How Manufacturing Is At The Cutting Edge

The world of industry and technology are merging and expanding exponentially, forming a connected network of people and machines that maximize productivity, innovation, and possibility. For those of us in the manufacturing industry, we’re living in amazingly exciting times, but it’s certainly not without the fear that we might get left behind.

Moore’s Law is the belief that the processing power of computers doubles every two years. But recent advances in Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality, and Augmented Reality have progressed with such processing power to literally blow Moore’s Law entirely out of the water.

Woah! Slow down

All this progress can feel a little intimidating, to say the least. But there’s a huge amount to be excited about.

The “inter-connected factory” is a conduit between our existing manual (and digital) machinery and the productivity of our people. Through machine-monitoring technologies, these innovations provide real-time oversight of the entire manufacturing process that helps us to increase productivity and efficiency in a way never before possible.

Let’s Put This All Into Context –

First, we had steam and the first wave of mechanization. It was met with initial panic because it was believed that the machines would put workers out of work. Whole gangs of Luddites gathered together to protest and smash up the machines. Nonetheless, progress overcame, and human labor found new roles within the same industries.

Next came electricity, assembly lines, and the advent of mass production. Machines became more powerful, able to produce more, with higher efficiency, and in new ways. It was met with initial panic because it was believed that it put jobs at risk. But, again, industry adapted, and human resources were redeployed in new areas made possible by the new paths that those innovations had forged.

Then came computers and the introduction of robots onto the production line. Again – met with initial panic that humans were going to lose out.

There’s a Pattern

So, there’s a pattern, here. And it’s understandable.

But manufacturing has always embraced change, and has always been at the cutting edge when it comes to the application of new technologies. And as technology frees up human resource, we find new ways to re-deploy the unique skills and talents of the workforce.

Utilizing the Unique Skills of the Workforce

Where machines have made production more efficient, human labor has become more valuable in skilled areas; employing potential, rather than just headcount.

Machine Monitoring

Machine monitoring is the next leap forward in mechanization, unifying repetitious machine-driven processes with the workforce while creating a monitoring system that consolidates human and mechanical processes together in a data-center that provides a real-time window into the productivity of your factory.

Machine monitoring is compatible with old-school, manual machinery and up-to-the minute networked machines alike. It creates a digital infrastructure that connects real-time production efficiency with the needs of your customers, helping you to avoid the big 7 (or in our case 10) wastes of manufacturing. It helps empower your staff by allowing them to monitor their own productivity, and gamify their work-day to add a little competitive spirit into their daily role.

Machine monitoring provides you with a real-time oversight of the entire production line – letting the machines tell you when they require maintenance; recognizing areas in production that are over-producing or under-producing; and using the interchangeable skills of the workforce to keep production at maximum potential.

And the future?

The future never stops, of course. And manufacturing will continue to evolve, finding new ways to employ the unique talents of the individuals we employ.

The truth of the matter is that to stay current, you need to look ahead – and consider human and machine as allies. The evolution of production is something to embrace, to protect the jobs and the securities of those we employ.

FreePoint Technologies has a comprehensive suite of machine monitoring technologies that help you stay at the forefront of manufacturing innovation.

 

Why Employee Engagement Matters in Manufacturing

The term “employee engagement” might sound like just one more inaccessible management consultant’s buzzword but, in actuality, the importance of positive employee engagement certainly can’t be overstated. Companies that fail to take employee engagement seriously often suffer from poor productivity, worrying staff retention, and weak profit margins due to fast staff turnaround and disenfranchized people functioning at minimum velocity in under-valued jobs.

What do we mean by “engagement”?
Engagement is about focus, presence, enthusiasm, and, perhaps, most importantly, purpose. If you can provide reward in ways additional to the obvious financial, some surprising things will happen.

Job satisfaction is that intangible product of a positive environment that might surprise and enthuse when present, but certainly dishearten when absent.

Engaged people naturally go above and beyond what is required of them because they feel a part of something important; they want to contribute to the bigger picture; and they can see how the end product benefits society in some way (perhaps by just making everyone else’s lives a little easier, or more pleasant). Engaged workers feel included, and they feel valued, so they repay you in dedication, loyalty; all with the unifying power of the positive person.

Some facts
It’s estimated that over 25% of all workforces are subject to reduced staff retention, and a third of those are amongst the most talented, motivated employees (under the right conditions). It’s a commonly recognized belief that nurtured talent thrives, while ignored talent and enthusiasm diminishes.

A piece of research carried out by recruitment website, Glassdoor, concluded that 54% of currently employed individuals felt confident that if they were to quit or lose their job, they’d be successful in finding a comparable job within six months.

If employees know that there’s something equivalent or alternative just around the corner, then we have to make the manufacturing industry an engaging employer who trains, invests, and retains their most valuable resource – their people. In short, if you don’t make the workplace a satisfying, rewarding, and engaging place to work, you’re going to lose your staff. Or continue to achieve low or mediocre productivity.

So, how do you keep hold of your most talented employees? And how do you nurture the dedication and enthusiasm of the rest of the workforce? Everyone deserves to feel valued, so here are some tips on methods to keep your workers happy and engaged.

So, how do you engage your staff?

Recognition
A bit of civility doesn’t cost a penny, but it could surprise you. Words of encouragement and appreciation go a long way in nurturing a positive working environment. It’s said that “a thank you is worth its weight in gold” and it’s undoubtedly true that verbal recognition for a job well done is a great morale booster.

