newer systems, and cybercriminals have a much easier time infiltrating outdated software than one that is up-to-date.
Despite these problems, manufacturers can be hesitant to change systems due to familiarity, not wanting to enact a full system overhaul, or a mix of the two.
Strategy: Invest in new technologies and smart warehouses
Investing in emerging technologies should be a priority for manufacturers heading into the new year.
It’s a wise strategy, not only to become more efficient and protect systems from infiltration, but newer technologies can increase safety in the workplace and free up employees to handle more productive tasks. A recent survey from Deloitte found that 85% of manufacturing executives think that some form of robotics on the production line could increase employee safety, and 78% agree that updated technology can minimize repetitive work, empowering employees to focus on more productive and impactful tasks.
Starting in mid-2022, inflation across all essential goods prompted public backlash, not to mention squeezing the wallets of consumers and businesses alike. Bearing the brunt of the blame was the global supply chain, and the bottlenecks and scarcity it caused in markets across the world. Although those pressures are easing headed into the new year, inflation will still be a factor in 2023.
Strategy: Re-evaluate costs during design
For manufacturers, inflation means more careful planning to ensure operations remain lean, mean and profitable.
One way of doing this is by implementing Design to Cost — a method in which a manufacturer combines cost management with decision-making during the design stage of a product. Rather than the normal method of thinking about costs after a rough design of a product is made, the unit and material costs are fully integrated during planning to ensure products are profitable.
This type of thinking seems to be the reality for manufacturers in 2023, as a recent Forbes survey found that 87% of manufacturing CEOs plan to increase prices in the new year. Therefore, it’s important for all manufactures to think ahead, and integrate material costs into their design process as soon as possible.
Challenge: Inventory uncertainty
Inventory uncertainty remains one of the manufacturing challenges in 2023. Despite the healing global supply chain, manufacturers still need to strike a proper balance between stockpiling inventory and buying just-in-time. Striking that balance can be tricky. Not getting it right can cause businesses to become over- or under-leveraged at a moment’s notice — affecting the bottom line in the process.
Sales, Inventory & Operations Planning, SIOP, takes the normal sales and operations planning process and makes inventory just 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.
We recommend that the SIOP horizon be a minimum rolling 14-month period that gets updated monthly. The aim is to look ahead multiple quarters to make sure inventory is available exactly when you need it. Involving a wide range of departments such as sales, marketing, engineering and finance, SIOP is a system that involves the entire organization to ensure yearly goals and objectives are met.
If you would like to learn more about SIOP, download our (free) eBook, “Sales, Inventory & Operations Planning: It’s About Time.”
Keep moving forward
There will be manufacturing challenges in 2023 and beyond. By addressing your legacy technologies, adjusting to inflation fluxes, and taking the uncertainty out of your inventory management, you will be able to fine-tune your operations for optimal performance.
If your business could use some horsepower to power up your team on improvement initiatives, contact USC Consulting Group and we will put our over 50 years of experience to work for you.
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In most business settings, time is measured by hours and days — how long will it take to receive a proposal, mockup sheet or important presentation. But in the manufacturing world, time is measured in product cycles. From sourcing materials to testing to packaging, how long will it take to get one product from conception to full completion?
That is the essence of manufacturing cycle time.
Not to be confused with lead time, cycle time is how long it takes to complete a unit of product, from the beginning of the manufacturing process until the product is ready to ship. In this article we will detail how to calculate cycle times, and the ways you can improve it in your organization.
How to calculate cycle time
The manufacturing cycle time is different for every organization and every product run, and it’s important to constantly check on this variable to ensure productivity benchmarks are being met. The formula to determine cycle time is actually fairly simple:
Total amount of goods produced / Time of production = Cycle time
Once a baseline is determined, manufacturers can try a number of different things to decrease cycle time and increase profitability.
How to improve cycle time
There are a number of ways that a manufacturer can decrease cycle time, such as:
Streamline production process as a whole
By identifying and eliminating any bottlenecks or inefficiencies during the production process, manufacturers can reduce cycle time by improving the system as a whole.
