A Better Way

The Weekly Report – March 15, 2022
We’ll be short on labor for years to come but preparing for automation can be a workforce multiplier.

Our Weekly Report last week promoted attending our recent manufacturing workshop, Automate with Purpose: Strategies for a Productive Workforce, and it turned out to be a seller! Thirty-two manufacturers attended the event to learn how to navigate the immense worker shortage by incorporating automation into their processes. But how to do it effectively and efficiently was the question at hand.

Greg’s advice at the workshop and in a recent feature story inside Enterprise Minnesota® magazine is that there are two paths to automation. And, he said, while Yogi Berra may not be known as an automation specialist, his quote, “when you come to a fork in the road, take it,” rings true when thinking about automation.

Greg says there are two major paths that lead to automation opportunities.

“The first path might present itself as a solution to high volume, a strong business need, and/or having a standard industry application. This is historically where manufacturers might think about bringing in automation.”

“The second path is more nuanced and involves a few more steps that are smaller to arrive at full automation. This path has the most opportunities for many organizations but unfortunately is not often utilized as there is no ‘off the shelf problem/solution’ as in the first path. This path’s automation solution might present itself to unique and incremental challenges as a business grows and changes.”

Regardless of which option manufacturers choose, Greg sees automation as a potential “workforce multiplier,” yet not before optimizing company processes so they’re automating efficient processes and not outdated, ineffective ones.

Enterprise Minnesota works with clients to optimize processes and guides companies through closely examining their operations and determining what needs to be improved, eliminated, simplified, or standardized before automation is applied. Companies that follow this methodology see more efficient operations in the short term and are better positioned to reap the benefits of automation in the long term. “Only with the right preparation can an investment in automation grow employees’ skills and improve productivity,” Greg says.

Greg advises that something as simple as moving a resource closer to fabrication to reduce walking time by a few minutes per trip can add up quickly. Saving 10 minutes a day means 50 minutes per week from an improvement that didn’t cost anything. These types of minor improvements, he says, can also serve to help change the mindset of employees by moving beyond “that’s how we’ve always done it.” They act as steppingstones along the path of continuous improvement that empower employees to begin seeing opportunities for themselves.

In the Spring issue of Enterprise Minnesota® magazine, we share how Teske Manufacturing in Springfield faced a litany of challenges during the pandemic, yet they stayed focused on quality and finding ways to do more with less. Over the course of three years, they gradually incorporated several robots and invested in their workforce training, which has enabled them to be more adaptable, opened new markets, and has engaged their employees. An individual employee can now use a robot to weld an entire trailer, where the previous non-automated process required four employees. But it didn’t happen overnight.

Teske took a deliberate path of adding small continuous improvements so they could operate a robot successfully. They’ve taken a process that used to require four employees down to one employee, while keeping all four staff and shifting them to work on more interesting, non-repetitive assignments. Teske’s story is a great example of how they worked to solve their own labor shortage by thinking about automating for the future.

You can read about Teske’s story on our website.

You may also read Greg’s magazine feature story in our winter edition.

Events Calendar

March 22 – State of Manufacturing regional event: Becker
Join us in Becker as we bring the State of Manufacturing on the road. Great networking opportunity for manufacturers and industry stakeholders as we discuss the SOM results and what they mean for Central Minnesota. In-person at Pebble Creek Golf  Club, Becker  Learn more and register

March 30 – State of Manufacturing regional event: Duluth
Join us in Duluth as we bring the State of Manufacturing on the road. Great networking opportunity for manufacturers and industry stakeholders as we discuss the SOM results and what they mean for Northeast Minnesota. In-person at Lake Superior College, Duluth  Learn more and register

April 5 – State of Manufacturing regional event: Thief River Falls
Join us in Thief River Falls as we bring the State of Manufacturing on the road. Great networking opportunity for manufacturers and industry stakeholders as we discuss the SOM results and what they mean for Northwest Minnesota. In-person at Northland Community & Technical College, Thief River Falls  Learn more and register

April 26 – Investing in Your People to Create Leaders at All Levels – virtual
Join talent development expert Abbey Hellickson to discover leadership development strategies that fit your organization and help you retain your valuable employees. Online via Zoom.  Learn more and register

Industry News

Minnesota Rubber and Plastics acquires Primasil Silicones
The Minneapolis-based elastomer and thermoplastic manufacturer recently acquired Primasil Silicones to increase their silicone rubber capabilities. March 11, MedicalPlasticsNews.com  Read more

New owners of DEE, Inc. expect to bring new jobs to Crookston
DEE Manufacturing was acquired by Wisconsin Aluminum Foundry based in Manitowoc, WI and the deal is expected to bring 30 new jobs to Crookston, MN. March 11, Grand Forks Herald  Read more

Cohasset city council approves plans for new wood manufacturing plant
Huber Engineered Woods was approved by the City Council to build a new OSB manufacturing plant, expected to create about 150 jobs. March 8, CBS3 Duluth  Read more

Tetra Pak plant in Winsted responds to high global food demand
Glencoe native Seth Teply was named CEO of Tetra Pak last fall, but he started his career in Winsted as an intern. March 8, Star Tribune  Read more

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