A “thank you” card might feel a little “soft-skill” but who wouldn’t appreciate a personal note from their boss recognizing their contribution? A team night out can help amalgamate a disparate workforce, as long as it remains optional and there is no sense of social rejection for those that choose not to attend.

Opportunity
There is very little in life guaranteed to stultify more than repetition and the prospect of eternal, monotonous servitude. Engage your workforce by listening to them and involving them in change. Workers who operate machinery, for example, are most likely to have lucid, valid perceptions of how to improve productivity, so invite and listen to their suggestions. But listening isn’t enough – make efforts to implement the improvements that they have instigated and credit them for their input.

Training
Enthusiastic individuals who have proven their mettle on the work floor should be offered opportunities to develop, and training them in new roles (or offering secondments to other departments) is a great way to reward dedication. Of course, not everyone wants to progress, and this should certainly be respected if they’re performing well in their current role.

 

Likewise, forcing the workforce to carry out training courses that feel irrelevant or counter-intuitive to their current role can be disenfranchizing.

Flexibility
Everyone has a life outside of work and accommodating people’s family lives goes a long way to garnering a positive working environment. Flexibility goes both ways, of course, so if you can help your workers when they need time off to attend something important, they’re going to be much more likely to go out of their way to help you out when you most need them.

Employee engagement tools
Machine monitoring is an employee engagement tool that doubles as an efficiency monitor. Machine monitoring hardware is compatible with most analog and digital machines, so adopting this technology costs much less than you might think.

metal machining industry. Worker or service engineer operating cnc milling machine at factory

In essence, machine monitoring software collects efficiency data that can help improve productivity and increase employee engagement by putting the individual in control of their daily activity. Data collated from machine monitoring can be used to justify incentives and reward the most hard-working, while giving those who might naturally sit in the background to recognize that greater contribution brings better rewards.

Machine monitoring introduces gamification into the workplace as a means of incorporating data into productivity. You can encourage a little friendly competition into daily production by recognizing the best performers and the best improvers; all backed up with a transparent, irrefutable data stream.

Contests
Running contests on the shop floor is an excellent way of engaging your workers; encouraging a sense of healthy competition and camaraderie if the contest requires teamwork.

There are lots of ways of helping promote a positive working environment with engaged employees who are likely to go the extra mile for you. Most require a just change in culture as opposed to a financial investment, so can you really afford to deny your workforce the opportunity to fully engage with your workplace?

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Top 10 Reasons It Is Great To Work In Manufacturing

Manufacturing is a great place to work. It’s an industry that satisfies those who enjoy “doing”, and it’s one of the largest sectors in North America. Manufacturing employs 8.7% of the population in the USA and accounts for almost 11% of Canada’s GDP.

There are lots of reasons why it’s great to work in manufacturing. We thought we’d do a bit of research to find out what people who work in manufacturing think about manufacturing.

 

1. It’s exciting

Manufacturing covers a wide array of industries – it’s difficult for people not to find it interesting. Manufacturing spans some of the most interesting high-tech industries, such as aerospace, food technology, machine monitoring, and pharmaceuticals. Not everyone gets the opportunity to tell friends about their day-job, but when you’re working on the latest developments in aerospace, people want to listen.

 

2. It’s safe

To the contrary of what’s widely believed, the days of workers crammed into darkened sweat-boxes, handling dangerous chemicals and machines that would gladly rip off a limb are now, mostly, resigned to history. Things have come a long way. Robots, machine monitoring, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), and automation are all employed to ensure that the workplace is a smart and safe one.

 

3. You’re creating tangible things

Manufacturing is all about producing things which go on to help people live their lives. And there’s very little that’s more satisfying than seeing the fruits of your labor and saying “I made that”. Workers in manufacturing are responsible for bringing products into stores, and maybe even set pieces into blockbuster movies. If you work in a bank, you shuffled some numbers today – and those numbers got shuffled by someone else. Manufacturing produces tangible products.

 

 

4. There’s a career path

There’s more to manufacturing than fabrication and welding – although, these days, these are highly skilled roles. Automation has taken a lot of the dangerous, repetitive work away from the factory floor, leaving many specialized tasks behind for talented individuals.

As the baby boomers retire, there are opportunities in leadership, as well as opportunities in sales, business development, marketing, product research and development, and HR. Manufacturing can provide stability and life-long career paths.

 

5. The Cutting Edge

Manufacturing has always driven innovation: 3D printing, the IIoT, drones, robotics, for example. We adopt new technologies before they become widely available on the consumer market, so we get the opportunity to use and perfect the development of these cutting-edge technologies. It’s a great reason to get up for work in the morning.

 

6. Contributing

Manufacturing makes a significant contribution to home and global economies, as well as puts food on the table at a local level. With a substantial contribution to GDP, manufacturing helps raise the standard of living for workers and consumers, while lubricating the economy. We’re also producing products that make lives easier, so not only is the contribution financial, but we’re adding to the quality of life for millions of consumers.

 

7. There’s a need

There’s a huge skills gap in manufacturing. In 2011, the National Association of Manufacturers identified that there was a 67% deficit in available, qualified workers. That means that there’s a huge opportunity for training, and for those hoping to develop life-long skills. The world of work has become transient as our economies have shifted to a service-based focus; the “job for life” in those industries has become a thing of the past. But manufacturing is here to stay and needs skilled workers, especially as the baby boomers are retiring, leaving huge gaps in the workforce.  

