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Delivering Workforce Agility in Manufacturing with Digital Transformation

Discussions about optimizing productivity and performance in the manufacturing industry are usually centered on the assets within the shop floor. Although the equipment that drives production cycles play major roles in optimizing productivity, attention must also be paid to the workforce managing these assets.

The manufacturing industry is going through changes. The workforce, the industry has relied upon for decades are retiring. The new generation expected to fill those big boots are uninterested. And the automation Industry 4.0 enables still requires the support of one or two operators on the shop floor.

To navigate the challenges of a retiring workforce and to capture their tribal knowledge and successfully pass it on is just as important as purchasing the right manufacturing equipment. Also, before achieving the lights out factory manufacturers must work with the resources available to them that is why an agile workforce is required.

Enabling Workforce Agility with Digital Transformation Technologies

Workforce agility in the context of the shop floor refers to a manufacturer’s ability to move people to manage changes to production cycles. These changes can be due to increased demand, changes to the plant floor’s layout, reduced staffing, or the need to enforce social distancing.

Delivering an agile workforce will help the average manufacturer deal with intermittent staff shortages, machine downtime, and other disruptive forces. Traditional workforce management tools such as your average human resources software, or enterprise resource planning software are not equipped to deal with the dynamic challenges the industry currently faces.

For example, a manufacturing facility requires 10 operators to man 5 work stations. The activities of each workstation include: welding, machining, joining, cutting, and assembling. Two operators with the required professional qualifications are required to man each workstation but due to staff shortages caused by retirement, only seven operators are available. From this seven, three have dual skills and can be assigned to multiple workstations. How will the manufacturer manage the agile distribution of its workforce?

HR or ERP software applications are unlikely to create schedules and assign workers with dual skills to man multiple stations without causing burnout and reducing throughput quality. But digital transformation solutions such as risk-based scheduling software and workforce analysis and management platform can devise agile solutions.

Workforce analysis and management tool can integrate operator data from manufacturing enterprise systems to evaluate the proficiency levels of individual operators. The proficiency-based analysis alongside shop floor data is then used to develop an accurate simulation model for risk-based scheduling analysis. The optimized results will allocate resources and manpower to workstations to ensure the production process moves seamlessly while also advising the manufacturer concerning its staff shortages.

It is important to also state that these tools apply automation to determine individual skill levels and develop optimized schedules. This reduces the possibility of human error or favoritism when assigning flexible roles to operators with multiple skillsets.

The Benefits Digital Transformation Brings to a Workforce

The data-driven processes digital transformation solutions utilize brings transparency to the factory floor alongside other benefits. Some of these benefits include:

 Gaining Insight into Complex Workforce-related Questions – Gaining insight into the diverse variables and dynamics that affect the performance –levels of a workforce helps improve productivity. Traditionally, team leads walked through the different workstations in a facility to observe operator performance levels and inventory needs to ensure an optimal working condition.

Eye-balling operator progress has always been susceptible to failure and with the pandemic, close physical interactions is no longer ideal. Digital transformation solutions employ data-driven processes to ensure stakeholders develop an agile workforce driven by data analytics.

Standardizing Operational Roles – Optimizing manufacturing processes starts with putting square pegs in square holes. Digital transformation solutions ensure clearly defined roles and the qualifications required for each role is clearly stated and applied to evaluate individual operators. Thus, the best operators are assigned based on their abilities while others who fall short can be provided with further training to measure up.

Utilizing Validation and Testing Technologies – Digital transformation technologies such as augmented reality and the digital twin can be used to capture and recreate the tribal knowledge of a retiring workforce. The result will be a visualized digital environment that represents the factory floor and training modules simulated into the digital twin. Participating in a training session is done using virtual reality headsets and tests are also administered virtually.

Conclusion

Industry 4.0 business models focus on applying data-driven insights to optimize every aspect of the production cycle. Delivering an agile workforce also requires data analytics to understand expected changes to schedule and operations. The application of digital transformation technologies makes the required data analytics possible and puts your workforce in the position to react to dynamic situations in real-time.

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