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Category: MTS News

Surprise: Robots Aren't Replacing Humans In Key Areas Of Manufacturing

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Post Written by: Ron Harbour and Steve Scemama

Ron Harbour is a partner in Oliver Wyman’s automotive practice. Steve Scemama is a partner in Oliver Wyman’s digital practice.


For workers, it’s intimidating to hear of industrial digitization plans that envision handing over anywhere from 60 to 80 percent of processes to robots and other programmable machines in the not too distant future. But while there are certainly highly repetitive jobs bots would perform more efficiently and economically, automating alone is not always the best path to higher productivity.

Smart organizations learn quickly enough that if they place efficiency above a smooth organizational transformation, they may find their automation efforts fail to improve their companies’ performance. The real key to developing a competitive edge in an age of evermore automation is striking the right balance between people and robots, and evidence abounds that it’s not necessarily the most automated factories or service organizations that rise to the top.

The automotive industry, among the first to embrace robots in the manufacturing process, provides a working example of why companies cannot simply replace employees or fail to retain and retrain. Stark productivity differences exist between the industry leaders and laggards, in large part based on the efficacy of their automation efforts. One result: Some automakers require as much as six months to transition to producing a new vehicle, while others need no more than a day.

Robots Versus Humans

At the root of the discrepancy is an appreciation of which jobs robots do more efficiently and which require a human touch. Leading car companies have almost completely automated their paint and body shops. These are jobs that require constant repetition and consistent quality and often present safety and ergonomic challenges. Although lead-based paints aren’t used anymore, working in these areas still could expose workers to a bevy of unhealthy chemicals, making these the quintessential kinds of jobs robots have been designed to handle.

On the other hand, assembly lines — which must deal with the multitude of options on new models from side airbags to built-in vacuum cleaners — continue to heavily rely on a human workforce. To handle today’s highly customized vehicles, with as many as 55,000 parts for the variety of electronics and other bells and whistles offered on autos, requires the flexibility of human workers who can adjust to changing needs and innovations without extensive reprogramming.

It’s also important to understand all the costs involved in automating. Take, for instance, one European auto plant that invested 10 million euros in technology that would install windshields on cars on the assembly line, replacing the people who once did the job. Admittedly, the new machine was more consistent in applying the adhesive to hold the windshields in place, but it turned out that maintaining such highly sophisticated technology actually required twice as many workers as the company had employed installing the windshields in the first place. In the end, the most automated plants too often fall into the bottom quartile of plants based on productivity.

The Customization Boon

If you look at the most agile, most cost effective and highest quality operations, you will notice that head counts haven’t plummeted over the past two decades, although workers may not be doing the same jobs. A good example is a North American production facility where a U.S. automaker is producing one of the newest and most customized models in its fleet. Automation and robots have been embraced for decades at this plant: Between 2005 and 2015, the company increased the number of bots in the paint and body shop alone to more than 1,000. Yet, the number of plant workers has only declined about 8% during the same 10 years — even as production in the last couple of years fell by almost 100,000 units because of the changeover to a new model.

What kept so many humans on the job? The key was the high level of customization in the latest model and savvy recognition by the manufacturer that keeping robots and automation reprogrammed to meet constantly changing needs may have delayed the transition and, short-term at least, made it more expensive.

Drawing from the experiences of automakers, change needs to be evolutionary, even if the impact of automation is ultimately revolutionary. When introducing bots and automating processes, managers should look to solve specific problems by implementing low-cost solutions, not automating large swaths of functions all at once simply in the name of efficiency.

Who's Critical?

To bring along employees, managers must introduce automation in steps. If they go too far too fast, they risk losing critical know-how as employees jump ship or are pushed off. A priority must be identifying and retaining the employees critical to re-engineering processes down the road — as well as those people needed to ensure the effective management of the bots and automation just incorporated into the workflow.

This revolution promises huge changes as physical infrastructure transforms; offshore capabilities are repatriated; more services become self-service and virtual; and customers begin to link more with robots. Companies will need to give employees new roles and responsibilities, training, and even new career paths as many transition into a new breed of professional with both business and technology skills who can manage both bots and humans in the future.

Along the way, managers should always bear in mind the lesson automakers have already learned: People are the most flexible form of automation. They can do anything. You just need to train them.