8. Diversity

With the massive demand for skilled people, there’s a huge array of career progression opportunities in manufacturing. The image of repetitive production lines and grubby overalls is not the new norm. Of course, those roles are still available for those who want them, but technology has stepped in, leaving wider possibilities for skilled workers. It’s not all shop-floor working; there are opportunities in prototyping, product development, as well as the many office and marketing roles.

 

9. You get paid!

Manufacturing offers competitive pay and benefit packages. There’s a higher percentage of workers in manufacturing with retirement plans, in comparison with other private sector industries. And there’s often a good range of health care benefits available, and on a more generous basis than in other industries.

Pay, on average, is higher for equivalent roles in other industries.

10. New skills

As manufacturing adapts to new technologies, so do the roles. There’s a distinct push for people with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) skills, as machines require programming and new software needs development.

Companies are struggling to recruit people with these skills; partly because it’s not widely understood that these skills are required. But for highly qualified, technical specialists, manufacturing offers excellent potential for a great career.

So, there you have it – ten reasons why it’s great to work in this exciting industry. If you’re interested in getting involved, speak to your local careers advisor, or approach your local manufacturer directly and let them know what you have to offer them.

If you are already in the manufacturing industry and what to improve your productivity, reach out to us today.

 

2017 Manufacturing: A Year In Review

The political landscape of 2017 has been a portrait of peaks and troughs. Brexit in the UK presents potential possibilities for trade deals with the US and beyond, and (love him or hate him) President Trump’s tempestuous first year in office was preceded with promises to rebuild North America’s industrial sector. Whether his ambitious promises yield fruit is yet to be seen, and it’s rather too easy to get lost in the crowd hysteria that big change conjures. However, significant transformation brings significant opportunities, and in the manufacturing sector particularly, we’ve seen increased adoption of digital technologies, harboring a new dawn in manufacturing processes.

In the same way that the Industrial Revolution had a major impact on manufacturing and society, digital transformation within manufacturing houses is set to change the way we produce and cater to our customers. Not since Henry Ford developed mass-production manufacturing have we seen changes like those that 2017 has exposed us to; but “digital” represents a move away from mass-production, toward a leaner, less wasteful, bespoke, and customized production approach.

However, only 5% of manufacturing executives are satisfied with their existing digital strategies, or even recognize the importance of this digital revolution. Digitization helps to overcome the “Seven Wastes” of lean manufacturing by making more affordable the bespoke production approach; as opposed to over-producing, under-engaging employees and keeping customers waiting while we produce against demand.

Internet of Things (IoT)

At the heart of the change in manufacturing processes in 2017 was the implementation of IoT processes, providing live reporting of incremental production data, defect and damage.

By effectively connecting our analog (and digital) machines to monitoring networks, companies have found an essential, competitive edge in consistency, efficiency, employee engagement, and instant visualization of project progress; yielding benefits to the manufacturing process and to the customer, as the price of wastage drops as a result of digital monitoring.

Industry 4.0 and mass customization

Scary as it sounds, Industry 4.0 presents a reverie of the interconnected factory, and this has developed exponentially in 2017. Machines are online and capable of making decisions.

Now, don’t run for the hills, here – this is good! Industry 4.0 presents a hybrid approach of actual and virtual content-producing warehouses, freeing up workforce to focus on mass customization which can directly react to consumer demand.

IoT and Industry 4.0 are developing the way we interact with our customers post-sale, by providing immediate and consistent support online.

Machine Learning

AI is nothing new – IBM’s supercomputer defeated the world’s best chess player over ten years ago, after all. Advanced algorithms are collecting data on the factory floor, performing skilled labor, and predicting consumer behavior, so that we, the manufacturer, can better cater to their needs. Smart factories can increase production capacity by 20% by gleaning live information from integrated IT systems. And FreePoint Technologies can help!

Quality becomes more consistent as machine learning determines the factors affecting service and quality of product.

Growth

Manufacturing continues to be an essential contributor to Canada’s GDP; providing 1.7 million quality, well-paid jobs, and contributing over 10% of Canada’s overall GDP (around $174 billion).

The manufacturing industry, therefore, has massive potential for strengthening Canada’s economic future. We have the skills, innovation and exports of more that $354 billion each year, which represents 68% of Canada’s entire merchandise exports. Competition is healthy and success breeds success: where our industry grows, we attract new investment.

Growth is dependent upon continued innovation, and the more we adopt new technologies, the more our healthy manufacturing sector continues to grow.

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Top 10 Wastes of Lean Manufacturing

As a quick, whistle-stop reminder, Lean Manufacturing is a concept developed during the 1990s – at the time, referred to as the Toyota Production System (TPS). It sets out to clarify the processes within the manufacturing timeline that add value, and eliminate the processes that inhibit it.

TPS identified the “seven wastes”, which we’ll be exploring in this article. But it doesn’t stop there – we’ll be examining some additional areas of waste that affect the factory line.

TIM WOOD

The TPS “seven wastes” are easily remembered via the acronym – “TIM WOOD”

Transport, Inventory, Motion, Waiting, Over-Processing, Overproduction, Defects

What is Waste in Lean Manufacturing?

