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How to jump-start efforts to build a smart workforce

Jeannine Kunz
By Jeannine Kunz Managing Director, Workforce & Education, SME
Jeannine Kunz of Tooling U-SME

The pandemic has shown that moving to a smart facility—or enterprise—is essential. One main challenge is manufacturers are at drastically different stages and of varied mindsets.

Small and medium-sized manufacturers are often behind larger companies. This is to be expected, and yet, if these companies do not move forward, overall progress and optimization is greatly challenged because of the industry’s heavy reliance on suppliers.

Larger manufacturers need their supply chain partners to have the capabilities to integrate with their digital systems. As the gap between those innovating and those standing still grows, it will be difficult for the latter group to remain competitive.

But like continuous-improvement efforts within a company, it is important to work to improve a value stream or a connected enterprise as we further embrace Industry 4.0.

While the thought of major change can be daunting, companies can approach their smart manufacturing journeys as they approached their lean manufacturing journeys.

This starts with asking the right strategic questions:

--Why are we embarking on this?

--How does this build the business, serve the customer and/or develop people?

Embedding these questions into daily thinking and decision-making builds a culture of continuous improvement.

In SME’s report Smart Manufacturing: 7 Essential Building Blocks, ITAMCO’s Joel Neidig put it this way: “We are really trying to be data-driven in understanding why we are doing something.”

Now, here’s the tricky part: Manufacturers may ask these questions, but teams must be proficient in the latest integrated and flexible advanced manufacturing tech to know what possible answers exist. Which tool is appropriate for a specific challenge? Which data is needed? How can it be captured in real time? What are the risks?

“You need operations people who know how things connect and what relates to something else, and you need data scientists who can statistically write code to start building decision trees to perform those same roles,” Lincoln Hughes at American Axle & Manufacturing said in another SME Smart Manufacturing report.

For optimum success, it is important to invest in employees so that they have the right knowledge and skills covering topics like the Internet of Things, automation, additive manufacturing, cloud computing, virtual reality (VR), AI and cybersecurity.

Tech adoption and innovation begin with awareness of technology, capabilities and the art of what is possible.

Here are three training focus areas that can help to jump-start a manufacturer’s smart journey:

--Operational Effectiveness. Journey from prototype to production in a digital environment.

--Engineering. Guidelines for end-to-end design considerations.

--Digital. Collecting, analyzing and acting on data.

Use these focus areas to build awareness of the latest tech with teams. They can then share the learning across the enterprise.

At Tooling U-SME, we work to build awareness of the importance of starting this smart journey. And we are providing tools to help: dozens of online classes and new VR labs to deliver training in a safe, efficient environment.
As with lean, a smart mindset—along with needed knowledge and skills developed through training—helps improve competitiveness by instilling a culture of continuous improvement and innovation.

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