By Eric Whitley, L2L
The manufacturing industry is in the middle of the fourth industrial revolution.
Today’s smart factories produce high-quality products at competitive prices which can dominate the market and give the manufacturer an advantage over its competition.
This ability to dominate the market is known as competitiveness.
Importance of Sustaining Competitiveness
The short-term goals of improving competitiveness are met by upgrading to a smart manufacturing system, but sustaining that competitiveness is just as important. Only sustained competitiveness over many years can prove useful for a manufacturing plant. Sustaining competitiveness as the market and technology change is vital for the company’s growth. This is also where people come into play.
Manufacturers are starting to realize the importance of people in the future of manufacturing. It is widely accepted now that people and technology working together create better, future-ready manufacturing plants. Here are four ways manufacturers can fuse the power of people and technology to sustain competitiveness in manufacturing.
1. People-centric Digitization
For many years, it was believed that the future of manufacturing will be all about automation but things have changed with Industry 4.0.
Smart manufacturing is more than automation. A plant with new technology still needs people to use the new system efficiently and find areas that can be improved. People that work with the production system are ultimately the source of innovation.
As a manufacturer, you should put people at the center of your digitization plans and share information about changes. New technology which suits the skills of people helps improve efficiency without affecting the operations. People with information from the system can use it to identify opportunities for improvement. When you allow people the autonomy to act upon such opportunities, you truly enable the connected worker to impact the manufacturing operations in a positive way.
2. Re-skilling of Human Resources
Re-skilling of human resources is probably the easiest way of fusing the power of people and technology. Any manufacturer will tell you a worker with experience is a valuable asset. In most cases, re-skilling such workers is better than hiring an inexperienced person who understands the new system. Re-skilled workers can bring the best out of new systems.
Re-skilling is an investment in human resources. You are improving the efficiency of the workforce and removing the fear of new technology at the same time. To make sure the best results are achieved, a comprehensive learning process should be created. Multiple ways of practical and theoretical teaching can be adopted for re-skilling. Technologies like VR, AR, and 3D simulations can improve the learning experience as well.
The re-skilled workforce fused with new technology makes the production system future-ready to achieve long-term sustainable competitiveness.
3. Big Data Integration
Big data integration with production systems has been an important part of Industry 4.0. The data generated during production can highlight the issues and variables in the system that affect production. This data has information about workers and can help solve issues faced by workers at different stages of production.
Big data analytics can reduce downtime and breakdowns by almost a quarter according to a Forbes report. Big data analytics can also play a huge role in aiding maintenance teams through predictive models. The optimization of the production system based on worker needs has a clear effect on their performance – and consequently on sustaining competitiveness.
Quality of Work Experience
A satisfied workforce is the best workforce for any manufacturing plant. Improving the working conditions for people improves the overall performance of any production system. From previous points, we can see that workers’ problems directly affect production, and solving those has a positive effect on competitiveness.
Technology can play a crucial role in improving working conditions through safer and simpler alternatives. Technological solutions can improve the work experience and solve production issues at the same time.
Industry 4.0 has changed the way manufacturing is perceived. The belief that technology and people are on the opposite side doesn’t exist anymore. The manufacturing industry has learned that optimized production requires the integration of people and technology. The process of fusing the power of people and technology is the process of sustaining competitiveness in manufacturing.
About the author: Eric Whitley has 30 years of experience in manufacturing, holding positions such as Total Productive Maintenance Champion for Autoliv ASP, an automotive safety system supplier that specializes in airbags and restraint systems. He is also an expert in lean and smart manufacturing practices and technologies. Over the years, Eric has worked with all sectors of industry including Food, Timber, Construction, Chemical, and Automotive to name a few. Currently, he’s a part of the L2L team.