Digitalisation helps counteract shortage of specialists

At the same time, it ensures quality in manual manufacturing and makes companies resilient

At present, the main challenges in the manufacturing industry lie in the procurement of raw materials and components, and in the shortage of employees, including specialists. While keeping stock levels adequate can help to mitigate the first problem, specialists remain rare. The result is vacant posts, additional work for the existing staff and increased pressure to perform, in turn leading to higher sickness rates and decreasing quality in manufacturing.

In the worst-case scenario, production actually comes to a stop and orders even have to be turned down. This vicious circle can be broken by using digital assistance systems to make companies crisis-proof.

Assistance systems can help

A shortage of staff in manufacturing has a negative impact on productivity and quality. Digital assistance systems can close this gap. They have multiple benefits:

  • Firstly, they reduce employees' workloads as they take responsibility for quality assurance. Workers are guided step by step through digital checklists. Wrong, forgotten or incorrectly positioned components can be corrected straight away. The reject rate drops sharply.
  • Heads of shift and production can schedule resources flexibly as the workflows at each workstation are simple and quick to learn and can therefore be performed by the greatest possible number of workers with different skills. This ensures the necessary response time and boosts efficiency.

ROI versus opportunity costs

From a business point of view, controller should consider two metrics: The ratio of the cost of finding and training new employees until they are independent and productive (ROI) and the opportunity costs which are incurred by production failures and the associated loss of profit.

It is worth taking a closer look at the assembly workstation in order to calculate the ROI. Workers spend almost 60% of their working time on things that are not directly related to production. These usually concern looking for and choosing parts, tools and instructions, as well as reading and understanding them. Documenting their work and test routines is also part of this.

Another factor is the response time, which should be as short as possible so that the company can react in the event of staff shortages – or in the event of new customer requirements.

What should a digital colleague be able to do?

An assistance system accompanies the worker throughout the entire process: From receiving the work order, and the digitally set-up workstation, through to the work instructions, which are easy to follow. During assembly, it checks that the right parts are in the right place and documents the results. These are used in the incoming and outgoing goods departments or exclusively for the final inspection. Depending on the purpose, they may be used as instructions, for performing checks, for confirmation and documentation.

Best practice: Prettl Electronics optimises THT manufacture with the Smart Klaus assistance system

As a first step, Prettl Electronics wanted to optimise THT placement in particular at the Radeberg site and evaluated different systems in detail for this purpose. The company opted for the Smart Klaus optical assistance system. One year after its successful introduction, digitalisation at the manual workstation is entering the next phase.

The specialist in power electronics was founded with the aim of implementing digital processes in manufacturing in order to continue offering top-quality products efficiently in future. The overarching objective was error-free manufacturing processes that are fully documented. All products should be produced in line with the same quality standards which are not only reproducible but also transparent. To do so, it was necessary to switch from paper-based work instructions to a digital, learning system.

An important aspect was to get staff on board in order to win their acceptance. After all, implementing a cognitive assistance system gives workers additional safety and makes their work easier. An assembly undergoes different test processes. These tests must, on the one hand, be fast and error-free, without causing pseudo-errors but, on the other hand, must be thorough and detect errors to prevent subsequent issues.

The learning curve was steep. This will benefit colleagues at the other sites that are planning to use the Smart Klaus assistance system.

Get to the Prettl Electronics use case