Waste is anything that adds no value. When your production line follows a large number of processes, it’s inevitable that, over time, elements of that process develop that hamper the efficiency of the build. This costs the manufacturer money, which, in turn, gets transferred to the customer.

Eliminating waste is an essential component in a company’s ability to compete; while helping increase profits.

Your customers expect timely delivery, consistent quality and the right price. So, streamlining your processes to remove waste is essential.

1. Transport

Unnecessary transportation of goods within a factory-line is the product of a variety of problems: poor factory-floor layout; complex handling systems; large batch sizes; storage in multiple locations; and over-production. These all result in unnecessary transportation.

The movement of materials from location to location is a waste because it adds no value. You need to pay people to move materials, and the maintenance of vehicles is costly. A poor floor layout can increase the distance between operations, resulting in delays in processing and expensive transportation costs.

2. Inventory

Inventory costs the manufacturer money until it has been sold on to the customer. Every finished product or material component require storage space; waiting on the shelf to be sold.

Large amounts of inventory increase the chance of transit damage and cause delays in transportation.

3. Motion

Unnecessary motion occurs where movements by either man or machine are not as small or as simple as they could be. It could be that your engineer needs to bend down to pick up heavy objects multiple times throughout a shift – this puts strain on their back and could be eliminated by merely feeding those materials at waist-height, rather than on the floor.

This is all common sense because even robots will wear out eventually.

4. Waiting

A sloppy production timeline results in unsynchronized activity, causing waiting within the production process. Idle time occurs when interdependent procedures are not in synch:  operators are kept waiting, or work slowly to accommodate slack cogs in the wheel.

5. Overproduction

Overproduction breeds waste! It results from producing more product than your customer requires.

This causes storage problems from unnecessarily large batch sizes, and an inability to respond to customer need.

If your customer wants 150 pieces of x and 12 pieces of y, but you already have 700 pieces of y and only 10 pieces of x, then your customer is going to have to wait for your to produce to their requirement.

Streamlining your processes to meet customer need means that product is sent directly to the customer, in a timely fashion (and not stored).

6. Over-processing

Over-processing occurs where elements of your manufacture don’t add value. Painting of unseen parts of the product; cleaning or polishing beyond required levels: these are manifestations of over-processing.

Aim to process to the degree that is useful and necessary.

Over-processing is generally caused by a lack of standardization, unclear specifications, and inconsistent quality acceptance standards.

7. Defects

Defective goods are the most apparent waste. While faults can never be eliminated entirely, you can reduce them by implementing poka-yoke systems (processes that help equipment operators to avoid mistakes).

This requires thorough documentation of processes and standardized training so that everyone follows a standard set of operations to achieve a uniform result.

8. Wasted Talent

If an employee is simply moving materials or equipment from one place to another (transportation), then that person’s talents are being under-utilized.

Non-utilized talent equally refers to management’s ignorance of continuous improvement feedback that comes from those operating the machines. If management fails to engage with talent, it’s considered a waste in lean manufacturing terms.

9. Ineffective Performance Measures

Machine monitoring is a valuable resource for transitioning a process to lean manufacturing. By obtaining an accurate data-reflection of current processes, you can identify waste.

You can also empower the workforce by providing the ability to monitor their own performance and recognize productivity norms, while rewarding uniform, standardized working practices.

10. Poor Supplier Quality

No production process can overcome an unreliable supplier. If you need materials to produce, then you need to be able to rely on your suppliers to make sure your processes are as efficient as they can be.

Of course, there are always extenuating circumstances, but if your suppliers are continuously letting you down, it might be time to look elsewhere.

To Conclude

Your workforce is your business, and making sure that they’re productive is more than continually watching over them. Listen to them, because they will have the first-hand experience of any problems on your production line.

Eliminating waste is about examining your existing processes, and empowering operators to help you streamline the factory floor.

With machine monitoring and our ShiftWorx Platform, we allow companies to measure and record granular production information right off the plant floor, from any machine, in real time. Not only does this help eliminate waste, it engages your employees with actionable data.

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How To Recruit Top Manufacturing Talent in 2018

Can’t fill those empty shifts? Perhaps you have permanent roles for the right people, but you just can’t recruit the right people?

Manufacturing is one of the longest-standing industries, yet we struggle to recruit top talent to fill our highly specialized jobs. Whether it’s finding casual labor to fill open shifts or hiring talent for permanent roles, the manufacturing and logistics industries are struggling to find the right people for the right jobs.

You’re not alone if you’re struggling to recruit.

So we’ve compiled a list of suggestions from some of the top people in the recruitment industry, to help you find the top manufacturing talent in 2018.

Social Media

Social media is the principal means of communication for millennials, so becoming familiar with Facebook and Twitter is the way to capture their imagination, and find new talent.

The key to a successful social media campaign is engagement – just posting one-way pictures and videos don’t demand a physical response. Run competitions, quizzes, get people to apply for jobs on social media platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and Twitter, and you’ll find that the freshest talent will come to you. Offer your existing employees bonuses or perks if they share your posts with their friends and followers.

Facebook advertising is cheap and can be directly targeted so that the right people will see your post.

Explore Playbuzz for ideas for engaging online quizzes and games.

LinkedIn is a networking platform for professionals, so it’s a rich resource of existing talent. You’ll be able to see people’s CVs and get in touch with them directly. Everyone is flattered by head-hunting, so don’t overlook it as a method of recruiting top talent.

