Smart Manufacturing

The Production Line of the Future Must Support Workforce Digital Dexterity

With all the focus on new technologies and how the world of manufacturing is digitally transforming, it is easy to lose sight of what the repercussions will be with regards to how people will do their job. One thing is certain – it will be different! In the research report “How We Will Work in 2028,” Gartner analysts De’Onn Griffin and Mark Coleman used the term “Digital Dexterity” to describe how well people work with technology. Those organizations adept in recognizing this need and investing in programs that best enable this transition will benefit from lower turnover, improved competitive advantage, and a more productive, engaged workforce.

Meet your New Co-worker – A Machine

The rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI) has sparked much research and discussion on how this technology will impact the labor force, displace jobs, and change the workplace of tomorrow. Most of the findings suggest that some jobs will initially be made obsolete. Other jobs will change, and new ones will emerge. The net, net difference is forecast to be positive, but it might take ten or more years to occur.

In the Gartner report referenced above, the role of middle management will be significantly reduced. The rationale? The theory is that people will operate with greater autonomy, as high-performing teams that fulfill crucial outcomes. These teams will evolve and adapt as often as needed, so will need to quickly build a sense of community and trust. Gartner suggest that there will be a rise in “algorithmic management” practices, through the use of AI, which will reduce the need and influence of middle managers. 

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If you think about it, certainly some of what middle management does could be automated. For example, the collection of data, the supervision of action items, and the completion of regulatory compliance procedures. Each of these activities could be done or streamlined with AI-enhanced applications, alerts or tracking mechanisms. By automating these tasks, the role of providing a vision and direction could then be performed by senior management directly to all employees, thereby flattening the organization.

Blurring the Line of Employees and Contractors

With purpose-built teams that are highly agile and focused on the completion of a specific task, it is reasonable to believe that teams will continue to include both internal employees and third-party contactors. We have already seen a significant increase in remote working. The gig economy has matured to become a significant source of talent and resources. Combine all of these factors, and it is easy to see how teams of the future will be virtually connected to each – both within and beyond the organization – with a common focus on achieving the team’s objective of any given project.

With such a high level of fluidity expected to be the new “norm” on how people work, the approach to providing on-the-job training must also shift. Training can no longer be provided to a sales team once a year at an annual kick off. Similarly, when a new production line employee or supervisor is hired, it will no longer suffice to provide training during their first hour, day or week of being hired. In such a dynamic work environment, a steady flow of educational content is needed, with guidance that is robust, delivered in the most immersive format possible.

A Lean Approach to Employee Training

An age-old saying in matters of healthcare, ‘prevention is better than cure’ rings true for MedTech manufacturing processes. In other Axendia research, 85% of medical industry practitioners questioned said the role of quality was compliance. Only 10% stated that their role was process or product improvement. How can this change? The answer comes back to data and how it is handled.

An ideal solution is to apply Lean methodologies on how a manufacturing workforce is trained. With a guiding philosophy of reducing waste, Lean can teach us how to be more responsive and agile in how we not only manufacture products, but in how we train our workforce to optimize output. This approach will flourish in environments where technologies and processes change with greater frequency.

As an example, there is a growing momentum to implement cloud-based applications to run not only data collection and analysis programs, but others more closely tied to operations. The cost savings and implementation benefits are significant. With cloud-based applications, however, come a series of automatic program updates. Some of these changes are substantial, which could require a nearly constant level of training in order to capture all of the expected benefits.

Just-in-Time Training

Looking a little deeper on how this training could be better taught, the use of Augmented and Virtual Reality comes to mind. At the 2016 Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) International Symposium on Mixed and Augmented Reality, research findings were shared that explored using AR instructions for procedural tasks. Their findings concluded that there are quantifiable benefits of using AR and VR with a training program:

  1. 3D representations eliminated the need for translation, supporting training in multiple languages with the same images
  2. Users position training materials in proximity to the task being worked on, helping to improve efficiency and knowledge transfer effectiveness
  3. AR instructions could be delivered exactly when needed to avoid spending time searching for directions, which increased utilization and retention of the training materials

In a world where employees are subjected to faster technology and application updates, manufacturers need every possible advantage to best navigate the challenging learning environment of the future. Imagine if every production line employee had the ability to instantly access this type of content via a rich delivery interface with videos, training documentation, and a live person to speak with, Just-in-time? This kind of training program would be a tremendous productivity tool as an enabler of process improvement excellence.

This technology is now available. Critical Manufacturing’s MES v7 has the ability to dynamically add new, rich and immersive content. Information can be updated as often as needed, providing a workforce with all the information required to learn new tasks, just in time.

If we are to believe that middle management might soon go away, employees will soon lose a valuable resource to ask questions and learn new processes. Now, more than ever, it is important to invest in technologies that improve digital dexterity – for every employee, from production line workers to the CEO!

Chris Parsons
ChrisParsons@criticalmanufacturing.com

VP Marketing at Critical Manufacturing

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