More than just machinery
Any production line consists of far more than just machinery these days. Even with the ‘march of the robot’, many human workers are needed to feed and maintain the equipment in the line.
These operatives fill the hoppers, check the machinery is running smoothly, answer alarms and clear blockages, as well as doing the many jobs that robots can’t, at the moment at least, carry out as efficiently as a human.
Motivating manufacturing workers is essential too
There is a huge number of motivational techniques being deployed in the offices around the world, these corporate ‘cheerleading strategies’ being shown to be effective at keeping the workforce happy and maintaining high levels of efficiency.
Manufacturing workers often feel disconnected
But the same cannot be said for the huge majority of production line / factory workers. Forbes in the USA carried out some research on worker disconnection, and found that :-
“The transportation, manufacturing, and production fields have the greatest percentage of workers who are most unhappy on the job.”
This is something that should worry any manufacturing business as if workers feel left out or ‘disconnected’ from the organisation, it can lead to a variety of unwanted effects:
- It can create higher staff turnover rates, which at times where the pool of workers is low, can cause real issues
- It often leads to lower overall productivity, staff simply not feeling it is worth the effort to try as hard as they might
- It makes day-to-day life seem harder than it really is, factory workers often operating in locations far from the company’s main hub.
As you can imagine, faced with such issues, many manufacturing companies are looking for ways to enhance the communication with their production line teams.
Provide a single source of truth
One successful method has to been to provide what is seen as a single source of truth. When this is done and all staff feel that they can rely on it, rather than handed down data, has been shown to be good for production, good for the employees and good for morale.
Other ways of motivating factory workers are
Establish two way communication
Many organisations suffer from only having a one way information flow, that is from the management down to the mid management and eventually to the front line worker, whether these be in the office or factory.
However, it seems that the manufacturing sector suffers from this to a greater degree. As with the ‘office sector’, when this happens vital information does not flow ‘up’ the corporate ladder, something could well degrade overall efficiency.
You can look at operational communication as a pyramid. The very top issues official announcements that then cascade down to the rest of the organisation. In the middle the departments receive these and then pass them down to the lowest level, this consisting of small groups of staff. As this lowest level is where most of the manufacturing staff reside, it is imperative that the flow to this point is consistent and true.
The real importance here is that this level is the one where the factory workers come together to solve problems, overcome challenges and learn from each other. Businesses need to understand the wealth of knowledge that exists here. Operational managers can gain valuable insights into the day to day operations of the business. This gives them the chance to solve issues before they start having a greater impact. It is also true that fixing many small problems has a greater impact than solving just one big one.
However, this can only work where bottom to top information flows are encouraged and where the flow is not just considered as a list of problems, but of matters that need consideration.
Streamline processes and allow quick access to information
Research has shown that the average factory worker can spend up to 10% of their working week looking for information that they require if they are to do their job.
Sometimes, such needs are dealt with very quickly, a nearby co-worker being able to help. However, the answer that they receive may not be the best. Wouldn’t it be far better if there was a fully maintained system where up to date information on the changes and current procedures could be found.
This is leading to more and more manufactures moving to a mobile friendly digital workplace.
Providing ongoing training and upskill support
The fact is that many workers in manufacturing are nearing retirement. However, within this baby boomer generation lies a huge wealth of knowledge, all of which will be lost when they retire, unless steps are made to transfer it to the remaining employees.
Besides this, as the manufacturing industry itself changes, current staff also have to be retrained and new skills learnt. Again research shows that where businesses invest in their staff in this manner, they become more ‘emotionally involved’ and thus try that bit harder in the working environment.
Ensure Health and Safety Information is fully accessible
This is a vital area for any manufacturing business, and one that cannot be ignored. One way that any potential issues can be avoided is to ensure that all staff have access to accurate, upto date information on the procedures and how to steer clear of the dangers that they face every day.
Set up methods that facilitates the transfer of knowledge
All industries suffer from staff churn as people retire and move on to other jobs. And as with any organisation, the transfer of knowledge from old workers to new is crucial when wishing to maximise the efficiency of a business.
Whilst this problem is reasonably well covered in the non manufacturing arena, the manufacturing area suffers from a shortage of the digital tools necessary to ensure this knowledge transfer.
Ensuring that a manufacturing business is operating at maximum efficiency is therefore far more complicated and far-reaching than simply maintaining the production line machinery. The good news is that there are companies like Sandfield Engineering that can provide support in various ways, one of their strengths being their ability to solve complex engineering problems.