Manufacturing Workers are Tech Workers – How to attract & retain them.

The COVID pandemic brought labor criticality issues to the forefront in manufacturing as well as other industries.  Yet, some good news has emerged post-pandemic vis-à-vis manufacturing.  Prior to the pandemic, 54% of Gen Z workers did not see manufacturing as a viable career.  Today 59% of Gen Z workers are willing to consider frontline manufacturing jobs as a career.

With a greying workforce headed toward retirement, manufacturers must ensure they can attract and retain the next generation of workers.  Understanding what Gen Z workers are looking for in a tech position, positioning manufacturing as a leading-edge tech opportunity, and then delivering the right experiences are essential to survive, let alone thrive, over the next five years.

What Gen Z Wants in a Career

If you Google “what are Gen Z workers looking for in a career,” you will get back over 31 million hits in less than a second.  Forbes, The Economist, and every other business publication all have featured in-depth articles on the topic.  McKinsey, Deloitte, and all the leading business strategy consulting firms do as well.  Likewise, you’ll read insights from every software provider in the HR, ERP, CRM, and almost every enterprise-level software solution.  The answers really fall into a few broad categories:

  • Quality of work life
  • A sense of self-worth
  • The ability to succeed

Quality of work-life revolves around the work-life balance.  The flexibility that allows for in-office work, which Gen Z workers value for the social interaction but the ability to work remotely when needed.  They are looking for appropriate compensation with rewards for doing well.  They want benefits that help them cope with the long hours they are willing to put in when the job requires them.  Part of the quality of work issue is a social environment that supports them.  Gen Z has grown up with social media, which is just part of their DNA.  They need an appropriate social support system at work.

The sense of self-worth revolves around Gen Z workers’ need to feel part of something that benefits society somehow.  Even when the industry might not be one that obviously is beneficial, such as the defense industry, the Gen Z worker needs to be able to see that their contributions are in line with their principles, such as promoting ESG, workplace diversity, or other issues important to them.  Transparency is a key mechanism to deliver on that.

Finally, Gen Z workers insist on having the tools and technology they need to succeed.  Having grown up with technology, they assume it will be available.  The irony of many Gen Z workers is that while they are completely comfortable using technology, they often have minimal understanding of the technology.  Part of that stems from the reliability of modern technology.  Messaging, maps, search, and even their fitness apps all do what they ask without a deep understanding of GPS, SMS, and the biometric sensors embedded in their smartwatch.  They also are highly dependent on access to information.  They feel entitled to information that will allow them to succeed at their tasks.

To Appeal to Gen Z, Provide the Right Tools

First, manufacturers need to understand that they need two different types of next-generation employees.  They need front-line workers who use the technology to build their products and technologists who implement and maintain those technologies.  While both will come from the Gen Z workforce, they will look for different things.  The operators will want intuitive solutions, provide them with all the data they need to do their jobs, and give them visibility into how they are contributing to the success of the company and acting in a socially responsible way.  The technologists will want reliable platforms that they can extend and support.  They want technology that allows them to be viewed by their operations peers as part of the team, not part of the problem.

On the Plant Floor, Your MES is How to Support Gen Z Workers

Suppose you look at what motivates the Gen Z worker, access to data, intuitive technology that allows them to do their jobs well, and the ability to gauge their contributions. In that case, the modern micro-services-based MES solution provides exactly that platform.  Manufacturing isn’t the dirty, dead-end job of the past.  With tools like robotics, automation, additive manufacturing, and a powerful MES to make is all work together, manufacturing is the Gen Z job of the future.

Unlocking Tribal Knowledge in Complex Manufacturing with an MES

While most manufacturers have been dealing with the issue of baby boomer retirement (often called the “great crew change”) for the last decade, COVID and the subsequent labor market turmoil have made the issue of “knowledge transfer” critical.  Keeping the organization functioning at optimal performance levels with an ever-changing workforce has become a challenge many manufacturers face.  The problem of knowledge transfer has become so serious that there is a whole new market of tools being designed to help companies with the problem.  But, as a manufacturer, do you really need a generalized knowledge transfer application to help you onboard new workers or facilitate up-skilling existing staff?  Many manufacturers may already have a powerful knowledge transfer tool, their MES.  To better understand how MES can help with the knowledge transfer challenge, you need to understand what knowledge transfer is and what it isn’t and the critical elements of a successful knowledge transfer initiative.

