Why the Manufacturing Workforce is Our Most Valuable Resource

Why the Manufacturing Workforce is Our Most Valuable Resource

In 2018, there were 21.8 million manufacturing employees, making up 8.51% of the workforce in the United States (nam.org). Each of these workers perform manual, physical labor daily, and it is the same globally. Worldwide, nearly 75% of the workforce still performs physical labor on a daily basis as part of their job. As the workforce continues to grow, as well as the overall global manufacturing production, so will the total hours of physical labor performed. Despite these obvious facts pointing out how important our labor workforce is, for the past two decades there has been a huge focus on automation, machines and assets in the factory and manufacturing industry. Companies have spent countless hours and dollars to create digital twins of their manufacturing facility, but many have left out the critical piece of their workforce. Iterate Labs strives to put the factory worker at the forefront as they are and will continue to be the most vital resource for success. 

Our smartwatch technology is the first ever AI-powered connected worker platform that unites the worker in real-time with production and safety goals on the factory floors. By using localized artificial intelligence to extract insights on workforce productivity and safety, we attend to physical needs in a personalized manner, working collectively to maintain our worker centric mission. For too long AI has been applied to countless other industries, and more recently to the assets/machines in manufacturing, but still not focusing on the workers themselves. Iterate Labs leverages AI and proprietary algorithms for human activity recognition and segmentation to analyze 100s of processes and 1000s of workers to generate invaluable real-time insights on operational performance and safety. The ability to get down to individual operator specifics for personalized action items like knowing which worker is fatigued or potentially at risk of injury, to which worker is behind there target quota, allows for the workforce to be at the forefront of operations and success. This specificity is instrumental in maximizing productivity, training and safety, all in real-time. Our belief at Iterate Labs is that by focusing on the worker we can achieve harmony between workers and the machines and processes they interact with, to create a smart factory along the way. 

With the global supply chain being disrupted and now recovering from Covid-19, manufacturers will have to do everything they can do to gain a competitive edge. To gain a competitive advantage in manufacturing, leaders will have to turn to their workforce and put their trust in the workers. Work needs to be personalized for everyone, from the training, to the environment and workstation, to the motions themselves in order to achieve maximum productivity, and personalized safety. Personalization allows for targeted improvements in various key metrics for manufacturing workforces, including operator specific metrics such as: cycle time, availability and turnover, injuries, and downtime.  Our experience to date with our clients has been that variability in performance among operators is a key factor in unachieved operational performance. “When we deploy our smartwatch platform on a group of 20 production workers, almost every time we will see 20 different ways the processes are performed. And every time, there is a worker or two that have mastered it, and balance efficiency with safety risk.” says Dr. Guss, CEO of Iterate Labs. 

Personalized safety will also allow for healthier workforces than ever before, which also means higher availability rates than ever before. Iterate Labs reduces incidence and severity of injuries. Clients saw a 25% decrease in musculoskeletal injuries and 10.8% decrease in safety related turnover and absenteeism, as well as a 90% reduction in nurse trips for key customers. These numbers carry over to other aspects of the business. Musculoskeletal injuries alone cost companies $100 billion annually (bls.gov) Having a touch point with each worker is critical, as all of these pieces together equal the success of the factory. One worker on a line having an injury or being untrained, has a huge impact on every other worker on that line. Workforce safety is a huge factor in ensuring employee retention. Turnover and absenteeism driven by injuries and pain are key drivers of lost production and low quality, as imbalanced processing lines are forced to rush and perform frequent overtime.

Workforce retention and turnover is another core problem that can be make or break for a production facility. In manufacturing, one of the industries with the highest rate, there was a 15% voluntary turnover rate in 201 , with many companies experiencing as high as 100% in certain industries. Not to mention there are millions of workers set to retire in the next few years. This means, an emphasis needs to be placed on worker retention, happiness, and personalized engagement. Luckily data shows that gamification can lead to better training and engagement, both which can have a drastic impact on turnover rates up to 80% improvements. Iterate Labs platform focuses on worker retention and turnover, through targeted engagement, gamification of data, and data-driven incentive programs. Iterate Labs has been able to reduce turnover rates by as high as 60% by focusing on each individuals worker’s need and performance, while also doing this at scale for large organizations. Reducing turnover also has a key positive impact on product quality as worker are more experienced, and as well yield, as experienced employees tend to have improve yield count. 

Communications, and frequent, personalized touch points with workforces will also be a  key factor going forward to ensure smooth operations in an ever evolving and complex environment. Just like email and Slack has unlocked countless improvements in workplace productivity, the ability to communicate and have personalized messages and information for a worker is key as well. When a factory worker is on the floor and they need a resource immediately, or there is unplanned downtime, or an injury emergency has presented itself, immediate communication is important. Iterate Labs smartwatch enable employees to have personalized data and communication channels with their managers and supervisors. Every other aspect of the modern plant is being digitized and communicated with, and we need to also do this for our workforce.

Companies may think they are going to automate an entire factory, but in reality, the workforce is, and will remain our biggest resource and determinant of success in the industrial environment for decades to come. 

Stay tuned for our upcoming blogs on gamification and workforce turnover.

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Why the Manufacturing Workforce is Our Most Valuable Resource