Three Signs Manufacturing Must Change

Take one look at our world and it’s clear we need technology on the shop floor.

Like most people, I go online to get the latest news whenever and wherever I want.  The other day, I came across a fascinating photo in my news feed of the crowds of the Catholic faithful waiting in St. Peters Basilica to hear the first words of newly elected Pope Francis.  The photo (seen here), shows a veritable sea of cell phones and tablets, ready to capture the moment digitally.  The NBC News Photo Blog compared this moment to a photo of the funeral of Pope John Paul II in 2005.

Times are changing.  With the right tools, you can improve even the most innovative and disciplined shop floor.  Photo by www.colourbox.com

Times are changing. With the right tools, you can improve even the most innovative and disciplined shop floor. Photo by http://www.colourbox.com

The setting in both photos is almost identical, but the ghost-white glow of the screens making pools of light in the darkness mark one photo as modern.  Clearly, technology is shaping our world.  Not even the venerable Catholic Church can stop it, and why would they?  Technology is bringing us closer together, and allowing everyone to share in a historic moment.

Think deeper, and these photos offer a stark warning to manufacturing.  Technology is shaping our world and daily processes.  Today, even the most disciplined and efficient shop floor needs to embrace technology and put aside outdated paper-based processes or risk increasing inefficiency.  Here’s what I mean:

Technology has become commonplace.

I recently saw a woman using a tablet for her shopping list with an app to compare products.  Cell phones are plugged into cars for hands-free driving.  Soon, watches and eyeglasses will hold computers.  Even my four-year-old knows how to find music and movies on my smartphone.

With current tools and technology, you can start a paperless shop floor in less than 30 days. Photo by www.colourbox.com.

With current tools and technology, you can start a paperless shop floor in less than 30 days. Photo by http://www.colourbox.com.

We’ve reached a technology saturation point when a moment steeped in tradition – the selection of a new Pope – becomes a showcase for technology and social media, and we aren’t even shocked at the technological brazenness   At this point, an industry still relying on paper records and bound work orders has added unnecessary complexity and risk because common standards don’t support their current processes. How can you expect a shop floor worker who turns on a cell phone for driving directions to pick up and quickly work from a stack of papers?  Is it a stretch to imagine the difficulty an employee will have flipping through an appendix, rather than doing a key word search, for information?  At some point, you risk the tools on your shop floor becoming obsolete.  We are a generation taught to embrace mobile manufacturing.

I’m not suggesting a paper-based system won’t work, or the modern shop floor can’t decipher work plans on paper, but we can no longer assume a digital shop floor adds complexity.  Our society accepts and expects technology.  Paper-based plans are the format holding greater risk, especially in the hands of a worker living in the digital age.

Our world is interconnected.

It is easy to imagine the tweets, status updates, instagrams, and more capturing the moment Pope Francis first spoke to the world.  It was an event shared by billions in a way that wouldn’t have been possible 10 years ago.

Technology is shaping our world, but is it shaping your shop floor?  If not, what message is that sending your best customers. Photo by www.colourbox.com

Technology is shaping our world, but is it shaping your shop floor? If not, what message is that sending your best customers. Photo by http://www.colourbox.com

No longer are we speculating about an “interconnected” world, we are living it.  So why is it so difficult to get messages from the shop floor?  Currently, most of us deal with multi-media communication on a daily basis.  We pass information through phone calls, text messages, browse message boards on forums and status updates on news feeds.  We are comfortable making sense of an array of messages to get the information we need.  Relying on a single, inefficient media source holds back the shop floor, especially with workers used to the collaborative nature of an interconnected world.

Another way to think of it…. Why do we struggle to get a message across an organization when anyone with a smartphone can do the same thing more effectively in less than 15 seconds?

We are a society based on real time information.

At one time, we used to wait for the morning paper to get the “latest” news.  Now, every smartphone and tablet is a little sponge soaking up data and disseminating it relentlessly across the world in real time.  This is slowly driving newspapers out of business.  News is old before a paper can print it.

We’ve come to expect an immediate answer to our questions, and if we don’t get it, we assume something is wrong.  This is a problem for manufacturers who haven’t converted to a digital shop floor. What message are you sending your customers when you can’t give an immediate update on an order?  How detailed are your order records, and how quickly can you assemble a report?  Today anyone with a smart phone can get answers wherever they are.  What does it say about your business if you need a day or more to answer a simple question?  Will your customers trust you to produce high-quality goods if you can’t produce a complete and accurate as-built record?

As manufacturers, we need to remember every interaction with customers is building our brand.  So what does our shop floor say about us?  What message is your information management system sending your best customers?  Consider the recent picture of St. Peter’s Basilica, is it difficult to imagine a digital shop floor?

Your current processes may work for you and your team, but what message is it sending your customers, or your employees?  Are you maximizing the efforts of the shop floor by expecting them to use tools less effective than the phone in their pocket?  Compare the photos of St. Peter’s Basilica in the NBC News Photo Blog.  Our world is changing faster than ever before, driven by innovations in technology.  We live in a digital, interconnected world with access to a wealth of real-time information.  Can you afford to put off a shop floor improvement project any longer?

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