Knowledge Transfer is More Than Training

If you think knowledge transfer is just a training program to teach people specific skills or processes, you likely will need help to drive the improvements you are hoping to achieve.  Also, if you treat knowledge transfer as just the dissemination of data or information throughout your organization, you will see the same results.  A knowledge transfer program does include training and information exchange as elements, but it includes much more, including:

  • A cross-enterprise/organization aspect. It is about moving knowledge from one part of the business to others, even in different parts of the organization with different functional roles.
  • It is not just a program but is also a cultural shift. It is about creating an environment where ideas, information, and learnings flow freely throughout the organization as a normal part of the daily work environment.
  • It includes the documentation and processes associated with learning and information exchange. It builds upon knowledge management which is the cataloging and archiving of information but goes beyond that to include tools to help visualize ideas.
  • It encompasses both explicit and experiential learning. It goes beyond classroom or instructor lead or online training that teaches factual information. It also includes teaching the “muscle memory” and thought processes needed to do a job well through hands-on coaching.

Key Attributes of a Successful Knowledge Transfer Program

To be successful, your knowledge transfer program must incorporate the following elements:

  • Metrics – the program has to have a way to track performance against specific program deliverables
  • Time and Space Independence – the program has to be able to scale across the organization both geographically as well as allow for asynchronous communications.
  • Role Specificity – the program must allow for the definition of specific roles and the associated knowledge applicable to each role. It must also use the lexicon of each role as appropriate.
  • Scalability – the program must be capable of growing (or shrinking) to meet the organization’s needs as it evolves. It must also be able to scale to outside the organization.
  • Prioritization – the program must have the capability of prioritizing roles and information to address items with higher risk profiles.
  • Data-Driven – the program must support the identification and quantification of specific knowledge, whether explicit or tacit.

Why Your MES is Such a Powerful Knowledge Transfer Tool

Since knowledge transfer is both a program and a culture, you will likely use multiple tools to build your knowledge transfer environment.  There are software applications that say they should be the basis of your knowledge transfer program. Still, if you look at some of the attributes above, it is clear they likely will lack the domain specificity that your MES already offers.  A modern Manufacturing Execution System / Manufacturing Operations Management solution already gives you a mechanism to capture and communicate knowledge across the organization and has inherent quantification and reporting capabilities.  Most importantly, a modern MES/MOM solution is scalable, extensible, and has security features that ensure that not only is the knowledge transferred, but it is done so in accordance with all regulatory requirements.  So, before you push yet another application on your manufacturing workforce, look to your MES to serve as a key element of your knowledge transfer efforts.

iBase-t announces expanded partnership with the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC)

Five-year Tier 1 MTC commitment to drive digital innovation and collaboration across UK manufacturing industry

Coventry, UK and LAKE FOREST, Calif. January 10, 2023. iBase-t, the company that helps its customers simplify how complex products are built and maintained, today announced an expanded partnership with the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC), by becoming a Tier 1 MTC member. Demonstrating its commitment to the UK manufacturing sector, iBase-t will be making its Digital Operations Suite, powered by Solumina iSeries, available to researchers and members of the MTC’s National Centre for Advanced Manufacturing Technologies. The cloud-native system will help UK manufacturers innovate, collaborate and accelerate the move to a fully digital operations system strategy.

The expanded partnership was announced at an Industrial Transformation Roundtable hosted at the MTC in Coventry. iBase-t was joined by industry experts including Professor Ken Young, Technology Director, MTC; Tony Newman, Principal Engineer, Parker Aerospace; and Brian Harvey, Managing Director, Simportal. The panel discussed how the UK manufacturing industry can collaborate to advance digitalisation, improve productivity, and address sustainability.

Rashpal Mundi, Senior Partner Manager EMEA, iBase-t, said: “Our roundtable discussion highlighted that slow digital adoption is making it difficult to attract and retain talent. The prevalence of paper and spreadsheet-based processes in the manufacturing sector is certainly a factor in people choosing to work in other industries like IT and financial services. In fact, our research shows more than one in four people who left the industry said outdated technology was a key factor in their decision. Running a digital thread across complex operations will be key to driving productivity and engaging with the next generation of UK manufacturing talent.”

Professor Ken Young, Technology Director, MTC, said: “UK manufacturing needs to collaborate to compete. Our expanded partnership with iBase-t provides the digital tools required to bring everything together. We all want to complete the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ and move to digital, but it’s worth remembering the first industrial revolution didn’t happen in a day. We need to work together to digitise and optimise entire supply chains before UK manufacturing can truly reap the rewards.”