Go to where the talent is

Creating partnerships with local schools is a great way to “go to the talent.” Your local community is the key, so make sure that your business is visible, with a favorable image.

Develop a positive image

One of the significant problems facing recruitment in manufacturing is the perception that the workplace is dangerous, dirty, noisy, poorly lit, and a purgatory of unskilled, repetitive tasks. If you can help to change that perception, people will come to you.

Obviously, the first thing is to make sure that your workplace isn’t dangerous, dirty, noisy and poorly lit. Have open days, where the local community is invited in to see how things are done. Present the workplace as a laboratory for commerce with a skilled, dedicated workforce, and perceptions will change. And so will the empty mailbox.

Offer incentives

Strategic employee referral programs are an excellent way to find new talent. Incentivize your existing workforce to help you find new talent – for every employee that gets taken on, as a result, offer a reward.

Be clear

Nobody’s impressed with business speak, so avoid jargon and keywords when you’re putting your job spec together, especially if it’s a job that you’re offering training for.

Clear language gives the impression of transparency, while overly technical business-speak can trigger suspicion. If the job role is for a cleaner, don’t advertise it as a Habitat Contaminant Removal Executive, because they’re going to be disappointed when you hand them a bucket and a mop on their first day.

Gamification

This is a methodology to employ after you’ve recruited, but if you introduce it onto the floor now, you can use it as an enticement for new talent.

Gamification is a motivational technique that introduces gaming mechanics into existing business processes. It’s a way to engage and incentivize the existing workforce, using machine monitoring technologies to facilitate self-assessment, gameplay, and target setting; by putting the employee in charge of their progress.

Training

Metal worker teaching trainee on machine use

The potential for training is enticing for potential new talent – conscientious workers always welcome the development of new skills. If you can present progression opportunities, you’re going to attract top talent, because top talent is ambitious.

Courses, seminars and coaching sessions are great ways for the company to come together to share skills.

Investing in existing employees is a sensible approach to enticing new employees to the fold.

Building a team

A supportive team is a valuable resource for any business, but if you can demonstrate an existing support network to potential employees, then new talent will come.

Developing a positive workplace culture is important – you get more out of your existing employees, who will, in turn, invite new people to the team.

Social events are good team-building activities – team quizzes, sports events, days out. It definitely doesn’t need to be that whole “build-a-bridge-out-of-3-sheets-of-paper” type situation. And social events don’t have to cost a lot of money – it’s just a way of showing some appreciation for hard work, and it will repay you in dedication and drive.

Flexibility

Work/life balance has been shifting over the past decade, in favor of work over life. However, a little appreciation of an employee’s home life goes a long way in creating a culture of goodwill, which will be repaid with flexibility and hard work from your employees.

Develop your workplace culture

Developing a positive workplace culture is one of the most significant ways that you can make the workplace an inviting place for top talent.

The problem with top talent is that they’re sought after – not just by you, but by everyone.

Making changes in your workplace to create a positive culture is your way of ensuring that they choose you – as much as you choose them.

Help recruit the right talent by having a modern, innovative workplace. Bring your shop floor into the 21st century with machine monitoring technology.

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Top Manufacturing Trends To Watch For In 2018

The world is changing, and 2018 is likely to become the year the manufacturing industries adopt many of the innovations and trends once confined to the novels of Philip K Dick and Arthur C Clarke. It seems that the future has finally caught up with us; changing the way we work, communicate and manage our businesses.

Manufacturing is thriving in North America – offering employment to over 12 million full-timers, having brought in $6 trillion in nominal gross domestic product in the first quarter of 2017 alone. Technology is already playing its part in making our factories more efficient, cost-effective, safe, and easier to manage. The move towards greater automation is the unavoidable flow of change.

We’ll be exploring the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), robots and automation, 3D printing, intelligent decision-making and inbound marketing in this article; posing the question of how these revolutionary innovations and trends can transform our manufacturing processes.

New technologies are offering new modes of product development, innovations in operation and a revolution in how we serve our customers.

But adoption of such technologies isn’t without its challenges: we may struggle to upgrade our legacy systems, keep hold of workforce talent, and handle the vast quantities of Big Data that is produced by such developments.

Here are some of the answers to the questions that these changes inevitably present.

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)

The term “Internet of Things” refers to the cyber-connected world – our heating can speak to our smartphones, our washing machine can order our washing-powder, and the refrigerator can fill itself with food.

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) therefore, means that our machines will communicate with us (and to other devices), providing us with data that we can use to apply efficiencies; making production more productive.

The first thing that people often say is that their machinery is too old, and it would be entirely unrealistic to upgrade – there’s not a computer-chip on the whole floor, they whisper. While this is arguably true in many cases, it need not be a barrier to installing the IIoT on the factory floor.

Inexpensive machine monitoring sensors can be easily attached to old-school analog equipment: connecting devices with software applications, which enable manufacturers to gather information, so that they can come to real-time decisions, based on accurate real-time facts.

IIoT functionality can facilitate inter-machine communication – logging production stats, and even monitoring equipment and production lines for safety; identifying any problems that may occur.

IIoT can track work quotas and determine optimum times for equipment maintenance, ensuring the longevity of your machines.

IIoT will, ultimately, revolutionize the factory floor, helping it to be a safer, more productive environment.

Robots

Automation is nothing new in manufacturing – machines have been completing technical and repetitive tasks for decades, and are due to become more in demand in 2018.

