The growing skills gap in the manufacturing industry, combined with a tight labor market, is creating increased challenges for manufacturing companies of all sizes. In fact, in 2019 more than 25% manufacturers had to turn down new business opportunities due to a lack of workers, according to a report from the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM).
What’s behind this growing skills gap problem?
One key factor is the extraordinary number of retiring workers who are walking out the door with vast amounts of experience and skills. Unfortunately, for most manufacturers the knowledge possessed by this senior workforce has yet to be captured in any digital or electronic format. At the same time, a younger, more tech-savvy generation of unskilled workers is coming into the market. They may have the attitude and aptitude, but lack the skills required to effectively participate in day-to-day operations.
This lack of a skilled frontline workforce is creating an increased focus for manufacturing companies on training and up-skilling their workers. A recent article highlighted some staggering statistics on what lies ahead. According to the Manufacturing Institute: “Manufacturers are set to spend $26.2 billion on internal and external training initiatives for new and existing employees in 2020 to combat the shortage of available workers. Nearly 70% of manufacturers said they are creating or expanding training programs for their workforce. Three-quarters of respondents said upskilling workers helped to improve productivity, promotion opportunities and morale.”
Using Artificial Intelligence to Close the Skills Gap
Fortunately, manufacturers are turning to emerging digital technologies to equip and train their workforces with the tools and knowledge needed to be productive. Technologies such as mobile and wearable devices, augmented and mixed reality (AR/MR), and artificial intelligence (AI) are helping to connect a new generation of workers, and are allowing organizations to proactively deliver the right level of support and guidance.
One of the most notable examples of technology adoption is using artificial intelligence to augment human activity in manufacturing.
Artificial Intelligence has been branded as a threat to replace the human workforce, but some leading manufacturing companies are turning to AI as a way to help onboard and train new workers.
Artificial Intelligence is increasingly being used to augment, not replace, the human workforce. AI is uniquely able to address the fundamental macrotrends of growing skills gaps and the loss of tribal knowledge.
Supported by an increased level of connected-ness of today’s frontline workers, AI systems are capable of taking in large amounts of data and finding correlations and patterns that can be used to help improve productivity, enhance skills, and provide more cost-effective, targeted training. With an ecosystem of content authors, frontline workers, subject matter experts, operations managers, continuous improvement engineers, and quality specialists, there are dozens of opportunities to address the skills gap, improve quality, and improve performance.
Using AI to Reduce Training Time
In one example, Bio-Chem Fluidics, a manufacturer of high performance pumps and valves for clinical diagnostics and analytical chemistry applications, is using AI combined with digital work instructions to improve the onboarding and training process for their new technicians and operators. One of the most significant impacts were achieved with training and onboarding new operators.
According to Bio-Chem, the company’s training time for temp workers has been reduced by over 80%.
“Augmentir has made our complex procedures very repeatable for operators of all skill levels. As a result, our training time for new operators has been reduced by over 80%. The flexibility and ease-of-use of the Augmentir platform have made it painless to implement across our company.”Linsey Holden-Downes, Vice President of Operations at Bio-Chem
The company uses Augmentir’s AI-powered connected worker platform to digitize and standardize their work instruction library, and leverages Augmentir’s AI to deliver insights that are helping them optimize their training efforts.
After adopting Augmentir, it now takes their team lead roughly two weeks to fully train a new hire whereas prior to Augmentir, it would have taken three months of supervision. Additionally, the time spent monitoring new hires is dramatically reduced from an estimated 50% of a team lead’s time to just 10%.
Using AI to Augment Digital Work Instructions
Like Bio-Chem, many manufacturing companies rely on knowledge that is either recorded on paper or trapped in the heads of their senior workforce. With the increase in skilled technicians that are retiring, this is creating an urgency for companies to act.
STRONGARM, a Pennsylvania-based manufacturer, recently dealt with these issues. STRONGARM designs and builds ergonomic and environmentally protected workstations for companies in a wide range of markets, including food, pharmaceutical, CPG, packaging, and transportation. In recent years, the company faced growing challenges within its operation – an aging and retiring workforce, talent shortage, and increased competition – which increased pressures to produce high quality products at lower costs.
STRONGARM’s initial focus was on the assembly and final quality control processes for the company’s most complex workstation and industrial display unit. Augmentir’s rapid authoring environment allowed STRONGARM to quickly migrate their existing paper-based instructions to digital, augmented instructions that incorporated rich media, checklists, verifications, and several other features that were central to their assembly and QC processes.
According to Steve Thorne, General Manager at STRONGARM, “Augmentir’s AI-based ‘True Opportunity’ system enables us to gain insight into how our technicians are performing, and autonomously identifies our largest capturable opportunities across our entire operation.”
“When one of our senior and most experienced technicians retired recently, we were able to onboard a new technician and trust Augmentir’s AI engine to guide him during the learning curve to get product out the door at 100% quality so that we didn’t miss shipments. Once Augmentir’s AI engine determined that the worker had become proficient, it recommended that the instructions should be adjusted to enable him to complete the job faster while still meeting quality and safety goals. This has resulted in a 20% reduction in average build time in our most complex workstations.”Steve Thorne, General Manager, STRONGARM
The level of personalization that an AI-based system can deliver to work procedures and instructions allows companies to not only address initial skill gaps but also deliver continual improvements over time.
Intelligently supporting workers in real-time with remote experts and AI-bots
The benefits that AI can bring to industrial companies are not limited simply to standard operating procedures, work instructions, or training. Companies are also turning to AI as a way to intelligently guide and support frontline workers with real-time decision support. Connected workers are increasingly relying on “Remote Expert” capabilities to leverage the expertise of senior colleagues for on-the-job troubleshooting and problem solving. As we look ahead, AI-bots will be able to capture tribal knowledge of these subject matter experts during remote expert sessions, and intelligently guide workers that are experiencing the same situations.
Addressing the Skills Gap with Augmentir
At Augmentir, our AI identifies patterns and generates insights based on analyzing data from connected workers. These insights improve worker performance as well as provide positive impact on training, operational workflows, and quality.
Digital Work Instructions help guide connected workers with visual aids and augmented with AI-driven insights and contextual information enable workers to perform at their best.
Integrated Remote Expert assistance helps workers resolve issues faster using insights from Augmentir’s AI and information from the guided procedure.
Augmentir’s AI uses granular data to identify the largest opportunities in improving the skills of the frontline workforce, and helps to drive continuous improvement throughout the organization.