By Ben Lim, Senior Country Manager, Epicor

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) in its 2023 WESO Trends report said that global unemployment is expected to rise in 2023, by around three million, to 208 million, corresponding to a global unemployment rate of 5.8%.

Additionally, the report state that job quality remains a key concern. This is no different in Malaysia despite the unemployment rate in February 2023 dipping to 3.5% with 591,900 unemployed with the country’s labour market remaining stable.

Despite the unemployment rates, manufacturers worldwide continue to face significant shortage of skilled labour. Deloitte reports that a record number of unfilled jobs are likely to limit higher productivity and growth this year with an estimated shortfall of 2.1 million skilled jobs by 2030.

This, in part, was exacerbated by the pandemic as those in manufacturing, along with much of the world’s workforce, reassessed their career options – the fear of new virus variants and increased child care demands left workers seeking more flexible work arrangements.

This is where MES solutions presents an opportunity for the manufacturing industry to tackle their labour shortage challenge.

Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES)

Advancements in MES can help these manufacturers succeed despite labour shortages. Streamlining and automating your operations increases productivity, onboards employees faster, and enables employers to access data remotely. Let’s take a look at these benefits of MES in supporting manufacturers who are experiencing labour challenges:

  1.      Speeds up onboarding

Maintaining a consistent workforce and managing turnover are challenges faced by every manufacturing facility. To handle urgent needs or seasonal demands, onboarding of new hires and temporary staff are a continuous requirement.

It is crucial that all employees are up to speed especially if they are in unfamiliar territory within certain manufacturing industries. By keeping the learning curve as low as possible, employers gain more flexibility and are able to train new workers quickly.

An MES solution provides an intuitive touch screen interface with access to the information employees need to quickly get up to speed. It also has built-in training certification or skills management capabilities with controls to certify an operator is ready and qualified to run a machine. Certification can be based on completed training or an efficiency rating.

  1.      Automate production data collection and reporting

When you bring new employees to the shop floor, you probably want them to learn how to operate a specific machine or work cell. Reducing the complexity that comes with onboarding increases efficiency. Certain tasks such as figuring out what part number is being made, counting parts with manual math, writing down information, and scrambling to find drawings or images diminishes productivity.

It is also highly unlikely that you can mistake-proof manual processes that have frequent interruptions and hand-offs. Manual data collection drains productivity and accuracy with issues that include:

  • Wrong part number or job is tracked.
  • Wrong quantities
  • Transposed numbers
  • Incorrect time
  • Over-production
  • Inaccurate inventory
  • Increased need for cycle counting
  • Employee dissatisfaction

An MES solution automates and streamlines all that with:

  • Automated changeovers—the part number for the item being made comes directly from your PLC (Programmable Logic Controller) system. It eliminates the need for operators to write down or go to a screen to choose the part/job they’re working on.
  • Automated part counts.
  • Alerts to automatically inform workers when scheduled quantities of parts are fulfilled.
  1.      Get accurate real time visibility

The data collected in an MES solution also provides more accurate, real-time information for your business – that you can use to make faster, real-time decisions. The cumulative effect helps you reduce overall labour by:

  •        Improving inventory accuracy and checking part availability. No more walks to the plant floor.
  •        Creating visibility into running parts and machine performance that general managers can see remotely.
  •        Monitoring performance at individual machines that also allow machine operators to see how their machine is performing. This leads to more efficient and proactive improvements.
  •        Allowing office workers more flexibility and access to systems so they can work remotely or from home.
  1.      Automate process monitoring to reduce frequency of physical inspections

MES systems also collect process data when parts are made. For example, temperatures, pressures, and vibration levels can be monitored and collected. The information is gathered directly from PLCs on machines or from IoT sensors or actuators.

Using statistical process and quality control methodologies and automated part qualification, MES capabilities help you determine when a part is outside acceptable process variables so you can program such as turning on a red light, turning on an alarm or making an announcement over your PA system

This is to prevent defective parts from moving further down the production stream or even reaching the customers. Automation allows operators to focus on producing parts instead of taking time away from production to do quality checks.

All at once, operator efficiency improves, and the frequency and time spent on quality inspections is reduced.

  1.      Improve Productivity with Performance Analytic

MES data provides information that helps employers understand exactly the activities employees are performing and their operational efficiency with detailed data on every operator. Employers are then able schedule the best workers where they are needed the most.

  1.      Track the Performance of Your Operations

Progress tracking with an MES system helps employers better understand their business operations, with more clarity on how to adjust and optimize work-flow. The following can be traced to support operational decisions:

  •        The number of workers and shifts you need for production demand
  •        The quantity of parts you need to manufacture
  •        When parts need to be ready
  •        What your OEE should be
  •        Your hiring needs
  1.      Attract talent with technology

Employees love coming to a workplace that has tools they need to be successful. An easy-to-use operator interface where its easy to enter data is essential for optimal worker performance and satisfaction.

While labour shortage issues in Malaysia present manufacturers with difficult conditions, manufacturing companies are moving quickly in the direction of MES adoption to recruit talent, fuel greater growth and income, and push industry 4.0 as well as smart factory technology adoption.

With an MES Solution, manufacturing facilities can implement lights out manufacturing that can operate without human intervention. Since robotic arms and assembly equipment do not require ambient lighting to see like humans, these facilities can function in total darkness without any adverse effects on quality, efficiency, or productivity.

Implementing lights out manufacturing has many benefits for a facility as there are fewer workplace accidents and less waste as well as better quality of products. With automated manufacturing, MES solutions can easily prevent injuries or accidents on the shop floor while also ensuring quality and consistency of each product made.


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