International spending on robotics is predicted to reach $67 billion by 2025, with almost a third of that being allocated by the manufacturing industries.

Robotic automation will help manufacturers to achieve work of high precision, productivity, and safety. Robots can work in hazardous and inhospitable environments, tackling the challenges that human workers would rather avoid. With the advent of voice and image recognition, robots can integrate into the workplace, duplicating complex human tasks with high levels of consistency.

Robots are already busy at work on the floors in the healthcare and food manufacturing industries, as well as tackling the jobs that are too dangerous for humans in our ever-growing world of mitigation. Environments that require clean rooms (such as in pharmaceutical plants) and lights-out facilities will operate around the clock, with robots at the helm.

Robots can take the humdrum, repetitive tasks; providing new pathways for our human workforce, creating new and different jobs. Forrester Research estimates that 15 million new jobs will evolve over the coming decade thanks to the opening up of the industry that robotics and automation will provide.

Augmented Reality

It might sound like a gimmick on a smartphone, but AR is set to change the way in which we develop new products – testing different manufacturing scenarios before a product goes into full production.

AR tools can simulate the production phase, drawing attention to potential problems which could halt production. It will help to ensure that the manufacturing process produces precisely what you hoped to create.

AR can also help with inventory tracking, worker training and provide insight into a company’s optimal operational standards.

3D Printing

Again, what might seem like a short-term trend, provides a unique, low-cost method of creating prototypes. 3D printing is already an indelible part of many manufacturing businesses, but 2018 will see more companies adopting these machines to improve their product development practices, resultantly bringing new products to the market more quickly.

The applications for 3D printing are broad, offering significant implications to high-volume production lines, in the creation of a full spectrum of devices, from toys to medical devices.

Intelligent Decision Making

 

Machine monitoring brings with it enormous volumes of data that requires processing for it to be significant.

The success of machine monitoring is in a company’s ability to translate that data into significant indicators of a production’s output.

Trying to track too much information is counter-productive, so companies such as FreePoint can offer complete solutions for discerning, communicating and controlling processes, so that you can make decisions that have a positive impact on the production floor, in real-time.

Inbound marketing

The days of the flyer, the trade ad, attending trade shows, and sending out direct mail aren’t entirely defunct, but they’re certainly on the wane.

Original content on websites, social media engagement, and search engine optimization are all low-cost ways of communicating your marketing message to the masses.

Online marketing is all about engagement – attracting potential customers through original content and encouraging interaction. It can be quantifiably successful, undoubtedly more so than old-school leaflet drops.

To conclude

The internet hasn’t just changed the way we communicate, socialize, and consume our entertainment, but it is having an impact on how we run our businesses.

Perhaps this all sounds a little too much to take on-board all in one go. And this is where the experts at FreePoint Technologies can help. We have a range of solutions that can help drag your manufacturing business out of the 20th century, and into the new, exciting world of 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

How To Keep Employees Happy and Productive

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that a happy workforce is a productive one. Just throwing money at them, to contradict the late, great Jane Austin, doesn’t maketh perfection in marriage. “Employee engagement” might sound like business speak, but the story, in reality, is very different.

Money, of course, is everyone’s motivation for going to work. Raising wages will make everyone better off, but it doesn’t keep the job interesting, and it’s often just not possible. And a wage rise doesn’t necessarily equate to an increase in productivity.

Keeping the workplace interesting, rewarding and challenging is a way of keeping your employees happy and productive, and will help you keep hold of your staff.

Diane Bazire (BDC Business Consultant) claims that financial award alone is not enough to keep employees engaged. Establishing non-monetary rewards to reinforce a financial package, however, can help create an environment of happier, more engaged and more productive workers. By implementing her suggestions, she has observed that absenteeism reduces, and the work environment becomes a more positive one.

Bazire, as part of her report, identified some key areas that could help increase employee engagement, keeping the workforce happy and, most importantly, productive.

Recognition and Appreciation

Recognition of contribution is a powerful motivating tool; recognizing that the efforts of everyone within the work-chain is valuable and working towards a team goal.

Bazire says, “A thank you is worth its weight in gold.” Perhaps that’s a little simplistic on its own, but it’s certainly a positive starting point.

She suggests a number of recognition tools – Employee of the Month, or Employee of the Year, help to frame the individual within the context of the team, while recognizing a specific contribution, encouraging friendly competition between colleagues.

Additionally, a simple “thank you” card to the team or to individuals is an effective means of showing gratitude, as are being recognized and congratulated in front of colleagues.

This comes with a caveat, however. Ensure that the prize doesn’t always go to the same person, even if they are the highest performer. It could have the opposite effect on the rest of the team, potentially leading to alienation of the top performers.

Aim for transparency, objective feedback and fairness to ensure that you are not favoring some employees over others.

Offer the opportunity to make a difference

You’ll achieve higher levels of employee engagement by listening. Being part of a team, where an individual’s voice is heard, is one of the critical ways of strengthening your employee’s sense of belonging. The workers who operate the machinery are likely to have ideas about how to improve productivity, so listen to their suggestions and make efforts to implement them.

Bazire suggests running contests. Perhaps ask your workers to find the most creative way of recycling the packaging that the company usually throws away – the employee with the best idea could get an extra day off.

Listen and identify the issues that your employees are passionate about, and aim to resolve them.

