Automation advantages: 4 ways automation can empower a team to win
The pandemic and worsening manufacturing worker shortage has created opportunities for manufacturers to increase automation to improve plant and workforce productivity. Tools to enhance factory operations (factoryops) will drive faster, better decision-making to improve production and empower talent.
- Understand how cloud-based factory operations help manufacturers.
- Learn four ways automation can help during labor shortages.
- Turn a labor shortage into automation opportunities.
Given current labor shortages, advancements in automation have become more urgent for manufacturing. More than 2 million U.S. manufacturing jobs, according to Deloitte, will remain empty through this decade. The good news? Research from Fictive shows 9 in 10 manufacturers stepped up digital transformation investments since the pandemic.
Cloud-based factory operations, training support
These investments in the areas of automation and cloud-based factory operations, or factoryops, will not only make factory machines and processes more efficient, but they also support training and improve the working conditions and effectiveness of workers within manufacturing, as well. Cloud-based platforms allow factory teams to quickly connect machines, receive real-time visibility into factory floor conditions, and empower teams to collaborate whether they’re in the factory or monitoring situations remotely.
Newer technologies also will work in any factory, small or large, modern or legacy, so the size and cost limitations that historically-restricted access to great systems are disappearing. No longer do factories have to invest millions in software solutions that take teams of experts to install and run.
Four ways automation can help during labor shortages
Here are four steps to use automation to support your existing team in becoming more effective in the context of labor shortages:
1. Connect machines to get the heartbeat of a factory. The first step in knowing what’s going on across the factory floor is knowing whether machines are operating as they should. Many factories have a combination of new and old machinery and lack a complete view across equipment in real-time. Modern factory equipment often monitors itself and reports its data, but older machines don’t, and not every factory has the luxury of updating their machine floor with the newest machines. However, any factory can connect and get visibility machines of all ages by using sensors clipped to machine power cords. Monitoring the power draw can show the team when and how hard a machine is running. The data from all machines can be used as a single source of truth that helps the managers, maintenance team, operators, and leadership react faster to problems or, better yet, to prevent them. For example, by using sensors to track the duration of changeovers, a big source of lost production time in many factories, and runtime for every shift and machine, one manufacturer decreased lost production time from changeovers by 26%.
2. Speed up data analysis. Monitoring machine utilization with sensors is a low-lift measure that can result in high returns in terms of reducing production downtime. To get ahead of problems, such as changes in speed or quality, machine health or other forms of production challenges, plants are layering in artificial intelligence (AI) or machine learning (ML). Machine learning tools can uncover patterns in data that people cannot because they crunch data faster. Because production often depends on dozens of variables coming together at the right time in the right way, machine learning tools can identify problems, causes and fixes. Six in 10 of the largest manufacturers and pharma companies already use AI to improve product quality, an MIT study shows. Most companies start small, so the important thing is to just start. In a 2000 MIT study, 60% of companies expected it to take three years for AI to infiltrate just 11 to 30% of business processes.
3. Make data accessible from anywhere. Data flowing in from machines is most useful when it can be accessed from anywhere at any time. Manufacturers are moving on from spreadsheets and clipboards to invest in cloud-based technologies to give factory managers the ability to get a picture of production in one place, and to receive alerts, including via mobile devices. With a cloud-based solution, one packaging company reduced lost production time by 50%. With data in the cloud, the production manager could see what was going on at the plant at all times, even from home or while traveling. This kind of capability extends management’s efficiency, which is critical given labor shortages.
It also can help companies bridge talent gaps, as one plastics company experienced. With sensors on machines and data in the cloud, one production manager was able to run two plants located 6 to 10 hours apart. The software provided automatic alerts and dashboards, so the manager and teammates could see what to act on, even while not in the plant.
4. Empower workers to improve productivity. More than half of manufacturing employees will continue to work fully or partially remote throughout the year, research shows. With a cloud-based system, many more workers will be empowered to work from wherever they want, whenever they want. Also, with technology helping to prevent problems before they begin (or blow up into a crisis) workers will spend less time playing catch-up, have more time to find creative innovations and still achieve a good work-life balance. Empowered employees are more productive and satisfied with their jobs. In today’s tight labor market, both of those factors will help retain talent.
From too few workers comes automation opportunities
The dual crisis of the pandemic and the manufacturing worker shortage has created opportunities for manufacturers to step up automation to improve both plant and workforce productivity. The focus on factoryops will drive faster, better decision-making to improve production and empower talent.
KEYWORDS: Skills gap, industrial worker shortage, factoryops
Are you using automation to your advantage to improve factory operations?
Original content can be found at Control Engineering.