Naveen Poonian, CEO, iBase-t, said: “The EMEA market is hugely important to us – a third of our customers are based here. Our expanded partnership with the MTC is a key part of our growth strategy as we look to drive collaboration and digital innovation across the industry. Now we look forward to further collaborating with our key partners, including MTC members ATS, DXC, PTC and Hexagon, pushing the boundaries to benefit our customers in the UK sector. We are excited to be taking even more positive steps to drive change together as part of our long-term commitment to the region.”

About iBase-t

iBase-t is a software company that simplifies how complex products are built and maintained. Founded in Southern California in 1986, iBase-t solutions ensure digital continuity across manufacturing, quality, and maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) operations on a global scale. The iSeries, powered by Solumina, is a cloud-native platform that establishes a digital ecosystem to drive innovation and improve operational performance. With offices in the U.S., UK, France, and India, iBase-t drives the manufacturing operations for customers that include Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Rolls Royce, Pratt & Whitney, and Textron.

Smart Manufacturing – A Layered Approach to Digital Transformation

According to Plastics Association, although this would apply to other industries, average utilization of plastics injection machine is about 40%. This is the percentage of the total times when a machine is used to produce products that can be used or sold. Other times are just overhead or simply wasted – e.g., setup, waiting for raw materials, etc. For a company to be a world-class manufacturer, this should be around 85%, which is the gold standard. This is a huge gap. If our customers can achieve this, they are doubling productivity without investing in any extra resources and time. 

Smart Manufacturing Layers

Smart manufacturing, sometimes synonymous with connected factory, industry 4.0, aims to achieve optimal efficiency in manufacturing by digitally transforming the operations. Keep in mind that smart manufacturing includes different layers. Starting with the hardware systems like machines and sensors, having automation tools and PLC systems and then having Manufacturing Execution Systems / Manufacturing Operations Management systems like Solumina to complete the journey. MES/MOM helps manufacturers to collect real-time data from hardware, automations tools and then be integrated with ERP. This integration allows ERP to have the complete visibility at the enterprise level to manage inventories, resources, procurements, financing, work order planning, etc. One of the main goals of digital transformation is to transform shop floor into smart manufacturing to help manufacturers to manage their core production operations digitally to maximize the production by minimizing machine downtimes and quality losses. 

Often, we hear about Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) from our industry and our customers as it is the gold standard for measuring manufacturing productivity. What is OEE?  

  • OEE = Availability x Performance x Quality where 
  • Availability = (Total Hours Planned – Lost Time) / Total Hours Planned 
  • Availability, for example, can tell you why a line has not run continuously during a shift 
  • Performance Rate (efficiency) = Actual Machine Speed / Design Machine Speed 
  • Performance is measured by calculating ‘Performance Loss’, which accounts for anything that causes the manufacturing process to run at less than the maximum possible speed. Examples of Performance Losses include machine wear, substandard materials, misfeeds, and jams. 
  • Quality Rate = Number of Good Products / Total Products Made 
  • Quality loss accounts for manufactured products that do not meet the required standards, anything that must be scrapped or reworked. 

Three stages for successful digital transformation and smart manufacturing

  1. Monitoring Stage: get the data from the machines. Without the data, you cannot do real time management of the shop floor. This step does not require the involvement of operators or technicians. Our customers can collect the data in the background. 
  1. Digital Stage (Improvement Stage): Operators, technicians and supervisors can see the performances of the machines in real time. This stage allows the shop floor to improve upon the data they have. E.g., is the machine stopped due to mechanical failure or the process failure (i.e., is the setup taking too long)? Are you waiting on the raw material? This step leads to continuous improvement. 
  1. Connected or Digital Manufacturing Stage: product and work order data become parts of these data and all integrated with ERP system. Fully utilizing an MES like Solumina integrated with ERP and PLM system. 

You can now see clearly that overall value with Solumina in our customers’ journey to smart factory (digital transformation) is that we make our customers become proactive shop floors from reactive ones. Reactive manufacturing sees problems as they happen (e.g., machine stops, lack of coordination, etc.) and scrambles to react to the problems. In contrast, proactive manufacturing enables our customers to predict the problems and take appropriate measures to prevent them. This increases efficiency on the shop floor – the ultimate goal of smart manufacturing.