The near-universal issue facing companies across Georgia right now is a shortage of people – finding and keeping good employees is a headache for companies large and small in just about every industry. The reasons are complex, involving a mix of demographics, pandemic-related changes in behavior, early retirements, and government policy, which means there is no simple fix.
In such an environment, it is crucial that companies make the most of the resources they have, devoting their employees’ skills to the most productive activities and minimizing wasted effort. However, that does not mean pushing people to burnout by asking them to work “harder” or put in longer hours. It refers instead to the thoughtful design of the process, the machinery, and the product to help your team reach its full potential.
The Process: If you’ve had any lean training in the past, you’ve probably been exposed to the Seven Wastes, attributed to Taiichi Ohno of Toyota in the 1950s. These categories of waste were designed to relentlessly root out inefficiencies so the company could match and later surpass the productivity of global competitors.
Now is the perfect time to focus on eliminating the Seven Wastes and using other lean tools to make your employees’ day-to-day experience more efficient and more enjoyable. If your team members are fixing defects, searching for materials, or waiting for information, for instance, you are squandering the time of the people you’ve worked so hard to get.
Working with employees to see and solve the problems that cause this waste is one path to maximizing output in a way that demonstrates one of the Toyota Way’s key principles, “Respect for People.” By acknowledging that the person who does the work knows the most about the work, you not only show respect to your team members, you also gain the best information available about the process you are attempting to improve.
The Machinery: The well-known test of automation has never been more relevant – if you have jobs that are Dirty, Dull, or Dangerous, you’re going to have a difficult time attracting and retaining employees in a market where better opportunities abound. Have you considered how you could use technology to improve the employee experience at your company?
When in past decades, incorporating technology or automation may have meant a multi-million-dollar robotics application, we now have many Industry 4.0 technologies that are connected, affordable, efficient, and can make the work better, safer, and more interesting for employees working alongside the machinery. The adoption of collaborative robots, asset monitoring systems, and other smart technologies, can free your team members to make more valuable and rewarding contributions to the business.
The Product: The third element to examine, which is often the most overlooked, is the design of the product itself. Techniques such as Value Engineering and Design for Manufacturability can reduce the material and labor required to produce a product.
The caution here is not to cheapen the product or to reduce the functionality or quality in the quest for savings. The idea is to take a focused look at the entire design process to find efficiencies while preserving or increasing the things customers like about your products. A structured approach to streamlining product design can yield productivity improvements throughout the production process.
GaMEP recently worked with a company to reduce the labor content of a metal structure product. After a thorough redesign using a lean product development process, the product is stronger and better-engineered, yet takes 30% less time to fabricate and weld than before.
Resources to help you use efficiency to overcome labor shortage challenges:
- Download GaMEP’s Waste Walk Form to help your team get started with process improvement and begin your lean journey.
- Attend a Lean Training course such as Lean Boot Camp, Advanced Lean Boot Camp, or Lean Office and Administration or a Technology Training course such as Automated Systems and Control or Applications for Robots. Visit our Training Page to discover our full range of course offerings.
- Read our recent blog post on, “Tips for Implementing Technology Solutions to Help Offset Productivity Issues,” to understand the types of solutions available and what to consider when adding new technology to your process.
- Contact Bob Wray, GaMEP project manager and lean product development expert, for information on how to get started with improving the efficiency of your product design.
Efficiency is just one piece of the manufacturing labor shortage puzzle. There are also a host of other things you can do to become or remain an employer of choice in your market. However, once you find great people, remember to continue to look for ways to better use their talents through improvements in the process, the machinery, and the product.
By: Paul Todd, GaMEP Operational Excellence Group Manager