“The challenge for manufacturers in the U.S. isn’t foreign manufacturing; it’s the high school guidance counselor,” Brian Fortney, global business manager for Rockwell Automation, told Design News. They don’t understand that manufacturing is high tech. The plants are not dark and dangerous.”
Yes, the workforce skills gap still plagues manufacturing. In fact, 71 percent of manufacturers responding to “The Future of the Manufacturing Workforce” survey by Manpower say “insufficient manufacturing skills is increasing in severity now and will continue to get worse over the next several years.”
For manufacturers, the skills challenge often comes down to an image problem. On the one hand, many people still view manufacturing as “dark and dangerous.” Another common misperception is that automation or the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) are replacing workers. In reality, highly automated, smart operations help manufacturers empower their current workforce and attract top talent.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the key ways IIoT empowers the workforce, while helping manufacturers close the skills gap.
Developing the Next Generation of ‘Problem Solvers’
In a previous post, we discussed the benefits of real-time production performance tracking. Sensor-connected devices provide workers with more information at their fingertips. The modern workforce is becoming tech savvy and expects to have instant access to critical information, whether it’s displayed on a workstation monitor or via mobile devices. They also want more fulfilling jobs that provide opportunities to create value.
IIoT frees your workers to focus on problem-solving activities rather than repetitive, sometimes dangerous tasks. These connected workers have “easy access to smart operating procedures, and both generic and asset-specific instructions and checklists. Carrying hundreds of pages of unwieldy manuals prove a thing of the past,” according to an Accenture report.
Breaking Down Productivity Barriers
Of course, all manufacturers want their workers to be more productive. Unfortunately, data often exists in silos, which means your workers don’t have access to critical information they need to increase productivity. It also means workers are expending more energy on mundane, physically demanding tasks.
Frustration mounts when workers must stop the line or their machine to troubleshoot a maintenance or quality issue. IIoT allows for true predictive maintenance. In an IIoT environment, workers often receive real-time condition-monitoring alerts, such as vibration data, temperature fluctuations and energy consumption. This results in less downtime and improved employee morale. They also may receive real-time analytics that show variations in product quality or yields.
A Single Source of Truth
When data exists in silos, workers in separate departments may view or interpret data differently. This creates frustration, disagreements about the data integrity and oftentimes low employee morale. Consistency across your enterprise is essential to ensure everyone is working in concert to achieve a common goal. A cloud-based analytics platform can help that’s accessible anywhere, from any device helps break down data silos. The system takes data inputs, processes the information and provides feedback. The data that is collected gets uploaded to the cloud and is safely stored so that it can be accessed by any Internet-connected device.
Other Things to Consider
The workforce shortage isn’t going to remedy itself. IIoT is becoming a critical component to addressing current and future workforce challenges. Consider IIoT solutions that are accessible to an unlimited number of users. This reduces information siloing and helps you build a more empowered, collaborative team of problem solvers. Also, if you’re an early adopter, look for out-of-the-box solutions that don’t require lengthy, complex commissioning times, which will only complicate your workforce challenges.