Take a detailed look at your operations — are there issues associated with the production layout of your floor? Are there certain tasks that could be automated or otherwise simplified? Is there an opportunity for you to implement lean manufacturing principles? Evaluating your operations is a great way to identify inefficiencies in your organization.
The key is to reduce the time required in order to increase overall capacity, all while ensuring that nothing gets missed, as shortcuts can lead to quality control issues and dissatisfied customers.
Improve equipment and systems
Is your equipment up to date? Or are you using outdated machinery and legacy technologies?
The more outdated the equipment a manufacturer works with, the greater opportunity for preventable delays in operation. Take an assessment of physical equipment and the software your businesses utilizes on a daily basis. If you find that your systems are more than five or ten years old, it may be time to set aside profits to update your manufacturing facility.
Invest in employee training
Well-trained employees are more likely to work efficiently, produce high-quality results and create ways to optimize operations.
Develop a culture of employee development and make sure they feel comfortable giving suggestions. Doing so can increase morale — leading to higher retention rates, a growing concern of manufacturers — and improve the quality of operations as a whole. The more high-quality employees a manufacturer has, the more efficient the business will run.
Manufacturers should take an even deeper look at operations, utilizing analytics to alert them to any inefficiencies in the process.
On the surface, production could seem to be running smoothly, but perhaps there is an area of production, for example, that is taking 20% longer than expected. Create and gather data points wherever possible, because you never know what inefficiencies may be lurking under a normal-looking production cycle.
At USC Consulting Group, we can help your manufacturing business decrease manufacturing cycle time and increase efficiency and productivity. Contact us to find out more.
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The manufacturing industry is one of the most important sectors across the world. It’s instrumental in supporting a thriving economy, provides jobs to communities, and sparks innovations that improve lives. Nevertheless, it is also a sector that faces significant challenges.
The good news is that the rise of our digital landscape offers a range of supportive solutions. Over the last couple of decades, developers have committed to creating tools that help make the manufacturing industry more agile and impactful. These applications aren’t limited to improving productivity. Rather, the tools available right now are continuing to change manufacturing in profound and innovative ways.
Let’s take a closer look at how software and modern tech are changing manufacturing.
In manufacturing, as with most sectors, resources are finite and valuable. As such, it is vital to maintain control of what you have at your disposal. Effective resource management practices enable your company to allocate the best assets to address the most appropriate challenges. This may surround effective budget application, matching tech to tasks, and appointing time to activities. It’s worth noting that there is software and hardware in the industry at the moment that helps to make resource management more practical.
A key aspect of any good resource management strategy is data analytics. This helps you to make more informed choices about asset allocation and performance. Devices in the industrial internet of things (IIoT) are equipped with sensors that scan items at crucial points throughout the production, warehousing, and shipping stages. Paired with data analytics software, these tools can provide real-time information about how resources are being utilized, where areas of wastage occur, and how to enact improvements.
Another important consideration for how tech can help resource management is found in inventory control. Many manufacturing businesses struggle with getting the right balance of supply to meet changing demands. Artificial intelligence (AI) inventory management software can review data on your resources alongside that of the market. It can then produce forecasts you can utilize to better plan production changes.
Quality is key to a thriving manufacturing business. Unless your products consistently meet high consumer and industry expectations, you’re likely to experience reductions in engagement. Not to mention that faulty or substandard products are likely to be frequently returned. In either case, the result is likely to be a significant hit to your financial stability. It is, therefore, vital to adopt technology that helps you to boost quality standards.
It’s important to first recognize that many of the quality issues faced by manufacturers are the result of employee mistakes. Your business can mitigate drops in quality while bolstering safety and security by harnessing technological tools that reduce human error. One of the key resources you can utilize here is automated intelligent manufacturing processes. These largely remove the human element from unnecessary and repetitive tasks. It’s also vital that employees receive effective training on how to use these tools and systems so they can interact with them in a less risky manner.