CategoriesMTS News

Winners in student video contest will be recongized Monday, Feb. 13

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

 Winners in the first “What’s So Cool About Manufacturing” video contest for middle-schoolers in the Sioux Falls region will be recognized Feb. 13.

Representatives of the news media are welcome to join students, parents, teachers and manufacturing leaders for the Student Video Contest Awards Ceremony. It will be held from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday at the Jeschke Fine Arts Center on the campus of the University of Sioux Falls.

The event is free and open to the public. People who attend will get an opportunity to see three award-winning videos submitted by student teams. Participating schools were from Tea, Baltic, Mount Vernon, Parker, Edison (Sioux Falls), Deuel, Harrisburg, Yankton and De Smet, plus the Brookings Boys & Girls Club.

In addition to award presentations, there will be robots to see and desserts to enjoy.

South Dakota Manufacturing & Technology Solutions sponsored the video contest to help change outdated perspectives about manufacturing and introduce students to career opportunities in fields that involve science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Each student team was assisted by a teacher-coach and paired with a company in their area. The businesses helped students with research and provided focal points for two-minute videos.

This was the first year of the contest. Sara Byre, marketing specialist with MTS office in Sioux Falls, hopes that even more schools in South Dakota participate in next year’s competition. The contest is a great, hands-on learning experience for students, she said.

“When industry and education come together, we can excite students about their future careers,” Byre said.

CategoriesMTS News

What's so cool about manufacturing? Students in the Sioux Falls area are finding out

Monday, February 27, 2017

Revised: Monday, February 27, 2017

Innovative products, good companies and satisfying jobs that pay well are making manufacturing cool again.

South Dakota Manufacturing & Technology Solutions is spreading the word about all the employment opportunities in the reinvigorated field. One of the tools MTS is using is a new video contest designed to help make students and their parents more aware of jobs in manufacturing.

10 middle schools in the Sioux Falls area are participating in the inaugural “What’s So Cool About Manufacturing?” contest. The participating schools are: Tea, Baltic, Mount Vernon, Parker, Edison (Sioux Falls), Deuel, Yankton, Brookings, Harrisburg and De Smet.

A teacher-coach from each school works with a team of four or five students. Go Pro camera equipment is being given to each school to help its team prepare a two-minute video presentation. Go Pro training also is available. Students also will get to tour and research a manufacturing facility to help with their project.

Videos will be submitted to MTS in January, and winners will be recognized at an event in February. The winners will include a “Viewers’ Choice” winner selected by the public

“We’re trying to change outdated perspectives that students and parents might have about manufacturing, and create more awareness about the reality of modern manufacturing jobs and how well they pay.” said Sara Byre, marketing manager for the MTS office in Sioux Falls.

“We want to inspire the next generation of the state’s workforce to learn about science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and then consider a career in manufacturing,” she said.

Other states have launched similar video contests. Byre hopes more schools in South Dakota get inspired and participate in next year’s contest. “It’s just a great project for kids,” she said.

CategoriesMTS News

Five Technological Applications Impacting Manufacturing Innovation

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Five Technological Applications Impacting Manufacturing Innovation

 By Ben Vickery

“Let’s go invent tomorrow instead of worrying about what happened yesterday.” – Steven Jobs

A manufacturer can be innovative in various ways beyond the use of technology. Innovation can include the utilization of new business models, the development of new processes and services, and the enhancement of existing products too.

Technology does support and drive innovation. Technological advancements can allow manufacturers to create higher quality goods faster than before, with less expense and help them realize more efficient operations to become more competitive.

Innovators and engineers are constantly improving upon existing technologies to fulfill unmet needs, provide goods for untapped markets, and most importantly, looking forward to stay ahead of the competition!

So, in that spirit, here are five technologies that are impacting manufacturing innovation. I realize that this is by no means an exhaustive or complete list, so these represent but a few for your consideration:

1. Additive Manufacturing / 3D Printing

Additive manufacturing was actually developed in the 1980’s, but has picked up more significant interest in the last few years. It covers any and all processes involved in printing a 3-dimensional product, the reason it’s commonly referred to as 3D printing. Additive manufacturing includes a technique called cold spraying, which involves blasting metallic particles through a nozzle at high speeds, binding particles together to form shapes. This creates a part by building materials layer by layer through the control of a computer. Because the end result is a high precision replica of an original design, there is less waste during the production process and can save the manufacturer money.

