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...

11/01/2008


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, dbrandl@brlconsulting.com .




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 Leaders Under 40 program features outstanding young people who are making a difference in manufacturing. View the 2013 Leaders here.
The new control room: It's got all the bells and whistles - and alarms, too; Remote maintenance; Specifying VFDs
2014 forecast issue: To serve and to manufacture - Veterans will bring skill and discipline to the plant floor if we can find a way to get them there.
2013 Top Plant: Lincoln Electric Company, Cleveland, Ohio
Case Study Database

Case Study Database

Get more exposure for your case study by uploading it to the Plant Engineering case study database, where end-users can identify relevant solutions and explore what the experts are doing to effectively implement a variety of technology and productivity related projects.

These case studies provide examples of how knowledgeable solution providers have used technology, processes and people to create effective and successful implementations in real-world situations. Case studies can be completed by filling out a simple online form where you can outline the project title, abstract, and full story in 1500 words or less; upload photos, videos and a logo.

Click here to visit the Case Study Database and upload your case study.

Bring focus to PLC programming: 5 things to avoid in putting your system together; Managing the DCS upgrade; PLM upgrade: a step-by-step approach
Balancing the bagging triangle; PID tuning improves process efficiency; Standardizing control room HMIs
Commissioning electrical systems in mission critical facilities; Anticipating the Smart Grid; Mitigating arc flash hazards in medium-voltage switchgear; Comparing generator sizing software

Annual Salary Survey

Participate in the 2013 Salary Survey

In a year when manufacturing continued to lead the economic rebound, it makes sense that plant manager bonuses rebounded. Plant Engineering’s annual Salary Survey shows both wages and bonuses rose in 2012 after a retreat the year before.

Average salary across all job titles for plant floor management rose 3.5% to $95,446, and bonus compensation jumped to $15,162, a 4.2% increase from the 2010 level and double the 2011 total, which showed a sharp drop in bonus.

2012 Salary Survey Analysis

2012 Salary Survey Results

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.