You should also consider the potential of upgraded software and hardware for quality control procedures. Automated tools in the IIoT can be attached to production equipment and monitor the condition of each item. The software can be set to identify breaches in quality parameters and immediately notify workers when these occur. This empowers your company to address quality issues immediately, preventing widespread issues.
One of the common topics of discussion surrounding technology is the effect it can have on jobs, especially when it comes to which jobs will and won’t be replaced by AI. AI is among the tools often cited as instrumental in replacing all but trade roles in highly-skilled areas. The emotional connections made by healthcare workers and the dexterity of electricians are among the characteristics that shield them from unemployment throughout a digital transformation. While manufacturing employees aren’t usually considered to fall within these groups, modern tech can in some ways help to make their jobs more secure.
This is usually from the perspective of how technology helps to transform roles. Automated manufacturing, devices in the IIoT, and data analytics software can all be used to handle many formerly manual tasks. Nevertheless, rather than replacing human workers, these tools need collaborators. Tech-savvy manufacturing employees are in significant demand in the industry to utilize solutions more effectively and attend to software or hardware maintenance issues. This means that employees committed to upskilling can improve their career prospects, bolster their job stability, and impact their earning power.
Another way in which software and modern tech are improving manufacturing job stability is through the use of applicant tracking systems (ATS). This human resources (HR) software enables your company to more efficiently and accurately identify the most suitable candidates for a position. It also helps to assess candidate data so you can tailor the most appropriate training programs upon hiring to fill any skills gaps. This helps ensure workers have the best chance of gaining jobs that reflect their abilities and to progress through the business. It also means your business can spend less on hiring and training candidates that are later discovered to be unsuitable.
Enhancing Safety and Security
One of the most important responsibilities of any business is to reduce risks for staff and stakeholders. Manufacturing, in particular, is rife with potential hazards. Employees are often exposed to dangers to their physical and mental health. The business, investors, and consumers can also face risks from increased cybersecurity threats aimed at the manufacturing sector. Software and technology have an important role to play in providing protection.
Firstly, in particularly hazardous fields, virtual reality (VR) can help introduce new workers to realistic training scenarios. This provides employees with the skills they need to reduce risks without exposing them to unnecessary hazards early on in their training. Alongside this, devices in the IIoT can monitor conditions and activities in real-time, providing both workers and supervisors with data on present dangers to should respond to.
From the perspective of cybersecurity, it’s vital to recognize that the greater adoption of technology in the industry exposes businesses to potential risks. Each device can potentially act as a gateway for criminals into the company’s networks. As such, AI-driven cybersecurity platforms are being used to scan and monitor information passing through all systems. Machine learning protocols can also analyze data to make predictions about potential risk areas that need to be addressed.
Software and modern tech is improving manufacturing processes in a variety of ways. Devices in the IIoT are instrumental in improving quality and providing data for better resource management. The presence of AI software drives a need for more tech-savvy workers while also ensuring the most appropriate professionals rise to the top. VR and machine learning are also ensuring employees stay safe and protecting stakeholders from cybersecurity breaches. As more tools continue to be developed, it is likely that the manufacturing industry will continue to become more agile and innovative.
*This article is written by Ainsley Lawrence. View more of Ainsley’s articles here.
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Yes, it’s that time again. The holiday season is around the corner and it is time for manufacturers to start preparing now.
Most holiday sales will come from online shopping, adding stress to supply chains and the warehousing industry. With proper management, it’s possible to plan to sustain efficient operations despite volume increases and demand.
Managers can analyze the warehouse itself and equip employees and equipment with the necessary tools to make it through the season. What techniques work and what should warehouse managers prioritize among their already lengthy to-do lists?
Preparing Warehouses for Increased Inventory
It’s time to walk the warehouse and analyze the state of everything. Is it already almost bursting with regular inventory, or is there clutter in the walkways? How much space could the warehouse reappropriate for enhanced storage solutions? What maintenance should be conducted to help bear the load of surplus inventory, spatially and financially?
Work with your logistics team on this walkthrough, which should happen long before the holidays hit, to allocate enough time to make renovations or install new structures. Rethinking the floor plan can reveal space optimizations and efficiency modifications, such as more efficient routes for workers and automated machines to pack expediently.
