The United States has one of the fastest growing packaging markets in the world and is expected to have an annual growth rate of 3.5% between 2021 to 2026. In March 2022, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that more manufacturing jobs are being created every day. Manufacturing industries are adding more jobs than are being lost. And with business booming, the labor pool is struggling to match consumer demand with short-staffed operations and potentially outdated technology.
Since 2020, there has been a trend titled “The Great Resignation” where employees are quitting their jobs en masse. Many employees have been experiencing dissatisfaction with their careers and have been looking toward switching jobs, retiring early, or continuing education to combat this lack of satisfaction. The pandemic gave individuals a chance to reflect on priorities for their careers and many employees decided they wanted better opportunities, higher wages, and more flexible hours.
Factory workers are frustrated by a lack of recognition and seemingly monotonous jobs. Data visibility on the floor and smart manufacturing solutions can help alleviate this frustration. With more visibility from smart sensors and artificial intelligence, operators can identify issues on the production line to help prevent unanticipated machine downtimes and be more agile in the face of unexpected disruptions. These sensors can measure vibration, temperature, cycle time, and many other variables associated with pieces of equipment to capture and compare raw data to key performance indicators (KPIs), thus evaluating performance in near real-time.
Mid-sized manufacturers need a fully connected solution that unifies all data points across the facility to continuously assess and improve operations. Industry 4.0 can help automate tasks in production and allow captured data to empower operators to take corrective actions in real-time. Smart solutions can help mid-sized manufacturers gain agility, enabling them to better respond to disruptive circumstances.
Here are three ways that Industry 4.0 solutions can help mid-sized manufacturers overcome difficulties heightened by The Great Resignation.
1. Use technology to fill labor gaps.
Smart manufacturing can increase employee satisfaction by creating more fulfilling jobs in production and filling labor gaps with smart solutions. Industry 4.0 solutions can help companies stabilize operations against future disruptions by increasing visibility and responsiveness on the production floor. Smart manufacturing solutions can not only fill the operational gaps left by widespread labor shortages, but also create a more positive work environment by providing newly available technology tools and information to operators and supervisors alike.
Technology can reduce redundant roles (like manual data collection) while giving employees opportunities to learn new essential skills. Smart factory solutions can combine factory floor data with the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), enabling workers to readily access training and machine instructions. This should help improve employee satisfaction and collaboration, while creating an environment that will make it easier to attract new skilled workers. Ultimately, it is all about the people and mid-sized manufacturers need to optimize their existing and future workforce to achieve the agility required for future success.
2. Reduce data silos.
US manufacturing is highly competitive due to steadily increasing consumer demand on products and extensive lead times between product creation and customer purchase. Industry 4.0 can help manufacturers keep up, or surpass, their peers, while reducing data silos by pulling all data into one interactive platform. This allows operators to keep better track of inventory, production speed, while enabling predictive maintenance across the entire factory.
Making changes with a siloed infrastructure can be difficult since siloed information cannot easily flow from one system to another. If manufacturers want to empower operators and supervisors to make decisions on the fly, they must provide on-line access to critical information, along with technology tools that enable them to interact. Breaking down internal data silos can lead to better decision making across the company since it makes data more accessible to all. By focusing on smart manufacturing, employers can better match consumer demand, shift schedules to meet demand spikes, and enable their workforce to be prepared for any outcome.
3. Increase sustainability.
Consumers and employees alike are becoming more environmentally conscious and Industry 4.0 solutions can help reduce manufacturing waste.
Packaging, in particular, has a high potential for wasted product due to production errors and long-turnaround times from creation to final consumer packaging. For example, up to one third of food product recalls are due to artwork errors because of incorrect or missing allergen information.
With a focus on sustainability, 4.0 can help companies transition toward processing more environmentally friendly materials with more demanding designs without slowing down production. Industry 4.0 solutions can also help with quality control at each step in the process. Ecommerce and the delivery of products has increased the complexity of packaging operations and businesses must adapt to meet new market demands.
An eye to the future.
The packaging industry has been a driving force in the global economy, enabling goods to be safely processed and transported quickly from warehouses to consumers’ homes. The boom in ecommerce, increased by the pandemic, has brought more challenges and opportunities to packaging production than ever before.
Simultaneously, The Great Resignation has created some obstacles that can be eased by the deployment of Industry 4.0 solutions. These obstacles are forcing packaging productions to get creative in the search for ways to develop new, more profitable business and operational models while not sacrificing operational efficiency.
The global packaging industry is evolving to create more cost-efficient and consumer friendly packaging. Organizations that leverage the power of Industry 4.0 can work faster and smarter, conserving resources while remaining agile in an industry where time is everything.