MANUFACTURING CHALLENGES AND HOW TO OVERCOME THEM
The manufacturing industry continues to grow, even with labor and supply chain challenges. Despite these many challenges, political reforms, tariffs, climate shifts, and more, the manufacturing sector remains optimistic in the years ahead. Read on to learn more about some of these challenges facing manufacturers and insights into possible and potential solutions.
Attracting or retaining new manufacturing employees and finding technical support in manufacturing continues to be a challenge. PTA Plastics has embarked on a journey to further automate the molding of a product in order to shift the labor used to run a molding machine to assembly, or a newly trained and technical skillset. PTA continues to be committed to full servo robots on all of our molding machines – which provide a greater amount of flexibility for the task at-hand to accomplish palletizing parts, packing parts, loading inserts into the mold, and clipping gates. PTA has also made a commitment to creating and growing a formal Automation Engineer Department which has significantly grown in the past year – consisting of engineers and technicians dedicated to automation. Training within the company is also important to build certain skillsets from veteran employees to share their knowledge and expertise.
PTA has implemented automated systems to effectively use labor in a difficult labor market. Doing so has reduced the number of operators to run a job or to be able to do more secondary work press-side to eliminate finishing operations. In hindsight, this allows for better utilization of the workforce and increasing throughput.
Another challenge in manufacturing is truly finding the root cause(s) to both internal and external issues and problems. A team approach is much more powerful than an individual effort while utilizing some of the many problem-solving tools readily available. Some of these tools include the 5 Why Method, Cause & Effect (or Fishbone), and using the team’s collective experiences to come up with the right solution.
Internal and external scrap costs appear to be significantly rising. Using a team approach and the pareto principle to focus the team on the biggest contributors, develop a structured approach to review data, assign action items, and follow up on action items while monitoring progress - all of which should assist in eliminating this challenge. For example, a monthly scrap team was created at PTA facilitated by the manufacturing department to focus on the parts that scrap cost the most, recorded action items, and then followed-up with at the next meeting. By using this approach, scrap was significantly reduced month-by-month. Without having this type of accountability and visibility to scrap, these issues and challenges can or may continue to rise.
Another challenge can be managing the spikes in demand (up as well as down) for tooling and services. Some customers may release programs when they’re ready but not necessarily when capacity is capable. Managing these peaks and valleys may perhaps do the trick. This is done by communicating the future demand against the available future capacity. PTA has developed key roles to support these programs when such is needed. In addition, a future labor may perhaps be difficult to attract and retain, however, PTA has embarked on multiple ways to mitigate this for the future. This is done by tooling with hot tips, valve gates, or other runner-less tool designs so the labor is eliminated. Increasing reliance on robotics and automation (even for short runs) - the demand for labor is significantly reduced. Automation can be applied in so many new and unexpected ways.
The COVID 19 pandemic caused significant global supply chain issues. In many cases the lead-times for raw materials doubled and tripled. In some cases, materials were placed in force majeure. A few items that can help with these issues are:
• Understand the supply chain when selecting materials for a new program. Avoid very long supply chains and keep everything as domestic as possible. Avoid global supply chains where materials are transiting long distances by ship.
• Whenever possible dual source and validate two different materials for each application. It’s important that the dual sourced materials are sourced through different supply chains.
In recent years all industries have experienced the difficulties with labor shortages and high employee turnover. Several things PTA has worked on to overcome these challenges are:
• Focus heavily on automation. PTA has been committed to automating as many processes as possible and have dedicated a full automation team to this effort. Automation allows PTA to deploy labor resources to tasks that require higher skill levels and allows the manufacturing operation to be less dependent on labor.
• Focus on training. With high employee turnover it’s important to emphasize robust training protocols so the onboarding process for new employees can go smoothly and quickly.
• Attracting a younger workforce. Committing to job fairs, STEM, and many other programs available to attract the younger workforce and commit to manufacturing is key! PTA’s Tool Shop in Colorado went from an aging workforce to now 70% being under the age of 35. While this solution doesn’t come easy and takes a lot of perseverance and networking, the crusade has proven to be successful.
While there is no quick and easy fix, there are solutions to these manufacturing challenges that have proven to be successful. Investing in smart manufacturing and modern approaches enables businesses to adapt to an ever-changing market. PTA Plastics is committed to invest in these dynamic complexities that so many of these challenges bring.