Continuing educations and training

If an employee feels that there are progression possibilities within the department, it can galvanize their determination to move on. Regardless of sector, offering the opportunity for continuing education is highly motivating.

Courses, seminars, and coaching sessions give employees the feeling that they can better themselves and develop within the role. Investing in technology courses will keep your workforce current in the field.

Flexible schedules

A little flexibility and understanding that employees have lives outside of the workplace goes a long way when you’re trying to motivate a team, and improve productivity. Offering telecommuting opportunities, personal days if possible, and the occasional reduced working week provides a feeling of balance between work and personal obligations.

Job rotation

Doing the same job, day in, day out, gets boring. Offering secondments to other departments or varying job roles on the factory floor keep the brain active and can strengthen the company as a broader team.

There’s often a danger that “them in HR” (for example) don’t know what it’s like to work on the floor; so give each department the opportunity to try out each other’s jobs, to find an understanding of each other’s roles.

Small gestures

Recognizing employment anniversaries or achievements go a long way to highlighting an employee’s contribution. Gift certificates, gas cards, and other gifts are inexpensive ways of rewarding employee engagement. Or perhaps you could even offer an employee the president’s parking space for a week. These gestures don’t have to have a financial figure attached to them.

Bear in mind that gifts are taxable if they exceed $500 a year (check your local tax office for specific details), so non-cash rewards are certainly worth considering.

Team-building activities

Team-building doesn’t have to mean making a bridge out of paper, or making a raft out of old tin cans. Social events are a great way to galvanize a team – organize get-togethers and group outings so that everyone can get to know each other outside of work.

Sports days or events are good ideas. Sponsor a local sports team that your employee’s children play for.

However, remember that “extra-curricular” social events aren’t going to be everyone’s idea of fun. Respect those that don’t wish to take part, ensuring that they aren’t alienated from the group.

And finally

Being attentive and flexible don’t need to cost money, but are key approaches to improving employee engagement. This is all about soft-skills, essentially – making your people feel like they matter.

Of course, everyone would like a pay-rise, but it’s not always possible. Making your employees feel valued, and like they’re positively contributing to the team are essential employee engagement tools.

How To Prevent Downtime and Keep Your Machines Running

Downtime can cost your business thousands of dollars an hour, so it’s essential that you employ preventative measures that ensure that you make the most of valuable production time. While there’s a distinct need to maximize output from our machines, there’s equal value in ensuring that your production schedule isn’t pushing your plant too hard, and you are doing your best to prevent downtime.

There are many ways of securing a perfect symbiosis between efficient production, machine maintenance, and planned outages. While it may seem counter-intuitive to plan outage time to increase productivity, well-scheduled and planned maintenance pays dividends to the yield of your factory floor.

A highly trained work-force is the essential, direct link between worker and machine, but many problems can occur in the mechanical workings of your machinery that are easily missed.

Machine monitoring systems provide an efficient way for us to understand what is going on underneath the hood so that we can minimize unplanned machinery outage on the factory floor.

Machine monitoring can identify a problem before (or as) it happens, helping to avoid expensive damage, putting the machine out of action for an extended period.

Incorporating maintenance management practice is the best way to minimize and prevent downtime. Here are some tips on how to embed them into your factory floor:

Predictive Management

The Right-On Time strategy (as explored in our article “5 Lean Manufacturing Techniques and Benefits”) is all about pushing your machinery only when required.

Use your task-force’s skill-sets in combination with performance data derived from machine monitoring systems, maintenance history, and work projection schedules, to make informed and timely decisions regarding the most efficient times to maintain equipment.

Of course, it doesn’t mean closing down production of the entire factory all at once – it’s about identifying when the natural downtime occurs, and making it time-effective.

Identify trends from your machine monitoring data to recognize problems before they occur. Look for patterns – perhaps a specific electrical cable requires replacing every couple of weeks. If you know it’s going to fail, pre-empt its replacement, rather than letting it fail and slowing down your processes.

The critical concepts of predictive management require collating information from all available sources to recognize patterns in equipment depreciation. Understanding your data can help to determine appropriate corrective actions, at opportune times for your business. Use that data to help identify root causes of persistent problems.

Employees working to prevent downtime freepoint technologies

Being proactive rather than reactive puts you in a stronger position.

Preventative maintenance

Incorporating maintenance tasks into everyday schedules is an excellent way of avoiding unplanned downtime. Basic tasks such as cleaning, routine adjustments, and lubrication can become a part of a well-trained workers’ daily ritual.

Machine monitoring can help you record machine run-hours. Use this data, in combination with expected lifespan projections from manufacturers, to recognize when parts are likely to break down, such as bearings, shafts, sensors, gears, pipes or electrical cables.

Good training practices

A highly skilled workforce who are empowered to make decisions is a valuable practice resource in the effort to reduce and prevent downtime. If your people are well-trained, they’ll be able to recognize potential errors in operation, but most importantly, a well-trained staff-base will use your equipment correctly. Misuse is one of the most likely causes of downtime on the factory floor, so a trained workforce is an effective, safer one.

Employee trying to prevent downtime freepoint technologies

Recognizing common red flags is the difference between a quick maintenance task and a lengthy outage crisis.

Lubricate

Machines with moving parts require regular lubrication. High-quality oils may have a higher upfront price tag, but are more likely to benefit your plant in the long-run.

