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Automation has transformed manufacturing as we know it, providing new levels of speed and efficiency. However, labor is still the soul of manufacturing.

It takes qualified workers to properly operate machinery, run software, and review quality issues. And, when compared to introducing new automation, labor is more quickly implemented and relatively inexpensive.

So, how can an IT-based solution, a Manufacturing Execution System (MES), help manufacturers handle ongoing labor shortages? This article provides 5 examples of how an MES goes beyond the benefits for which it’s known — optimizing operations and enforcing a repeatable process — to help with labor challenges, too.

1. Onboarding Value

Every plant experiences turnover. There’s only so much manufacturers can do to keep a stable staff these days. New employees are often brought onboard to handle an urgent need or seasonal demands (or after a shutdown caused by a global pandemic). These people may not know your industry, let alone your products.

An MES solution allows for quick ramp-up of these new employees. A small learning curve helps keep manufacturers flexible and able to instantly plug in new people. In one helpful location, an MES contains:

  • Process steps
  • Work instructions
  • Warnings
  • Sign-off forms
  • Guides

It’s the perfect way for you to tackle labor shortages that exist now and will likely remain a challenge moving forward.

2. Worker Flexibility

An MES solution can quantify, with precision (not an estimate), value-add time versus non-value-add time. What I mean by “precision” is detailed data on every station, every operator, every minute of every day.

From data-rich reports, you now know which workers thrive at each station, allowing you to optimize certain operator/station combinations to get the best lift.

Data also shines a light on where manufacturing bottlenecks occur, allowing management to place top performers where they’re needed most.

An MES also makes learning easier, so operators can move from station to station whenever needed. A manager isn’t locked into specific set-ups on the floor.

Keep in mind that not all MES solutions are the same. You may have to specifically ask about an MES’s capability to perform functions within this article. I can tell you with certainty that the top-end MES solutions can analyze operator/station combinations to enhance performance.

3. Leaderboard Rankings

Everyone likes being recognized for a job well done. And, no matter what industry you’re in, coworkers see and remember that praise, too.

Based on performance numbers shared by an MES, you can use leaderboard ranking data to share successes and motivate employees. Managers can get creative in offering small rewards (free lunch, for example) for not only the most productive operators but the most improved.

In relation to improvement, an MES solution shows your weak spots, so you’re able to correct and train struggling operators on the fly.

I caution, of course, against using data to demean anyone’s work; this should be used to praise and reward only. You could even allow those being recognized to share their “secrets for success” with the team, adding to the pride you’re building.

While some environments reward on anecdotal opinions, an MES is solely based on analytical evidence. Workers know it’s all based on facts, which can reduce the possibility of them feeling overlooked or unrecognized.

Some MES solutions are better at gathering data than others, which may require additional probing to select the one that lets you use data to stack rank. Down the road, this information can help you make better personnel decisions, if staff changes are required.

4. Needs Awareness

Because an MES lets you establish an accurate plan, stay on schedule, and track progress, you are well aware of your labor needs at all times. You know your goal for unit production. You know your appropriate TAKT time. You know the shifts needed.

There’s no worry of over-hiring or under-staffing, and there’s no more guessing. Once you know what your actual labor issues are, you can adjust quicker and with more confidence.

5. Quality Assurance

When you consider everything that makes up quality, one negative issue that affects quality is waste. A key component of smart, reliable labor is eliminating, or at least minimizing, waste.

An MES shows you where quality waste issues are being introduced. It answers:

  • Is it only with a specific product?
  • Is it only with a specific part?
  • Is it only from a certain supplier?
  • Is it only at a certain station?

You now have the ability to see all quality issues, and you can rank them from most important to least, if needed. A Pareto analysis, using data from an MES, can help determine the most beneficial actions to take based on frequency, seriousness, etc. so you’re most effective at improving quality.

Root causing quality issues makes a difference not only for the product itself but also for your entire culture. When workers build high-quality products, they’re happier, more motivated, and extremely confident. Quality is a way to retain the best people during ongoing labor shortages.

Ready to discover how an MES solution can help you solve even more pain points? Read our guide, A Smoother Road to Manufacturing Success. Just click on the image below.

Manufacturing Pain Points Guide

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