Editor's Choice

MES and the new worker ­generation

August 2015 Editor's Choice IT in Manufacturing

Recent ARC Advisory Group research indicates that the improving global economy and population dynamics were major influencing factors in the collaborative production system/manufacturing execution systems (CPM/MES) market in 2013 and 2014. Improving economic conditions, uncertainty in the European manufacturing sector, oil and gas price declines, and geopolitical issues – all affected market growth. Lower oil and energy prices contributed to more consumer spending and demand for consumer products result in an uptick in many industrial markets in 2014 and 2015.

Janice Abel.
Janice Abel.

Population dynamics, including the impending retirement of the 'Baby Boomer' generation of workers and the associated need to quickly 'on-board' the next generation of workers in industrial plants and facilities, are helping drive demand for CPM/MES solutions. This applies to the process, batch and discrete manufacturing industries.

Demographic changes and the tech-savvy generation

Loss of worker knowledge due to a retiring workforce and inexperienced workers impacts industrial organisations in both developed and emerging economies. Many managers facing retirement will not embark on a new project unless there is a relatively low risk of failure and ROI is relatively easy to attain and document. In lieu of this, they would prefer to focus their limited time on incremental updates to existing applications rather than embark on new, riskier projects. However, due to cybersecurity vulnerabilities and technology obsolescence issues related to many legacy systems, there is often no option available except to implement new CPM/MES applications.

The demand for these solutions will continue as new-generation workers get more automation experience, economies stabilise and companies release capital. Today’s production processes and products are increasingly complex, global, and multi-faceted, challenging many manufacturers to find methods to simplify and streamline complex processes while maintaining product quality and encourage innovation. Product and process complexity, innovation, manufacturing intelligence, analytic tools and ease of use (including 'app-like' functionality) drive CPM/MES growth.

Companies must figure out how to capture the knowledge and experience that will be leaving as the baby boomers retire. Companies can utilise the intelligence provided by CPM/MES solutions to enable newer, less-experienced personnel to make better decisions.

The response to the retirement trend is multi-faceted. Some manufacturers are making a strong effort to integrate these solutions into their processes; others are just ignoring the problem, possibly due to poor planning or recent economic conditions. However, the problem is not going away – so companies need to address the issue.

Retiring workforce and knowledge transfer

Many soon-to-be-retiring workers have as much as 30 to 40 years of knowledge and experience. One way to transfer this information quickly to new workers is to utilise software that integrates the data, analysis, intelligence, and decision making with the process. CPM/MES can help enforce workflow standards and responses to abnormal conditions and therefore improve overall performance for all generations.

As 'digital natives', the newer, tech-savvy millennial workers do best with modern software. As manufacturers face challenges in skill gaps and shortages of skilled workers due to the retiring workforce, recruiting and retaining a younger generation of worker is essential. One key issue for many companies is finding workers that can fill the skills gap. One user told ARC that the new tech savvy worker generation “does not want to work on the old technologies, so keeping older systems running is increasingly problematic” and a driver for CPM/MES purchases.

Interactive, immersive, and up-to-date software tools can help companies meet the expectations of the next generation of manufacturing employees.

New workflow enforcement features helps less experienced workers make decisions

Workflow software that improves and enforces work processes is another important reason for implementing these solutions. In the past, workers were expected to be knowledgeable about work processes. But due to today’s high turnover rates, workflow software must be more intuitive and include the necessary intelligence to enable complex workloads and guide workers. Dynamic engine rules for workflow are being integrated within CPM/MES that can help workers make the right decision, which should help inexperienced workers gain experience quickly. Other workflow solutions are being used to address batch processes.

CPM/MES solutions evolving

As the manufacturing environment continues to change, CPM/MES solutions are evolving by integrating new technologies and solutions to meet new demands and expectations.

Future manufacturing processes will be more connected than ever, smarter and have highly intuitive software solutions that predict outcomes, anticipate needs, and provide tools that can provide insight for better, faster and more accurate decisions. Wearables such as digital watches will be incorporated into the daily work routine. These, and many other characteristics, help make evolving CPM/MES solutions attractive and effective for the new workforce.

For more information contact Paul Miller, ARC Advisory Group, +1 781 471 1141, pmiller@arcweb.com, www.arcweb.com

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