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Mar 9, 2021 Rebecca Nguyen

The Future of Manufacturing: Building More Agility through Digital Transformation

Investing in digital transformation tools will better prepare manufacturers to navigate current and future disruptions.

For the year ahead, recovery for the manufacturing industry may take longer than expected to reach pre-pandemic levels. In 2020, there was a significant drop in employment levels and production because of the early mandated shutdowns of factories which has affected the entire industry across different segments.

The pandemic has highlighted the urgency to develop better systems to improve navigating disruptions for the future. According to Deloitte’s “2021 manufacturing industry outlook” analysis, they recommend that manufacturing organizations commit to increasing agility in operations by investing in digital transformation initiatives. 

“By continuing to invest in digital initiatives across production and the supply network, manufacturers can respond to the disruptions caused by the pandemic and build resilience that can enable them to thrive.”

In their survey, 76% of manufacturing executives intend to increase their investments in digital initiatives and plan to pilot and implement more Industry 4.0 technologies. By moving to digital, manufacturers can increase resilience and better adapt to the new workplace that provides greater agility, flexibility and problem solving capabilities.

One form of digital technology that can help future-proof manufacturing organizations is connected worker solutions such as Poka. By digitally connecting frontline workers, manufacturers are more equipped to provide support to build a more autonomous, agile and resilient workforce. Here’s how: 

1. Get real-time visibility into workforce competencies

“28% of surveyed executives identified that upskilling and building new skills to match evolving work environments (automation, digital, and remote) are the top challenge they are facing today in managing work and workforce.”

Through Poka’s digital skills matrix, supervisors can get real-time visibility of their team’s up-to-date skills and quickly identify gaps to make adjustments to future training. The skills matrix makes it easier to identify which operators need to be trained in order to ensure coverage. The matrix is also automatically updated as workers complete skills, saving management time and ensuring records are up to date and accurate.

2. Enable digital access to training content

To keep up with the changing environment, manufacturers need to replace their traditional classroom-style training and on-the-job shadowing with a digital alternative. By digitally transforming training with Poka, training goes from being a one-time event to a continuous, in-the-flow experience. Factory workers can learn at their own pace at their workstation and access digital training programs, such as work instructions or exams, when they need it.

In the early days of the pandemic this became essential for many Poka factories who saw key team members in quarantine almost overnight. This left them with no one to perform critical tasks like production start and no one to train less experienced operators. One CI Manager in Suzhou China shared, 

“Most of our process specialists have been quarantined which means no one is available to train new hires coming to replace them. But new employees had no trouble with the digital work instructions where they could learn the operations with videos. We’re now committed to digitizing all our work instructions by end of year.”

3. Provide Remote Problem Solving and Support

Having steady access to experts is extremely important when there are disruptions. Manufacturers must equip their workforce with the ability to share their knowledge and trouble-shoot problems remotely and in real-time. 

Poka enables frontline workers to digitally communicate and collaborate through a tablet or smartphone. Workers can instantly take a video or photo when they are experiencing a problem and then post it to the factory feed to notify experts. Experts can then post a reply, including a video of how to resolve the issue. The solution can then be easily converted into a trouble-shoot in the knowledge base for everyone across production lines, shifts and plants to access when needed.

4. Keep workers and management digitally connected

With disruptions to the manufacturing workforce, workers may have scattered working schedules and may not always be on site. Manufacturers need to provide their organization with digital communication and collaboration tools to ensure that everyone is kept informed of updates and looped into important conversations. 

Through Poka’s Factory Feed, workers and management can share updates, post messages, ask questions and interact with one another from a distance. This increases visibility into what’s happening on the factory floor while increasing worker engagement, morale, and accountability. The Digitalization Lead at a Health Science plant in Illinois mentioned their strategy for using Poka.

“Poka is part of our plan to reduce meetings and increase social distancing.” 

To learn more about the outlook and trends in manufacturing for 2021, read the full Deloitte report here.

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