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Leveraging Real-Time Machine Data to Combat the Manufacturing Labor Shortage

By: Frederic Scherer, CEO of JITbase

The manufacturing industry is facing a growing problem – a shortage of specialized CNC machinists. This is not a localized problem. It’s a global issue that threatens the ability of manufacturers to meet rising demand.

Labor shortages aren’t a new phenomenon in manufacturing, but the issue has been exacerbated in recent years. Manufacturing has evolved, requiring specialized skills such as CNC machining and computer-aided design (CAD). These are positions that can't be filled quickly, as they require substantial training and education. Deloitte projects that over 2.4 million manufacturing jobs could remain unfilled between 2018 and 2028. This workforce crisis poses a risk to production capacity, product delivery times, and overall operational efficiency.

Yet, in the face of this labor shortage, manufacturers are faced with another challenge - growing market demands. The global manufacturing sector has been on a steady growth trajectory, fueled by consumer demand. The World Bank estimates that manufacturing makes up approximately 16% of global GDP. Manufacturing organizations are under pressure to increase production capacity and meet these demands, despite the dwindling labor force. It's a formidable paradox that calls for innovative solutions.

One promising solution lies in technology – specifically, the use of real-time machine data. By leveraging this data, manufacturers can increase the operator-to-machine ratio, enabling one operator to run multiple machines. It’s all about doing more with less.

Machine monitoring solutions can track machine utilization and Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE), which is a combined KPI that takes into account machine utilization, production performance, and quality. These solutions also provide live status updates to help manufacturers potentially react faster to an unplanned event.

One company - JITbase - takes a different approach. Instead of focusing on machine metrics, JITbase uses machine data to make the workforce more efficient. JITbase’s objective is to solve the labor shortage by reducing the average number of machine operators needed in a factory. Since there is already a lack of manpower available, this helps combat the worker shortage and allows manufacturers to reassign employees to other tasks. 

This approach makes machine operators more productive by telling them when they are required on a machine. The information is shown to the operator on a live display such as a tablet, a TV screen, or a monitor connected to a computer.

Usually, operators manage one or two machines that are next to each other. With this new system, an operator can manage twice as many machines, sometimes even more. The machines don’t have to be next to each other because the operators know when to return to the machine. This removes a huge constraint: operator allocation is not done based on the machines’ localisation anymore, but rather based on the fit between CNC programs.

As an example, a CNC program that only requires a few manual interventions, with long cycle times between each manual intervention, can potentially be coupled with two CNC programs with more manual interventions, or with one CNC program with many manual interventions. As a result, the operator can efficiently manage two or three machines without being overloaded.

To make informed decisions on operator allocation, JITbase provides a new KPI called the Operator Workload. If the Operator Workload is too high, such as higher than 80%, it means that the total duration of the manual tasks expected for the shift is higher than 80% of the total duration of the shift. In such a case, the supervisor responsible for the operator allocation may want to reallocate resources to avoid operator overload.

On the contrary, if the Operator Workload of an operator is too low, such as lower than 50%, it means that the total duration of the manual tasks expected for the shift is lower than 50% of the total duration of the shift. This presents an opportunity to have the operator work on another machine, and as a result reduce the total number of operators needed to operate a fleet of machines.

“All machine monitoring solutions out there show you how bad your production is. JITbase also provides the right tools to improve them. The implementation of the system has been a game-changer to fight the labor shortage in our company,” says Ernie Staub, President of Leesta, a company that has successfully implemented JITbase’s system.

Real-time machine data provides other benefits beyond combating labor shortages. It leads to greater operational transparency, revealing performance patterns and trends that can guide strategic decision-making. By gathering and analyzing this data, organizations can predict and prevent machine failure, optimize maintenance schedules, reduce waste, and improve product quality – all contributing to a more robust bottom line.

As the industry moves forward, the role of real-time machine data in manufacturing is set to grow. Machine learning and artificial intelligence technologies will refine the collection and analysis of machine data, making it even more precise and actionable. While it's not a one-size-fits-all solution to the labor shortage, it's a significant piece of the puzzle.

As the manufacturing sector grapples with the labor shortage, solutions that allow manufacturers to do more with less are invaluable. Real-time machine data offers a way to increase production capacity despite the workforce shortage by maximizing the operator-to-machine ratio. By implementing real-time machine monitoring and data software, manufacturers can ensure that their machines – and their operators – are as efficient and effective as possible.

Manufacturing may be facing a labor shortage, but it's also in the midst of a digital transformation. By leveraging real-time machine data, manufacturers can meet these challenges head-on, and turn a potential crisis into an opportunity for innovation and growth.

Bio: Frederic Scherer is an industry leader promoting technology to make the factory of the future more productive and efficient. He worked both locally and internationally at Air Liquide, where he experienced the digital transformation of a world leader in the gas industry.
He launched JITbase in 2016, a company specialized in machine monitoring, big data, IIoT and artificial intelligence. JITbase is now a key player in Industry 4.0 and has leading customers in the CNC machining industry in various sectors such as aerospace, automotive, and machinery.
Frederic holds two master’s degrees, one in industrial engineering and one in international business.