Historically, additive manufacturing technology has been expensive and was typically used by the “bigger fish” in the field. However, recent advancements have enabled additive manufacturing to become more affordable, and it is anticipated to become a common option for smaller manufacturers. 3-D printers will continue to change the manufacturing landscape by creating more efficient ways to manufacture custom parts and goods.

2. Advanced Materials

report from the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) notes that “almost all the megatrends for the future — energy efficiency or alternate energy devices, new materials to counter resource shortages, next-generation consumer devices, and new paradigms in chemical safety and security — depend heavily on advanced materials” and that these advanced materials “will fuel emerging multi-billion dollar industries.” This includes advanced composites, which have to date been largely restricted to use in a limited number of high-cost applications. However, efforts are underway to develop manufacturing processes that lower cost and speed production such that advanced composites are integrated into a much wider range of products and applications in the coming years.

3. Cloud Computing

Cloud based computing uses network connected remote services to manage and process data. Life in the cloud will gain momentum, but security concerns must be continually addressed. Companies are increasing use of this technology across various geographic locations to share data to make better business decisions. Cloud Computing helps reduces costs, improve quality control and shorten production times.

4. Internet of Things (IoT)

Many of us now can’t imagine life before the smartphone…welcome to the idea of a smart manufacturing facility. Smart technology is not brand new, but it is steadily developing into the wave of the future for manufacturing.

Imagine a workplace where connected equipment will be able to communicate via the Internet and computerized manufacturing machinery will be able to “talk to each other” and send/receive notifications about operating conditions. Once a problem is detected, a notification is sent to other networked devices so the entire process can be automatically adjusted. The end result will be reduced downtime, improved quality, less waste and lower costs. This technology will lead to the development of new types of positions for the manufacturing workforce.

5. Nanotechnology

Nanotechnology deals with matter between 1 and 100 nanometers; a nanometer is one-billionth of a meter. Nanotechnology was traditionally used in the aerospace and biomedical arenas, but is now being used to manufacture lightweight stronger materials for boats, sporting equipment and auto parts, as well as being used in creating personal care items such as eyeglasses.

Nanostructured catalysts make chemical manufacturing processes more efficient by saving energy, reducing waste and will also have increased applications in healthcare and pharmaceuticals.

Staying on Top of Technology

If you’re a small manufacturer, it’s especially important to have a forward-thinking approach and adapt with technology. It can ultimately help companies become more profitable and competitive.

The NIST MEP, MEP Centers, and MEP Partners offer numerous programs and services to help the acceleration of technology for U.S. manufacturers. For more information, check out the how we help.


All resources gathered from the Manufacturing Innovation Blog.

CategoriesMTS News

What We Leave Behind - moves us forward

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Gina Catalano is a business coach and the author of Tandem Leadership – How Your #2 Can Make You #1. She also blogs about leadership and business for entrepreneurs and business owners.

When I start working with new clients, we often want to identify what is most important to their success and the success of their company. To help with this discussion, one of the exercises I will ask them to do is to track their activities for one day – from the time they get up until they go to bed. To make it simple, I just ask they keep a running list of everything they do or touch during a typical day.

A sample list from a day might look something like this:

  • Check phone for email (I hate seeing this the first thing but it often is)
  • Go to Gym & shower for work
  • Grab coffee & bagel
  • Check & respond to email
  • Review overnight orders
  • Daily huddle
  • Call ABC Customer about complaint
  • Follow-up with Jane about customer complaint
  • Walk product back to shipping to send to ABC Customer
  • Lunch with accountant – discuss changing payroll providers
  • Stop at office supply store on way back to office
  • Check website for Analytics
  • Get stuck in Analytics & call web contractor about questions
  • Review and sign weekly check run
  • Review new accounts and approve credit limit

Review this list – can you tell how large a company this CEO is running? Does she have five employees or 50? Are sales $500,000 or $5,000,000 or $50,000,000? Does it seem reasonable that a CEO with five employees and $2,000,000 might have this kind of day? If I told you that she had 200 employees and $50,000,000 in sales – would you be surprised? There are many reasons that someone in a larger company would still be doing tasks you would no longer expect. It can be an area of interest or of specific worry. But mainly it comes from a place of habit or comfort.

