If it’s not value added, then your people shouldn’t be doing it. 

Right now, everyone’s feeling the pain of not enough people to get the work done. While there are macro-economic factors at play that are largely out of your direct control, you can certainly optimize the people you do have available. And adopting a Lean 4.0 mentality is the first step. 

Wait, wait, wait, you say. You’ve heard the buzz about Lean 4.0. But what does it have to do with people? Isn’t it all about IIoT?

Yes. And no. 

Connected machines are certainly a central component of Lean 4.0. But in the TBM view, Lean 4.0 is bigger than that. It’s about minimizing all waste and optimizing all resources. And your people, especially right now, are an excellent place to start, given that about 20% of the work they are currently doing is not generating any value or return for your business. In other words, it’s waste you can’t afford. 

A Lean 4.0 approach optimizes human resources in two ways.

At TBM, we believe Lean 4.0 should be leveraged as a tool to solve meaningful business problems through the strategic use of data, advanced technology, and automation. When it comes to the labor shortage problem, there are two key areas where a Lean 4.0 approach can make a big impact.

  • First, it frees up people up for higher-value work through the automation of any non-value-added tasks they are currently performing. The less time people spend moving things around the factory, the more time they can spend making product you can sell, which drives up incremental margin and makes a much bigger impact on the business than cost savings alone ever could.

  • Second, it makes people more productive more quickly by automating anything on paper that can be done digitally. About 80% percent of the paper-based work your people are currently doing, as well as any work you’re doing on paper to manage your human resources, can and should be digitized. Creating a “connected workforce” through this type of automation immediately and significantly improves the productivity of every member of your team, simply because it takes far less time to find and glean insights from information when it’s in a digital format. 

Lay the foundation for a connected, revenue-generating workforce in five steps.

Getting to a truly optimized workforce requires introducing automation in the right places.

Here’s how to move the needle:

  1. Identify the non-value-added tasks that are candidates for automation. Stacking containers and moving WIP (work in process) around the factory floor are obvious choices for automation because a machine can do them just as well if not better than a person. But be sure to look for other parts of your process you can automate as well. If you can speed up even one step in a process, and enable the same 10 people to produce 200 units per shift as opposed to 100, you significantly change the value of your workforce, lower direct labor cost per unit, and double the contribution margin. In many cases, automation also helps reduce scrap, increases equipment uptime, and reduces changeover times. The benefits compound, further justifying the investment.

  2. Digitize standard work. With your people allocated to the highest value tasks in the factory, now it’s time to get them proficient at the work as quickly as possible. If you were learning how to do something new at home, you’d probably look to You Tube. And that’s essentially what digital standard work is. It takes work instructions and drawings off the paper and brings them to life in digital formats that employees can view and learn from more quickly and effectively. This isn’t just more efficient; it’s more enjoyable and rewarding for your team, too. Think about where your staff’s biggest sources of frustration lie or where you’re experiencing the most turnover, and consider automating digital standard work for these jobs first. You’ll also reduce the need to use your most talented employees for training purposes, which can further increase productivity. 

  3. Digitize audits and quality checks. You can take the digital learning and training process a step further by automating quality control processes.  First, companies conduct daily audits of safety, working conditions, equipment setup, etc.  Tools exist today to digitize these audits creating the opportunity to conduct analysis and measure outcomes.  The other element is the use of automated inspection capabilities that have advanced significantly over the years.  Automated measurement that use to require a dedicated piece of equipment in the Quality lab can be replaced with move visual and smaller pieces of equipment. 

  4. Automate human resource management. As manufacturers continue to struggle with labor shortages, they find themselves short staffed on a regular basis. A digital talent management system can help supervisors make fast and effective daily decisions on where to best allocate the resources they do have available. Seeing at a glance who has which skills makes it much quicker and easier to make necessary changes and put people in the best positions to accomplish the most critical work each shift.

  5. Track performance in real time. Automating KPI management takes the concept of a connected workforce to another dimension. As you introduce automation into your processes, either to free people up for more value-added work or to support training and workflow, employees and managers can see the impact on the business’ most critical metrics in real time. For example, digital manufacturing software and KPI management tools, such as Dploy Solutions KPI dashboard software, make it possible to see performance by day, shift, or even by the hour and to view performance trends over time to see how, and how much, productivity is improving. Of course, the team can also see misses and impending misses and can take action to correct problems quickly, further improving performance and productivity. 

Take the waste out and optimize every man hour. 

When it’s hard to hire more people, then you must get more out of the people you have. Leveraging Lean 4.0 tactics to create a connected workforce can help. When people are efficiently performing your highest value work with strategic support from automation and other advanced technologies, it’s possible to hit your production targets even with a smaller crew. And you’ll even improve the employee experience and satisfaction of your team in the process.