Countless systems and programs can help automate and streamline previously complicated inquiries and tasks, including:
- Implementing scheduling software to help employees trade shifts or sign up for overtime.
- Setting up cameras and other monitoring systems to check everything from maintenance to productivity.
- Choosing the optimal warehouse management system to keep tabs on inventory.
- Collaborating with relevant members of the supply chain with cloud-based blockchain tech, keeping communications open in case of delays or changes.
Your tech stack – the tech that synergizes to make your company run seamlessly – should receive adequate maintenance to ensure technology isn’t the reason for outages or stops in production. Suppose your warehouse does not have any or just a few of these technologies. In that case, this may be a time to invest, because they are long-term solutions that will continually provide benefits outside of the holiday season.
This is the prime time to reflect on the strategies that worked in the previous holiday seasons and what could be improved. Interview the workers to gather perspectives from those who were in the fray last time inventory demand was at its peak.
Readying Workers for Increased Demand
The topmost priority is ensuring the warehouse has enough staff to handle the holidays. It’s helpful to analyze analytics and demand forecasts from the past to make accurate assessments of staffing needs. This will ensure incoming and tenured staff feels supported by the company if they know management gives proper attention to employee well-being and workload distribution.
This doesn’t only include floor staff – extra hands in payroll and human resources to help with scheduling will probably be necessary. They must be equipped with the right resources to adjust for fluctuating employee numbers throughout the holiday season.
Do not resort to increasing hours to adjust for long days, as this will cause turnover and burnout, potentially leaving the success of your holiday season – and after – in jeopardy. It’s vital to prioritize retention during this time, as seasoned staff members can assist with helping seasonal entrants acclimate more quickly to the working environment.
Providing training beforehand will instill accurate expectations for work hours – which could extend past the holiday season due to potential returns – and holiday wages.
On top of having adequate staff is training existing and upcoming staff to mentally and physically prepare them for volume. This combines with informing staff of any changes made to the warehouse, including program updates and organizational shifts that will help efficiency. For mental preparation, ensure employees have access to resources to manage stress to help keep productivity level.
Equipping Shipping Fleets for Holiday Weather and Traffic
Safety is paramount when it comes to holiday shipping. Fleets must be ready to take on the climate shifts in the region while making deliveries on time.
There are plenty of ways to ensure the warehouse’s fleet can withstand holiday conditions. Vehicle maintenance will not only save money by keeping vehicles healthier, longer, but also save on potential injuries in the workplace by keeping employees safer. With hundreds of thousands of fleet vehicles preparing to travel for peak season, it’s also about keeping everyone else on the road safe.
Checking brake pads, tires, and windshield wipers are inexpensive and basic improvements on top of more complex modifications like stronger batteries.
Provide employees with training to know what precautions to take on the road. They must receive as much training as warehouse staff to communicate about and acclimate to unexpected holiday situations. Are they aware of alternate travel routes or how to react in a severe storm?
Warehouses must prep the fleet with insurance and real-time locating system (RTLS) technologies. Especially since the holidays provide the most intensive time crunch of the year, knowing how well your current shipping system is meeting expectations can help you make adjustments along the way to improve efficiency.
It also provides the warehouse and customers with peace of mind, knowing their packages will safely make it to their houses.
Warehouses Prepare for the Holiday Season
Though the holidays can feel overwhelming for anyone in consumer industries, it’s possible to deal with the work gracefully. These timeless strategies allow warehouse managers to find improvements and discover the tactics that genuinely make a difference.
Making necessary adjustments to your warehouses, training employees, and creating safe shipping environments will also reinforce strategies to use in subsequent seasons.
* This article is written by Devin Partida. Devin is a tech writer with an interest in the IIoT and manufacturing. She is also the Editor-in-Chief of ReHack.com.
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With a potential recession looming, inflation and interest rates rising, and the post-pandemic surge in consumer confidence slowing, productivity is stepping into the spotlight. Amid all of this economic uncertainty, manufacturers are turning their focus toward their own operations and processes, making sure everything is running like the proverbial well-oiled machine. Lean and mean. As efficient as possible.
