In today’s dynamic labor market and manufacturing environment, Industrial IoT solutions can help address some of the common challenges.
By Ryan Carr, Senior Product Portfolio Manager, Panasonic IIoT Solutions
As we move into the second half of 2021, the struggles manufacturers face in maintaining production levels show no signs of diminishing. A key factor is the difficulty manufacturing companies are seeing when it comes to hiring, training, and retaining qualified workers. A recent study published by Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute indicates that finding the right talent in manufacturing is 36% more difficult than it was in 2018. Longer term, the report states that more than two million manufacturing jobs will go unfilled through 2030, potentially costing the US economy up to $1 trillion.
In addition to the same challenges caused by a lack of workers that is taking place across multiple manufacturing categories, the automotive sector has been especially affected by the ongoing semiconductor shortage. The Federal Reserve reported that manufacturing output was down 0.1 percent in June 2021 as the shortage of semiconductors contributed to a 6.6 percent decline in the production of motor vehicles and parts.
The Smart Solution
In this highly dynamic labor market and manufacturing environment, manufacturers need to find new ways of keeping pace. It is about addressing the ongoing production concerns brought on by a dearth of workers and ensuring that manufacturing can be ramped up as quickly as possible after shutdowns caused by parts shortages or other factors.
For many companies, smart manufacturing, and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) provide a promising solution to these challenges. Through a network that includes smart devices connected to manufacturing equipment and tools, IIoT delivers real-time data analytics that can be used to make decisions and take actions at various steps throughout the production cycle. Results include optimizing workflows, achieving greater efficiencies and productivity, increasing throughput, and enhancing the quality of finished products. And because smart manufacturing and IIoT enable many functions and processes to be automated, these benefits often can be achieved even during a time when there are fewer workers available.
Maintaining Production Efficiency
To better address the lack of workers on the factory floor at one time, IIoT can allow manufacturing team members to remotely monitor equipment and processes, set thresholds and alarms, and provide instructions to operators, all functions that would normally be handled by workers on the floor. Additionally, by using more automated processes on the line, like e-kanban, where replenishment of parts occur automatically, manufacturers can eliminate the excessive time and resources spent monitoring for out of supply parts..
With these tools, data analysis and visualization can be viewed anywhere at any time. Cloud-based analytics enable process monitoring remotely, ensuring managers and team leads can detect problems quickly and intervene when necessary to keep things moving.
Increasing Throughput, Enhancing Quality
For example, asset tracking, picking, replenishing, and smart container applications within Panasonic’s Logiscend IIoT system ensure that the right part gets to the right place at the right time without the need for human intervention. Optimizing workflows and reducing errors through automation of these activities not only increases throughout and enhances the quality of the finished product, they also can lead to greater utilization even when the number of workers is down. Worker utilization can improve from 75% to 85%, a significant enough of an increase to eliminate a third shift during a labor shortage.
Smart manufacturing and IIot also can help accelerate and streamline changeovers. Inventory shortages and changes in customer demand both require the flexibility to instantly shift direction on the manufacturing floor. An IIoT solution can enable those changeovers with minimal worker and infrastructure disruptions by providing work instruction, smart container, and asset tracking applications. For example, dynamic, real-time work instruction with only the information necessary to successfully complete a new job can be delivered to workers via electronic devices. This makes it possible to instantly change from producing one product to another and know that both the parts and instructions will get where they need to be for maximum productivity and accuracy.
Whether helping new employees get started or current employees learn new skills or responsibilities, training is more critical than ever in manufacturing. Devices in an IIoT environment can be used to electronically deliver visual cues and dynamic, easy-to-understand operator instruction and feedback to employees as they are performing a task in real time. The information can also be updated instantly as necessary, further helping to expedite the training process.
Manufacturing is in the midst of significant change and evolution, made more notable recently by the shortage of workers and, in some industries, parts and components. Adopting smart manufacturing and IIoT solutions is a smart strategy for manufacturers to meet the challenges of today and what might lie ahead tomorrow.
Ryan Carr is a Senior Product Portfolio Manager in the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoTS) division of Panasonic headquartered in Rochester, NY. With almost 20 years of technology experience across a number of verticals including military, industrial and medical segments, his primary responsibilities are the development and execution of the Product Strategy within the IIoTS group. In the role of Product Portfolio leader, Ryan is focused on identifying new IoT and Smart Factory technologies, performing competitive analysis and detailed market assessments in order to provide industry leading solutions for current and prospective Panasonic customers.