The food and beverage industry segment is severely impacted by workforce challenges. From pandemic disruptions to looming retirements, employers need a way to extend their workforce. Finding and keeping talent are two of the top challenges identified by Food and Beverage company leaders.
Without modern tools, technologies and work processes to drive efficiencies in their operations, producers will struggle to be successful and remain competitive in the future.
According to the 2022 7th Annual State of Smart Manufacturing Report that compiles feedback from hundreds of manufacturers, skilled worker shortage, supply chain disruption and security/risk management are top challenges for business.
Survey results in the report show that the No. 1 challenge reported by 84% of respondents is employee retention.
The good news for manufacturers is that by using innovation, technology and data to make decisions, employers can equip workers with the right tools while also supporting the path for success through learning and development.
This is highlighted in Addressing the skills gap in manufacturing’s new normal - Microsoft Industry Blogs. Companies embracing digital transformation can gain more productivity from their workforce and combat the decline in institutional knowledge that’s diminishing as a generation of skilled workers ages out of the labor force and current workers leverage their career mobility.
The U.S. shortage of skilled manufacturing workers – more than 600,000 before the pandemic – is projected to be 2.4M by 2028, according to the Pew Research Center.
Automation systems need to be more flexible and sophisticated than ever and they also need to present your workforce with a more intuitive and transparent user experience.
Because workforce demographics are changing dramatically, consider the devices you’re using and the employee experience. Make information easy to consume and role specific. Engage remote assets and expert assistance to avoid downtime and boost productivity by augmenting people with team collaboration tools, mixed reality guides, IoT enabled machines and AI enhanced applications. A video library is also a logical, easy way to consume information and is easier to adopt.
With these overarching themes in mind, here are a few practical suggestions that you can immediately incorporate to begin this augmentation and empowerment journey.
Six ways to approach your workforce:
1. Support operators and your maintenance team with augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and mixed reality (MR)
Extended reality or XR technology encompasses virtual, mixed and augmented reality and is a powerful tool in training and retaining employees.
HoloLens®, RealWear tablets and smartphones are some of the tools that are empowering workers with knowledge transfer using AR expert guidance. With VR-enabled work instructions and the use of a digital twin, you can train workers with remote assistance, increasing efficiency, productivity and safety.
On-site remote support helps maintenance personnel get support when they need it. With AR remote assistance, the subject matter expert can visualize what’s happening remotely and help the technician correct the issue using remote visibility. AR is also used to help train new employees with remote assist and work instructions. Video training for employees allows them to retain more effectively than even a classroom setting and is also easier for language translation, if required.
2. Prepare with simulation and predictive modeling
Emulation enables low-cost, offline controls verification, taking logical controls testing off the project’s critical path. It also allows users to model physical assets and start controls testing earlier and safer, to carry out more exhaustive testing and conduct tests that are not possible on the real system.
Simulation offers the ability for technicians to create repeatable test schedules and also conduct testing off-site. The virtual process saves time and money at commissioning.
The big advantage of virtual commissioning and simulation/emulation is using a dynamic digital twin of a machine or system as an offline method to simulate, test and debug the control system under realistic operating conditions. The key factor is data - getting valuable feedback and quickly going through iterations to come up with the right model.
With emulation, workers can also model processes by using model predictive control or multi-variant control to collect data and then adjust the process in real-time, thereby optimizing yield.
3. Empower with information
Company leaders want actionable insights aligning with the Connected Factory Worker concept for effectively troubleshooting and resolving plant disruptions, as well as predicting future issues before they result in costly downtime and/or product or personnel safety issues. With production monitoring technology (that is, OEE or ‘overall equipment effectiveness’ tools) or asset performance management technology (such as CMMS or computerized maintenance management systems) that are available in an easy-to-deploy cloud environment, workers have access to data in one pane with no data silos, allowing the enterprise to move from a reactive to proactive digital strategy.
4. Enable faster machine changeovers
In today’s on-demand, flexible marketplace (meeting rapidly changing market demand with multiple SKUs and so on), it comes down to machine design and working with OEM partners to create adaptable machines that can better enable a flexible manufacturing production line. With adaptive technologies like independent cart technology, you can create a variable pitch production or packaging line capable of producing multiple sizes and configurations in a smaller and more configurable footprint. Automatic changeovers can now be done with the push of a button to produce greater production. In addition, the linear motor technology of this type of machine reduces friction, which extends equipment life and minimizes the need to change parts during changeovers.
5. Extend with robotics
Even in CPG, use of robotics has exploded by as much as 50%, according to Jim Taylor, Industry Consultant, Consumer Packaged Goods, Rockwell Automation. “Robots are rewriting the manufacturing world. Typically, robots have a separate system and the idea of integrating all the systems by making the control information available is now happening. This Unified Robotic Control provides a much simpler approach, reducing the need for dedicated robot controllers and separate programming environments. Instead, workers can leverage seamless communication and synchronization through a single, familiar platform. Further value of robotic extension can be realized with collaborative robots, or “cobots.” With cobots and the introduction of new safety features like safe-speed and safe-torque, humans and robots can stand and work side by side.”
6. Attract the next generation of workers
Manufacturers must make their company an attractive destination by leveraging technologies and creating a modern work environment. The new generation of workers wants a safe and technologically advanced workplace. Here are a few ways to attract new talent:
a. Begin (or continue) a digital transformation journey that is leveraging one or more of these technologies to optimize and improve operational efficiencies to better feed and nurture the growing global population in a safe and sustainable manner (that is, be an exciting, on-mission place to work!).
b. Meet the digitally savvy generation of workers where they are on the technical spectrum; their user experience in the plant-floor environment should align with the expectations they’ve developed in their consumer experience.
c. Seek out alternative pools of labor like veterans exiting active military duty who already have a technology background. For example, Rockwell Automation is partnering with The Manpower Group through a program called Advanced Academy of Manufacturing to leverage these available and experienced resources by helping certify and match them to applicable manufacturing employers.
d. Simplify training using digital technologies to offer an enriched, exciting learning experience.
e. If necessary, outsource additional external managed services resources to provide specific domain expertise (such as cybersecurity or infrastructure and network services) to provide workers a safer and more secure workplace.
Modern digital tools and technologies help attract, retain and empower a modern workforce.