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3 Ways Technology Can Help Manufacturers with the Labor Shortage

May 16, 2022

As workers increasingly take stock of their careers and their lives, the manufacturing industry is experiencing challenges attracting and retaining skilled labor. From March-April 2020, there was an 11% lag in employment for manufacturing. Some industry segments rebounded well by the end of 2020, but two years on there are still nearly 500,000 open manufacturing jobs.

Technology solutions, like manufacturing execution systems (MES), can help manufacturers address the labor shortage intelligently with faster, easier ways to onboard new workers, collect and share data, and monitor processes and performance to make critical adjustments that improve operations and productivity. Technology is also attractive to a new generation of workers who are already digitally fluent and expect to use digital tools on the job. Given a choice between multiple job offers, 91% of Gen Z candidates say the technology offered by an employer would be a factor in their decision.

Here’s a closer look at three areas where MES can help your business operate more smoothly with the resources you have and the new workers you bring on board.

1. Speed up Employee Onboarding

Turnover is common in manufacturing as seasonal work and other demands keep workers coming and going. But to meet production demands, manufacturers need staff levels to remain as stable as possible, which means every new worker has to get up to speed fast.

MES can operate as a virtual onboarding tool for new workers, providing training documentation and videos, work instructions and drawings, process steps, and on-demand assistance through an easy-to-use touch-screen interface. As workers advance through onboarding and training, MES can also manage their skills and capabilities to let businesses know when workers are ready to run a machine or can be scheduled on specific work cells.

MES makes hiring and training easier by helping workers ramp up quickly so manufacturers can operate as expected, no matter the circumstances.

2. Efficiently Collect and Share Data

Manufacturing workers deal with data all the time, but much of it is handled through manual methods like tracking down part numbers, images, and drawings, making calculations, or writing information down on paper by hand. These manual methods create undue complexity for new workers and increase the risk of errors and delays—all of which impact productivity.

MES streamlines data collection, sharing, and reporting by automating changeovers, part counts, and parts fulfillment that can reduce human error and time wasted hunting for information. Automated, accurate, real-time data collection also gives manufacturers much-needed visibility into inventory, part availability, and machine performance to better understand what’s happening on the shop floor.

MES not only unburdens workers from manual, error-prone data processes that hurt job satisfaction, it also helps manufacturers make better business decisions to improve operations and reduce overhead and labor.

3. Improve Processes and Performance

Collecting data on processes helps manufacturers understand the production environment so they can monitor the issues and variables that impact the rest of the production line or even the end customer. The problem is that relying on physical inspections and quality checks for process monitoring is time-consuming and inefficient.

MES automates process monitoring through statistical process and quality control methodologies and part quantification. The software can be programmed to stop a machine or turn on an alarm when necessary. Data is collected from each operator to understand their efficiency and experience levels, identify where more training may be necessary, and reward top-performing workers. Automated process monitoring and performance analytics also allow manufacturers to understand the number of workers and shifts that are needed to meet production demand.

MES allows machine operators to focus their time on production and performing a job well, instead of cumbersome quality checks, while giving you valuable insight into your labor and hiring needs.

MES is Today’s Answer to Manufacturing Labor Challenges

The volatility of the manufacturing labor market may not let up anytime soon, but it doesn’t have to derail your business. MES technology provides a path forward, giving you the digital tools and information you need to swiftly and successfully bring on new workers and make more efficient and productive use of your current workforce. Better data around processes and performance improves day-to-day operations on the shop floor and uncovers specific labor needs. MES can even help you reduce your labor footprint by turning over the most repetitive and inefficient tasks to automated technology solutions.

The transition to Industry 4.0 and smart factory technology is already underway. MES can help you get there with less disruption and more confidence.