From Mega-Confused to Mobile-Infused: Improving the Manufacturing Workforce

Adam Frederico

10.06.2014

manufacturing_mobileManufacturing is a core facet of the United States economy. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, here in the United States in 2013 manufacturers contributed $2.08 trillion to the economy (about 12.5 percent of GDP). Additionally, more than 12 million Americans are directly employed in manufacturing. That number represents almost 10% of the workforce of America, and one would argue that manufacturing is imperative to keeping our competitive edge in the global economy.

So how can manufacturing companies increase employee productivity so that manufacturing remains strong and continues to grow? Let's look to mobile technology

Discover more opportunities for manufacturing with 3 emerging tech advancements.

A Day in the Life 
Recently I participated in an all-day tour of a local metals manufacturer. At this facility were dozens of workers making very precise metal pieces on custom-built machinery. A few of the interesting things I observed are the following:

-Physical paper orders were set on each worker’s machine for them to execute
-Confusion about which pile of raw materials to pull from in order to adhere to LIFO processes
-Inefficiency in communication through the entire chain - from customer order all the way down to the production floor
-Process infringement or lack of vacation calendar reporting made equipment scheduling and machine run time hard to rely on
-Delays in production were not communicated up the chain back to the sales team which perpetuated the inaccurate lead times

Many of these issues cause delays in orders - which significantly contribute to workload and stress on employees. Often the workers are asked to come in on Saturday just to make up time lost due to inefficiencies in communication. This was definitely the case of over promising and under delivering.

Enter a mobile-infused workforce. By utilizing mobile technology in a manufacturing space, worker efficiency and effectiveness has a new way to thrive. Let’s dive in to a few ideas around how mobile can help increase employee productivity in the manufacturing space. 

Communication across the plant

  • Report information: Report issues, through-put, inventory levels, machine run time, etc.
  • Disseminate information: Send out a morning communication to all employees, who will receive a notification about it
  • Video chat: Quickly video chat with coworker/supervisor to report information
  • Help button: Request help at the tap of a button instead of leaving machine station and spending time looking for help
Lead time accuracy and worker productivity
  • PTO requests: Request time off via app form submission - get it approved by plant supervisor
  • Record delays: Delays in production can be recorded on the app and seen by entire facility (including the white collar workers)
Facilitate training and disseminate best practices
  • Tutorials: Upload and host training tutorials for new employees or for the purposes of cross-training current employees
  • Internal Wiki: Post best practices and manufacturing processes about which employees can learn and which they must adhere
Worker productivity
  • Document issues: Each issue reported will document who, when, and at what machine the incident occurred so that historical data can be analyzed
    • Firing/promotion decisions can be made based on historical trends 
  • Time tracking: In-app time sheet that will keep track of clocking in and clocking out at each machine station that way lunch, breaks, meetings, machine down time, etc. can be tracked accurately
  • Clock in/clock out: Separate tablet station at entrance of facility where employees can check in upon arriving at work. (the difference between arriving at work and when they clock in at machine station is an interesting metric)
  • Visible metrics: In-app dashboard could show metrics of the plant so goals and current metrics are visible at all times to increase transparency into production goals and key metrics 
    • For example, metrics could include current lead times, number of orders delayed, on time order percentage, lead time accuracy (shared metric between sales and production), etc. 
These are just a few of the perhaps hundreds of ideas for integrating mobile into the manufacturing industry. A mobile-infused manufacturing workforce has myriad possibilities for increasing workplace productivity and morale. Once workers are empowered to do their job better and more efficiently, they will see improvement in the key metrics against which they are judged. When performance is recorded, measured, and improved upon, the manufacturing company will make great strides moving forward. So, what's stopping you from taking your "mega-confused workforce" and creating a mobile-infused workforce?