For some of us, there is a perverse thrill in mastering new skills or pushing through to get to the next level. Conversely, when our lists are long and we need a win, we like completing the mundane or simple tasks because it gives us the thought we have accomplished something. And that thought makes us feel good. Because we are creatures of habit and are conditioned to do things that make us feel good, we will continue to do these things. Even if it is no longer necessary, and often, long after others have been hired or tasked to take over those responsibilities. For me, it was spending time in the shipping department because in the early days at the company, we were constantly battling to get orders out on time. Every day felt like a win – regardless of what was on my personal task list.

Fast forward to when this was no longer an issue, I always felt justified that I had helped ship an order to a customer that day. There are numerous reasons I told myself it was okay – I was setting a good example, the customer always comes first, it was good to be in touch with the employees, etc. But the truth was I just liked doing it. It gave me a sense of getting something done (even if it wasn’t the tasks that I, as a leader, needed to do.) I’m sure the shipping supervisor dreaded it each time I showed up.

This is often described as the trap of “working in the business instead of on the business.” It is a sneaky master because it masks itself in perfectly acceptable (and necessary) activities. Who can argue with making sure a shipment gets out, filing your taxes on time, dealing with customer emergencies, resolving an employee dispute? All of these tasks NEED your attention! However, our real job is to lead the business. It is often difficult to do that when we are not working on the most important tasks, driving the most necessary outcomes and looking ahead to steer the ship. The problem is not just that we’re doing these tasks, it is that we are most often not even aware of how many of these items consume our time and energy.

How do you know this “task trap” is a problem?

Track your own daily tasks for at least a day – preferably a week. Be as specific as you need to remember what you were doing. It is important to include everything – from home, your family, your office, exercise, hobbies, etc. After you have your list, ask yourself the following questions (without regards to money or resources):

1.     Is it absolutely necessary?
2.     Am I the only person who can do this?
3.     If no, who else could do this? (Doesn’t need to be a current employee or resource.)
4.     Do I enjoy doing this task?
5.     Is it important to me, my family or my business?

(Note: Don’t keep track of how much time you are spending on each task. You can optimize your time after you identify what’s important.)

 What did you notice on your list? Were there items you like doing and aren’t important to your business? Are there items that are important to your business but you don’t particularly enjoy? Are there items important to you and/or your family that are not getting the attention they deserve? This last step is usually the most difficult but most important. Identify the Top 3 things that will make your business better and you a better leader, spouse/partner, parent, friend or person.

Prioritizing your list, and most often, removing or tabling items not making it to your Top 3 will create a pathway for you. Ironically, it’s not that we have too much to do; it is that we are not selective on what we choose to work on – which is why I know what we leave behind moves us forward. 

CategoriesMTS News

What is the Best Way to Begin a Lean or Continuous Improvement Journey? - IndustryWeek

Thursday, May 19, 2016
What is the Best Way to Begin a Lean or Continuous Improvement Journey? Ask the Expert: Lean Leadership: Have a question about lean leadership? Let Larry Fast tackle it for you.- Industry Week
CategoriesMTS News

10 Steps to Create a Continuous Improvement Culture

Tuesday, May 10, 2016
“When you are attempting a cultural change, it’s a bit like a cultural war…but it’s a good war,” said Steve Olsen, executive vice president at Camcraft. “Like any meaningful change, it takes work.”
CategoriesMTS News

How to Hold Millennials Accountable in 7 Steps

Thursday, April 28, 2016
How to hold millennials accountable in seven steps. An article by Dan Rockwell.
CategoriesMTS News

Preparing for the Factory of the Future - Industry Week

Thursday, April 21, 2016
Part one of a four-part series examining the definition of the Factory of the Future, common characteristics, benefits and how to get started.
CategoriesMTS News

State of the Global Supply Chain - GT Nexus

Monday, April 18, 2016
A research report on the top issues facing industry executives for 2016 and beyond.
CategoriesMTS News