Clean

A scheduled and documented cleaning and maintenance program will help minimize wear and tear on machines, and extend the life-span of your equipment. Machine monitoring systems can help to recognize problems before they occur – so can simple scheduling.

Machine monitoring, in combination with effective cleaning and maintenance practice, is the best way to reduce costly downtime on the factory floor.

Remember, that being proactive is much better than reacting to a problem once it’s happened. If you have a big job that’s going to require constant work-hours, making sure that your machinery is in tip-top condition will boost productivity time.

 

 

7 Keys To Boost Your Workplace Culture

According to a recent survey of workplace culture carried out by Gallup, manufacturing has the lowest percentage of positive employee engagement in the US; falling well-short of the national average. There’s a reason why our employees are bored, disengaged and unmotivated, so it would be remiss of us to dismiss the importance of excellent management in turning those frowns upside down.

Engagement is the key word, here. And we can’t expect our employees to engage more if we aren’t prepared to make some changes ourselves. Engagement is a two-way street – so how do we cross that road together?

How do we improve workplace culture to ensure that the front line is at its most productive?

Employee engagement

A disengaged workforce is an unmotivated, unproductive one. Disengagement spreads quickly, but, thankfully, we can steer the workforce back onto the rails of engagement.

A good manager is a great observer – looking out for motivation killers and addressing them. Negative colleagues; lack of organization; lack of opportunity poor communication; the feeling of unimportance – all classic downers that can be successfully addressed and balanced to remedy a struggling workplace culture.

FreePoint’s black-box technology offers an excellent method of engagement by gauging productivity, but it won’t boost productivity unless your people managers encourage joint ownership of productivity data. Information made available for all to assess their own productivity is empowering.

Gamification


Almost 80% of the learners/workers say that they would be more productive if their university/institution or work was more game-like.

FreePoint has an array of gamification packages that motivate the workforce by placing them in control of their productivity. Giving employee’s ownership over their own assessment, reinforced by positive management, is a great way to engage a worker.

Gamification involves reward-systems, making quantifiable tasks more engaging by focusing an employee’s productivity against norms of their performance, and the performance of their peers. This helps people to recognize where they can improve, giving them a gauge of their progress in the context of the workplace, focusing on progression rather than stagnation.

Create accountability

By putting the worker in control of their productivity, we encourage accountability. Great managers help their teams to homogenize, with the recognition of how each role contributes to collective success. By identifying underperforming employees (and, indeed, managers) and enabling them to take ownership of their development with your support, you can fix broken cogs that prevent the entire factory from turning.

Communicate


Forty-six percent of employees rarely or never leave a meeting knowing what they’re supposed to do next.

There is nothing more disempowering than expecting everyone on the shop-floor to just get on with it, without providing context. Motivated employees are conscious of the role they play in the bigger picture, and it’s essential that each cog in the wheel is given equal importance and reward – even if that reward is just recognition of a valuable job well done. Without effective communication, the workforce will struggle to meet goals or even function. Employees should understand the hierarchy and expertise within the company, and who they can contact to voice concerns.

FreePoint’s Shiftworx Standard package provides a central focus for sharing and disseminating business-crucial information in real-time, via a variety of communication strategies including through apps and smart devices.

Make People Feel Important

A motivated workforce is one that recognizes the value of an individual’s contribution. In manufacturing, this is often overlooked, resulting in a culture of disenfranchisement and indifference. We can change this by helping employees recognize that their role is an invaluable part of the complex infrastructure that completes the manufacturing process.

Bring customers to the plant so that they can meet your employees. Share how your product helps the client. And let the client express their appreciation to the people who make things possible. Night shift employees can feel separated from the core of the working community, so try hosting breakfasts, so that the two shifts can meet, amalgamating the work-force along the way.

Making your employees feel valued doesn’t have to cost a lot of money – it’s often down to good management practice, recognizing that everyone counts.

Set standards by having diligent management practicing what they preach – nobody wants to see a lazy manager reaping the benefits of a hard-working team.

Set clear goals and provide feedback

2 employees displaying a collaborative workplace culture

All businesses share a primary goal: Success. Goal settings, aligning and tracking those goals through actions and results are critical to greater business execution…and, as a result, greater success.

Setting reasonable and achievable goals is a great way to focus an employee’s energy on succeeding. But make sure it’s achievable – otherwise, you achieve the adverse, and they’ll feel like they’re failing.

Positive feedback is an essential factor in humanizing your management team – if the focus is on negative feedback, your employees will come to resent your input.

Reward with praise and use gamification so that employees can gauge their progress.

Use technology responsibly

The use of tech doesn’t just mean having computers and an internet connection in the office. It’s about enabling employees with solutions to improve their productivity. You can automate communications to trigger once a milestone has been reached, and collaborate with your staff through discussion forums, such as Asana and Yammer.

Consider whether home-working is appropriate, or teleconferencing can bring down costs where travel is too expensive and time-consuming.

Getting your task-force to respond to their mobile phones, however, isn’t just an excuse to invade their personal time, remember. Other industries are guilty of this, and we should try to avoid it in manufacturing. Respecting each other’s work/life balance is important.

So, there you go – 7 ways in which you can turn a negative workplace culture into an environment of sharing, rewarding and, most importantly, productivity! If you are interested in learning more about how you can engage and motivate your employees on the shop floor, read more on our blog, or reach out to us today. We love chatting with manufacturers about how they can improve the productivity of their people and their process!