Paperless manufacturing: Digital solutions help bridge the inevitable skill gap

Posted on 21 Feb 2022 by The Manufacturer

Manufacturing jobs are changing. Factories of the future will continue to see a rise in automation, changing demographics, and an emphasis on knowledge-based positions.

There also seems to be a shifting mentality towards manufacturing jobs. With the next generation of workers less inclined to enter the manufacturing industry, factories around the world are facing the risk of labour shortages.

Despite these changing demographics on the shop-floor, and a declining interest in entering the manufacturing sphere, the industry has been balanced by an increase in automation. Factories are implementing more autonomous machines supported by AI and machine learning.

Indeed, part of the gap left by manual labour is being filled by machines: But is it sustainable?

We still need skilled operators. However, their skills are shifting. A focus on data-driven, knowledge-based positions will set up factories for the future. Unless we address this new wave of knowledge-based positions right now, we’re heading towards a manufacturing world facing an inevitable skill gap.

I see this as a turning point, and a crucial opportunity to digitise manufacturing to attract and retain young people to knowledge-based manufacturing jobs. Let’s make these jobs more interesting. Attracting talent takes innovation as well as understanding the labour market’s current wants and needs.

We can use digitalisation to bridge this gap. The first step is paperless manufacturing.

What is paperless manufacturing?

Simply put, paperless manufacturing eliminates the need for paper throughout the manufacturing process. Instead of logging data – shift handover, quality issues, production rates, etc. – on paper, this data is either entered directly into a digital database or automatically generated and transmitted through sensors and in-line gateways.

Paperless manufacturing is supported by end-to-end software solutions that will enable manufacturers to achieve digitalisation. This data needs to be both real-time and strategic, offering trending and longer term analysis, that forms a solid bedrock of information from which to make critical business decisions.

Operators who understand the data, and truly see how AI and machine learning can benefit production, will be vital for a plant’s sustainable and long-term growth.

Using paperless manufacturing digital solutions to attract the next generation of workers

As more young people – those Gen Z and Millennials – enter the manufacturing workforce, and the Baby Boomers continue to retire, factories must adapt to fill the inevitable skill gap. With this new breed of workers’ desire to seek more knowledge-based positions, traditional manufacturing jobs need to evolve.

Adapting to this younger, more digitally-driven workforce requires shifting mentalities, especially with respect to technology. This youth movement brings with them a digital-savvy, paperless mindset used to smartphones, tablets, and touchscreens.

In order for companies to stay relevant and attract the next generation of workers, paper-based manufacturing needs to shift to digital, to an end-to-end paperless process.

We know that:

  • The next generation of workers will need to be skilled in knowledge based, data driven competencies
  • STEM and technical degrees will be in high demand throughout the manufacturing sphere
  • Manufacturing data is the most important piece of the puzzle
  • Paperless manufacturing software enables each process to read and generate data which is used holistically to optimise production, reduce quality defects, and boost OEE

The future of manufacturing is a high degree of autonomy, with data being the driving force. Machines will move to being fully automatic while operators’ functions will move to higher level tasks like programming, process troubleshooting, and optimising AI and Machine Learning.

Eventually, all data being gathered will provide a closed loop back to equipment. Human skills will be shifted again to other areas but the trend will continue to focus on knowledge-based positions across the shop-floor.

In order to prepare operators for this shift, we must start skilling now.

With AI being used increasingly across the manufacturing world, it’s inevitable that fewer manual labour positions will continue to exist. Unless we prepare our plants for the future, we will face this inevitable skill gap.

Bridging the inevitable skill gap

Knowledge-based manufacturing positions require skilling in universities and colleges, as well as the reskilling and upskilling of established operators and factory workers.

We have to be careful to not allow advances in manufacturing technology to outpace advances in skilling. AI, and robotic manufacturing, can deliver amazing results. Future positions will rely on the know-how and confidence to work with AI solutions.

Manufacturers need to address these skills now through training current personnel, working with educational institutions, and onboarding candidates with the knowledge and capability to work alongside AI.

Essential to this wave of skilling is the shift towards digital. Paperless manufacturing should be every plant’s entry point to digitalisation. Smart factories run on data. That data isn’t serving any purpose on paper.

Paperless manufacturing goes hand-in-hand with the drive toward the Factory of the Future.

Digitalisation is changing manufacturing for the better

Automation driven by AI and machine learning will continue reshaping the face of manufacturing. Factories who choose to get on board with this digital wave are setting themselves up for sustainable future success.

Paperless manufacturing – where data is instantly stored, gathered, and processed – will allow the Factory of the Future to optimise production and provide new, engaging opportunities for highly-skilled operators.

Getting data in the right place – go digital

Paperless manufacturing software uses data at every process. It enables operators, managers, and the machines themselves to access and use data intelligently that is real-time, contextual, and correlated in the cloud.

If your organisation is unconvinced about the need to shift towards paperless, it should be made clear that shifting doesn’t have to happen all at once. Convincing operational teams to trust AI comes down to a phased approach. Let the data do the talking. Take a section, build the AI and machine learning concepts into it, and let the output convince the operators that there is value.

I am convinced of the power of paperless manufacturing. The road toward IIoT and Industry 4.0 starts with digitising the manufacturing process.

The factory of the future, and its next generation of operators, rely on going paperless. Ditch the pencil and start your journey today.

About the authorIan Rowledge

A Co-founder of LineView Solutions, Ian’s ten plus years in operations management with Coca-Cola led him on a search for better solutions to production data gathering and visualisation. Having architected LineView, one of earliest known automated line monitoring solutions, Ian Rowledge is a manufacturing intelligence visionary. He has a unique ability to review the operations of any manufacturing facility and pinpoint areas where the most value adding improvements can be achieved quickly.

Ian is a true leader, coach and mentor. His operational expertise has been sought out by global FMCG leaders, resulting in a proven record of implementing lean methodologies and using operational excellence techniques to save costs, increasing efficiency and improving quality in the most challenging of environments.