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Manufacturing Labor Shortages Is the New Normal

Here are three areas in which the Internet of Things can help.
By Ray Almgren
Mar 18, 2020

Manufacturing executives, recruiters and hiring managers know firsthand what we see in the headlines: there's a shortage of workers to fill open manufacturing jobs, and that shortage is expected to grow in the next few years. This skills gap is caused by factors like low unemployment, a wave of worker retirements and what the National Association of Manufacturers calls "a massive perception problem" about manufacturing jobs among young adults.

Because of this, many companies are seeking Internet of Things (IoT) solutions to adapt to a smaller workforce. A 2018 Deloitte and Manufacturing Skills Institute report found that half of the manufacturers it surveyed were using new technologies to meet demand despite the talent shortage, such as machine learning and artificial intelligence, two key components of the IoT.

Many companies find that the IoT not only helps them keep going with a smaller staff, but also delivers improvements they couldn't have achieved by simply hiring more employees. To get the most from IoT technology with fewer workers, it's important to understand how the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) can impact areas like efficiency and productivity, worker instruction and training, and worker safety.

Efficiency and Productivity Growth
The area in which the IoT has had the biggest impact so far is efficiency and productivity. Remote wireless sensors can provide equipment data for analysis to enable predictive maintenance, which can increase uptime by as much as 20 percent. It can also reduce the amount of time employees spend on scheduled maintenance and on repairs following equipment failures.

Triaxial vibration sensors on equipment can chart utilization, which can vary from one shift to the next. In cases in which the data shows that equipment is underutilized, the solution may be better training rather than hiring more workers or adding more equipment.

Wireless remote sensors can also reduce the amount of time workers spend on repetitive tasks like manual temperature and humidity readings, so they can focus on higher-value tasks. As an IoT network builds a database of sensor readings and analysis, quality-assurance teams and management can mine that data to look for more opportunities to improve efficiency. Wireless equipment sensors offer other benefits, too. Manufacturers that produce equipment can monitor it remotely to support predictive maintenance, troubleshooting and real-time support for their customers. This can reduce the number of service calls their employees need to make.

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