Productivity puzzle: finding the balance between people & tech

Could you enable and empower your people to better utilise technology and boost productivity? Steve Wilkinson, CTO at Cimlogic – the experts in Manufacturing Operation Management Solutions – explores.

Productivity - Digital technologies are enabling SMEs to play catch-up with their global counterparts – image courtesy of Cimlogic.
Digital technologies are enabling SMEs to play catch-up with their global counterparts – image courtesy of Cimlogic.

Productivity is directly linked to living standards, with a country’s ability to improve its standard of living over time almost entirely dependent on productivity growth, stronger productivity growth leads to stronger GDP growth.

This, in turn, increases tax revenues and lowers government budget deficits.

In March 2017, there were 293,000 manufacturing jobs in Yorkshire and the Humber, accounting for 10.6% of the regions workforce.

The region has seen the fastest growth in manufacturing jobs since March 2016, but along with the West Midlands, Northern Ireland and Wales, it has one of the lowest levels of productivity in the country.

With the lowest unemployment rate since 1975, you would be forgiven for thinking that productivity and wages (as available labour becomes scarce), should be on the rise.

One theory is that successive governments have pursued low unemployment vigorously; in turn, this has led to many low paid positions being created. If there were fewer positions, requiring a higher level of skill and remuneration, manufacturers would have to invest more in automation therefore increasing throughput. Also, as the amount of low skilled positions increase, rates of innovation and discovery often slow.

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It is understandable that when manufacturers hit capacity constraints, they add overtime for existing employees, hire staff for a new shift or create a new line.

But before you do this, you should question whether your current operation really has hit capacity, or if productivity could increase with sustainable improvements.

People Vs technology

Many manufacturers manually record production KPIs such as: what was produced? How many were produced? How long was the changeover? How long was the line down? Why was the line down?

But, who manually records this information? Whoever it is, that is one less person involved in the production process. In our experience, it is often the line supervisor who is doing their job?

If you have three daily shifts over five production days, then you will be hiring at least three supervisors to record data, their skill sets are being wasted, they should be adding value to the process, rather than just recording it.

Another observation that we note is that the information they record, is often never looked at again and certainly never analysed. It seems to be a human condition to ritually collect data day-in, day-out for EVERYTHING…just in case.

Measuring efficiency manually using a paper-based system such as spreadsheets is a great start, if you use the data to identify small improvements that could be made, but it can only really get you so far.

Humans aren’t perfect, and we do make mistakes (or misreport to cover mistakes), so the data could be highly inaccurate, resulting in poor decisions being made.

The other issue with manual data is that by the time you sit down to analyse it, that hour, that shift, that week has already gone, as has your opportunity to improve it.

Yes, you will be able to apply the improvements to other shifts and weeks, but you are never getting that production time back again. Whereas if you have real-time data available, you can make adjustments throughout the shift.

‘But the cost is huge’

Replacing paper-based systems with electronic ones to measure production efficiencies and key KPIs can make budget holders run for the hills, fearing large expenditure and a huge disruptive IT project.

Steve Wilkinson, CTO, Cimlogic.
Steve Wilkinson, CTO, Cimlogic.

But for those three supervisors that spend their day counting and measuring, you are probably paying out close to £100k in wages, National Insurance and pension contributions, while not analysing the data they gather for improvements.

People working with technology

It doesn’t have to be people or technology; in fact, they are never standalone. You don’t even have to spend a fortune on an electronic system, or experience huge disruption.

Digital technologies are enabling SMEs to play catch-up with their global counterparts, there are many services and options available, including subscription. Unlike global manufacturers, SMEs have the flexibility to make changes quickly and to improve operations immediately, without going through many levels of purchasing and implementation bureaucracy.

If you could capture accurate, real-time manufacturing intelligence, then your supervisors can use the data to enact sustainable manufacturing improvements, using their skill set, delivering real value for money and effective decision making.

Going paperless can help achieve new levels of performance improvements such as improved quality, efficiency, visibility, compliance and traceability, along with a reduction in waste.

Replacing paper-based systems also enables management to drill down into historical data needed for product recalls and compliance issues. Electronic systems enable full visibility of operations, allowing business decisions to be made, driven by facts.

Never be too busy to stop and take stock. Are you throwing money at a symptom time and again, believing it is a cheaper option than addressing the route cause?

Have a look at your operations, understand who is doing what and, what they should be doing. Can you enable and empower your people to utilise and work better with technology in order to increase productivity and capacity?