Release your inner geek

Unless you are paying close attention to the actual statistics, it is possible to believe that manufacturing in the U.S. is in decline and that manufacturing professionals should start looking elsewhere for employment. The actual numbers show something different, however: U.S. manufacturing output is increasing at almost 3% per year and producing over 20% of the world's manufactured products, d...


Unless you are paying close attention to the actual statistics, it is possible to believe that manufacturing in the U.S. is in decline and that manufacturing professionals should start looking elsewhere for employment. The actual numbers show something different, however: U.S. manufacturing output is increasing at almost 3% per year and producing over 20% of the world's manufactured products, despite decreases in the percent of the workforce involved in manufacturing.

In addition, while manufacturing employment has dropped from 40% of the workforce in the 1950s to about 10% today — and is trending toward 3-5% of the workforce in the future — the biggest limiting factor to increasing manufacturing output is the lack of skilled workers.

Skilled workers are required in today's manufacturing environment because the decade-long growth in manufacturing productivity is due to investments in continuous improvement projects. Most companies have lean manufacturing initiatives and manufacturing supply chain improvement projects, and the source of ideas for these improvement projects is the skilled workforce.

Six Sigma improvements

Improvement projects often follow the DMAIC process, which is a Six Sigma methodology for improving an existing or established process. The process seeks to identify and remove the causes of defects and errors in manufacturing or business processes through five steps: define goals, measure the current process and collect relevant data, analyze the data, improve the process, and control the process.

Measuring the process, collecting information, and analyzing the data are all supported by IT. IT tools and applications provide invaluable support for DMAIC processes, and today's skilled manufacturing workers must be IT-knowledgeable—and this includes hourly workers, salaried workers, and management.

Manufacturing IT personnel can help improvement projects by releasing their inner geek. This means using their knowledge of IT to find places to eliminate wasted time and effort. This can be as simple as eliminating duplicate entry of data by setting up automated copy procedures, removing the time to search for paper documents by scanning them onto a file server, or combining multiple applications into a single server to reduce backup and security procedures.

General improvement projects look for unneeded inventory, wasted motion, quality defects, unneeded changeovers, and unneeded transportation of materials, equipment, or personnel. Manufacturing IT improvement projects should look for unneeded data (data collected but never used), wasted duplicate entry of data, quality defects in manual entry of data, unneeded configuration changes and system shutdowns, and unneeded transportation of information (through emails or reports).

Engineer some visibility

Manufacturing IT can also provide support for other improvement projects. Most companies have many simultaneous improvement projects and a database of improvement projects can provide visibility into each project's status. The project database can also implement workflow rules through stored SQL procedures that, for example, inform critical personnel when data has been measured or when an expected event has occurred. The results from completed improvement projects can also be stored in a database or a Wiki, providing a knowledge base for other sites within your company and ensuring that a project is not trying to solve a problem that was already solved.

Manufacturing IT can also create a database for improvement ideas. Usually there are more ideas than people to work on them, so it is important to preserve the ideas until resources are available. This could be as simple as an electronic suggestion box or as sophisticated as a Wiki that allows everyone to contribute to idea creation and refinement.

Releasing your inner geek means being creative in the application of IT technology. Anyplace where manufacturing personnel are wasting time searching for information or transcribing information is an opportunity to apply creative IT solutions to manufacturing problems.

Author Information

Dennis Brandl is president of BR&L Consulting in Cary, NC, .

No comments
The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America. View the 2013 Top Plant.
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
The Engineering Leaders Under 40 program identifies and gives recognition to young engineers who...
A cool solution: Collaboration, chemistry leads to foundry coat product development; See the 2015 Product of the Year Finalists
Raising the standard: What's new with NFPA 70E; A global view of manufacturing; Maintenance data; Fit bearings properly
Sister act: Building on their father's legacy, a new generation moves Bales Metal Surface Solutions forward; Meet the 2015 Engineering Leaders Under 40
Cyber security cost-efficient for industrial control systems; Extracting full value from operational data; Managing cyber security risks
Drilling for Big Data: Managing the flow of information; Big data drilldown series: Challenge and opportunity; OT to IT: Creating a circle of improvement; Industry loses best workers, again
Pipeline vulnerabilities? Securing hydrocarbon transit; Predictive analytics hit the mainstream; Dirty pipelines decrease flow, production—pig your line; Ensuring pipeline physical and cyber security
Upgrading secondary control systems; Keeping enclosures conditioned; Diagnostics increase equipment uptime; Mechatronics simplifies machine design
Designing positive-energy buildings; Ensuring power quality; Complying with NFPA 110; Minimizing arc flash hazards
Building high availability into industrial computers; Of key metrics and myth busting; The truth about five common VFD myths

Annual Salary Survey

After almost a decade of uncertainty, the confidence of plant floor managers is soaring. Even with a number of challenges and while implementing new technologies, there is a renewed sense of optimism among plant managers about their business and their future.

The respondents to the 2014 Plant Engineering Salary Survey come from throughout the U.S. and serve a variety of industries, but they are uniform in their optimism about manufacturing. This year’s survey found 79% consider manufacturing a secure career. That’s up from 75% in 2013 and significantly higher than the 63% figure when Plant Engineering first started asking that question a decade ago.

Read more: 2014 Salary Survey: Confidence rises amid the challenges

Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
The One Voice for Manufacturing blog reports on federal public policy issues impacting the manufacturing sector. One Voice is a joint effort by the National Tooling and Machining...
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.