We get it. At USC Consulting Group, we’ve been helping manufacturers become more efficient and productive for 50+ years. Process improvement is our wheelhouse. We can’t do anything about the economy, but we can help our clients increase their productivity so their companies can be at their fighting best to withstand any economic headwinds that come their way.
In the end, it’s about striking that delicate balance between increasing throughput and maintaining quality. Too much speed on the line can indeed increase throughput, but quality could suffer. So, finding that sweet spot between optimal throughput and optimal quality is the key.
Here’s some of the advice we’ve been giving to our clients to do just that.
Focus on the Five M’s
One of the first steps we take when evaluating process improvements in manufacturing companies is to focus on the Five M’s. Many times we find it all starts and ends with this. It’s a tried-and-true management tool — with some debate as to where and when it originated. And now, people put their own spin on the M’s, as they relate to their own operation. At USC, we call them Machines, Methods, Materials, Measurements and Man and Woman power.
- Machines. Evaluate your machines on the line. Do they need maintenance? Do you perform regular maintenance or wait until something is “broke” before you fix it?
- Methods. This step involves evaluating the process of getting the job done. Are there any opportunities to make the workflow more efficient?
- Materials. This is a big headache for manufacturing today — supply chain issues are messing with the ability to have enough material to get the job done when it needs to get done.
- Measurements. Are your metrics and measurements for success and profitability on target?
- Man and Woman power. Do you have the right people in the right jobs? That’s the ideal. But increasingly the question is: Do you have enough skilled people to get the job done, or enough people, period?
Focusing on these five elements of your operation can illuminate a host of opportunities for improvement. Let’s look at some of those in more detail.
Schedule regular maintenance
The old adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” does not serve manufacturing very well. We recommend regular maintenance. Yes, it causes a work stoppage, but it doesn’t take you by surprise. You’ll know the line will be stopped for a certain amount of time on a certain day rather than having things grind to a halt unexpectedly because of an unknown problem you’ll have to ferret out and fix. It’s also important to talk to your people on the line about the troubleshooting they’ve been using when things go wrong. It could be they’re on to something.
Look at the 7 Deadly Wastes
It sounds rather dramatic, but this is a concept initially pioneered by the Toyota Lean manufacturing model. It’s aimed at identifying and eliminating waste in manufacturing operations. We’ve added one additional “waste” to that list. Here they are in detail.
- Overproduction. It leaves you with unused product.
- Waiting. Waiting on the shop floor between steps on the line, or waiting on supply or even equipment.
- Transporting. Excessive movement of inventory, causing the possibility of damage, or even excessive movement within the manufacturing process itself.
- Processing. Do you have extra, unnecessary steps in the manufacturing process?
- Inventory. Too much stock on hand.
- Excess motion. Extra walking, lifting, reaching.
- Defects. Defects in product happen to the best of us.
- People. This is the eighth waste we thought was important to add. It is about taking a close look at the untapped potential of your people.
Examining all of these areas of “wastes” in your operation will help you become more efficient and ultimately more profitable.
→ For more information about Lean, download our free eBook, Lean Six Sigma: Do You Really Know These Methodologies?
Upskill Your People
About that eighth “waste.” There may well be hidden potential working on your lines every day that is being underutilized. We see it all the time in talking to frontline workers, who usually know more about the ins-and-outs of the day-to-day than their supervisors do. Is anyone on the line ready to move up? It might take some classes in management training, but so be it. Promotion from within is a powerful motivator for your workforce and in this market, where retaining good people is so difficult, it can be a lifesaver. There’s also another part to this. It’s about not being able to find skilled workers to do the job. This is a big problem for manufacturing industrywide. The solution just might be to invest in training courses for new hires to get them the skills they need.
At USC Consulting Group, we’re committed to helping manufacturing companies improve their processes to become as efficient and productive as possible. In this economy, it’s a must. Give us a call to find out more.
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