How Top Manufacturers are Using Industry 4.0 Technologies Like 3D Printing to Bolster Their Recruitment and Retention Strategy
If you’re involved in the manufacturing industry, you already know how challenging the COVID-19 pandemic has been. While it’s a difficult topic, we believe technology such as 3D printing can help manufacturing companies emerge from the pandemic stronger. We’d like to share that with you in this article.
Let’s look at the pandemic’s overall impact on the American manufacturing workforce to establish a baseline. Since the first wave of the pandemic in 2020, over 1.4 million jobs have been lost (11.5% of the total manufacturing workforce). To put the loss into perspective, the entire state of Hawaii has a combined population of 1.4 million people.
Why Did the Industry Lose so Many Jobs?
Layoffs and Business Closure
Companies that rely on their workforce to create tangible products suddenly found themselves shut down as their staff was quarantined. What originally started as a short-term interruption turned into several months and even longer in certain parts of the country.
When production stopped, so did the revenue causing many companies to lay off their employees, merge or sell the company, or even lock their doors for the last time.
Many people took the shutdown as an opportunity to change careers altogether. With many companies shifting to remote work, new doors were opened for people who wanted to try something different, and many did just that. The appeal of working from home vs. commuting to a manufacturing facility for a hard day’s work was enough to entice people to make a change.
Many skilled workers decided to retire early during the COVID-19 pandemic, taking years of experience with them. The loss of these skilled workers caused an immediate loss in productivity and put newcomers in the industry at a disadvantage. Instead of being able to shadow the highly skilled workers, they were left to learn mostly on their own.
How Does this Impact Consumers?
These interruptions caused a significant snowball effect on the entire sourcing and manufacturing process. There are external suppliers of components or raw materials for nearly every manufactured product. If any part of that process is broken, the consumer feels the impact through backorders or increased prices.
Let’s look at Ford, for example. Ford has around 1,200 Tier 1 production suppliers that produce parts using nearly 1,000 unique materials (source: Ford | Responsible Material Sourcing). That’s over 1,200 chances for delays that can directly impact the assembly line.
When existing suppliers cannot provide the parts that manufacturers depend on, finding new suppliers can be extremely difficult, if not impossible. When new suppliers are found, the manufacturer is forced to pay whatever that supplier asks, potentially increasing the cost of production significantly.
As a result of supply shortages and increased costs, Ford has already increased their MSRP prices on two occasions in 2022.
Are We Turning the Corner?
A recent report shows that 84% of the lost manufacturing jobs have been recovered. So as people continue to fill positions in the manufacturing industry, it’s a great indicator of a positive future, but now the focus needs to shift to something else. Something that has the potential to make or break the industry, and that word is retention.
Let’s face it, recruiting and attracting the next generation of manufacturers is increasingly difficult as the younger generation spends more and more time in the digital world instead of working with their hands. That’s why it’s more important than ever to create a rewarding and enjoyable work environment for the people who do join the industry.
How to Make Manufacturing Jobs More Attractive?
One way to make manufacturing more exciting and rewarding is by increasing automation of tasks. Automation reduces or even eliminates many repetitive tasks people often associate with manufacturing and shows job seekers that you are innovative and thinking about the future.
When an employee is asked to show up every day to complete a simple task hundreds, if not thousands, of times, it opens the door to boredom and fatigue. A bored employee is much more likely to make mistakes that could affect production or even their safety.
Also, an unhappy employee is much more likely to quit their job or, even worse, complain to co-workers, lowering the workforce’s morale. A negative mindset can cause good employees to leave, adding to the retention issue.
That’s just one of the many benefits automation can provide when implemented correctly. We’ll share more information about the additional benefits in a future article.
How do Companies Implement Automation?
The idea of automating tasks can seem overwhelming and very expensive. That’s why many companies elect to start small and expand automation naturally. When you automate one task, it creates a new way of thinking that leads to more and more opportunities.
One technology that can help companies grow with automation is 3D printing. 3D printing enables companies to print custom tools such as jigs, fixtures, and end-of-arm tooling for robotic equipment. These tools alone can create a more efficient and safer workplace. Here are a few of the many examples of 3D printed parts in a manufacturing environment:
- Conveyor belt guides to align products for packaging
- Custom holding fixtures to safely transport more parts in fewer trips
- Safety guards to reduce the risk of injury
- Drill guides to ensure perfect placement
Another technology that goes hand-in-hand with 3D printing is robotic equipment. Robots can work independently or with a worker (cobot) to pick and transport parts, inspect parts, handle heavy objects, assemble components, etc.
Once you begin to incorporate robotics into your manufacturing facility, 3D printing opens up a whole new level of what’s possible. Instead of spending a fortune on custom robotics and grippers, many companies can purchase standard equipment and utilize 3D printing to quickly and easily modify the equipment to meet their specific needs.
Matt Hlavin, CEO of longtime Stratasys customer Thogus Products, had this to say:
“3D printing touches every aspect of business at Thogus. “We have automation, robots on our machines. Rather than using a steel plate or aluminum frame for big, heavy end of arm tools that are expensive and take a long time to build, we can take 3D geometry and print an end of arm tool that weighs 70 – 90% less. And we can do it in less than 24 hours.”
Hlavin has found that this advantage has taken direct labor costs off the manufacturing floor.
So How Does this Help Retention?
The pandemic showed the world that we need to look at things differently. As we have all experienced, everything can change in the blink of an eye. It allowed us to rethink how things have been done in the past to prepare us for an uncertain future. That’s an opportunity we can’t take for granted because, hopefully, we’ll never go through anything like this again.
If we shift our focus to providing opportunities to critical thinkers and problem solvers, there’s no limit to what companies can do. A team that feels empowered and equipped to succeed is much more likely to stay with a company so let’s create that environment together.
You don’t have to do this alone. Our company, AdvancedTek, has spent over 20 years working with companies like yours to uncover and solve problems with 3D printing. We work with the best 3D printing companies in the world, representing a wide variety of 3D printing technologies. Because of this, we can recommend very specific solutions for your very specific needs.
We’re here to help you not only select a 3D printer but to support you as you grow with the technology. In addition, our engineers are available to help with general questions and help you uncover additional applications for 3D printing once your system is installed. Seeing you succeed with 3D printing is why we are so passionate about what we do.
Let’s work together to build stronger companies, attract and retain great employees, and bring in a new era of manufacturing. Connect with us today!