Labor shortages climb, manufacturers get innovative

Posted on Oct 1, 2017 :: Guest Insights, Web Exclusive
Tom Brown
Posted by of Insight Publications

Baby boomer retirement, absenteeism, failed drug-screening, and both the lack of and “brain drain” of technically skilled workers out of the manufacturing sector have been implicated as contributing factors driving the nation’s unhealthy labor market. True to the solutions-driven nature of industry, business leaders, facility managers and A/E professionals are joining forces to identify strategies to overcome this seemingly crippling labor shortage. Here, we explore a few.

Process + equipment layout improvements
To limit or reduce labor needs, look no further than the production floor. Operations across production, product movement, storage, and distribution can all be improved by adjusting layouts and processes to better support the individual tasks being performed — oftentimes within existing facility footprints.

For example, transitioning assembly lines from a traditional linear track to a U- or S-shape configuration may make it quicker, and more ergonomically sound, for product movers, who are then able to travel shorter distances across each line end. Over in warehousing, strategically reworking rack storage can significantly increase efficiencies while potentially recovering valuable square footage thanks to optimized layout design. Both reduce the need for additional labor and add value to the overall process workflow.

Automation technology
Beyond removing humans from some of the most dangerous, ergonomically stressful activities, automation has monumental impacts on overall efficiencies and optimization, while also introducing attractive opportunities for diversified, technically skilled positions with higher pay-grades.

It’s important to note that accommodating large — and potentially harmful — automation machinery demands a specific amount of production floor space, as well as higher-paid technical workers to operate and maintain equipment. That’s why it’s important businesses looking to reduce manual labor onsite weigh the benefits of automation with potential impacts to facility footprint, production disruptions and wages to accommodate higher-skilled employees. This brings us to strategy No. 3: Long-term facility planning.

Long-term facility planning
All too often, facility managers looking to expand operations struggle to maneuver around a line or employee entrance that was constructed without considering the long-term cost and programming implications of these short-sighted designs. As a result, many are forced to implement facility designs that reduce efficiencies and increase footprints.

Working with an experienced A/E firm to develop master plans and facility assessments can help avoid such obstacles by identifying each plant’s growth goals for the next five, 10 and 20 years, and ensuring more immediate building improvements accommodate future expansions.

Industry, by definition, is taking action. What strategic moves can we make to keep American manufacturing alive and well in today’s labor market?

Tom Brown
ISG, Food + Industrial Advisor
With customer service expertise and a diverse background in industrial manufacturing and the egg industry, Tom offers clients an insider’s perspective and facility guidance that considers the entire manufacturing process, from raw material procurement and quality control to final product packaging and distribution. Having held positions ranging from Quality Assurance Technician to Vice President of Operations at a range of manufacturing and processing companies, Tom understands the impact facility design has on the budgeting process and product quality, while also recognizing the need to limit downtime and maintain continuous operation of facilities.