Using Corporate Memory to Solve Manufacturing Challenges
Corporate memory is the accumulation of knowledge within an enterprise. An “effective” memory includes the efficient storage, retrieval, and use of that knowledge at every level at which it is needed. The corporation that develops an effective corporate memory is ready to meet the challenges that impact today’s complex and ever-changing global market.
Knowledge is everywhere in the organization. The ingredients list in a process company and the assembly specs in a manufacturing plant are obvious, but the skills inventory of employees, marketing plans, quality control guidelines, document controls and supplier audits are all examples of critical information that must be collected, organized, protected and used effectively. The effective storage and retrieval of knowledge is the key to maintaining corporate memory.
Manufacturers face a growing list of challenges which impacts corporate memory, including:
- The increasing manufacturing skills gap
- The ever-present demand to comply with new and shifting regulations
- The management of and investing in talent
- The improvement of manufacturing’s image
The manufacturing skills gap
HR and operations departments collect information on their current employees. Education, training, skills, performance, interests, career plans and test results are all critical knowledge that can be used to raise the performance level of current employees.
It’s understood that American students as a whole are not as educated as they could be in STEM-related subjects. To help reverse that situation, manufacturers have the opportunity to work with high schools, colleges and trade schools to convince them of the need for increased recognition of and focus on STEM subjects. “Recognition” is critical because younger people are impressed by abilities and accomplishments that appear in the local and national press.
In addition to reaching out to schools, companies can start a scholarship program for students who commit to science and technology majors. Individual departments such as QA, Manufacturing, Warehousing, Logistics and IT could publicly recognize outstanding student scientists, inventors and student leaders from local colleges, universities and trade schools. These scholarship and recognition programs are a critical part in promoting corporate memory.
New and shifting regulations
Staff time can easily be drained by ever-changing and more complex regulations. It can be overwhelming to stay ahead of the rules, and the penalties for not following these regulations can be severe. How can manufacturing organizations hope to keep up?
The solution includes process control and a set of tailored software technologies tuned for the manufacturing sector. Developing high-quality software is beyond the reach of most internal IT shops, and purchased packages are more complete, reliable and faster to install. Always select a vendor with a proven integration record. Choose a vendor with a complete set of manufacturing sector products that can meet your needs, both current and future.
The goal is to preserve information in ways that can be harnessed to meet the next wave of regulatory demands.
Managing and investing in talent
Retaining and developing talent is just as important as recruiting talent, and often has a better return on investment. Both HR departments and senior management should view employees as appreciating assets rather than depreciating assets. The difference may be subtle, but it can mean the difference between organizational success or failure.
A good employee training system is the tool for creating a company culture dedicated to increasing each employee’s contribution to the organization by developing their skill set. Internal education and staff development also contribute to employee morale and motivation. Well-organized and up-to-date HR information can be the key to success in this area.
Improving the image of manufacturing
Thanks to images of 19th-century assembly lines, popular culture has acquiesced to the notion that working in an office is more civilized than working in a factory. While this is an obvious misconception, many guidance counselors, high school teachers, school boards and even parents still cling to this outmoded and prejudicial mindset. How can manufacturing organizations improve their image and thereby guide more young people into the manufacturing resource pool?
Manufacturing today is both highly skilled and highly automated. Whether process or discrete, small factory or industrial complex, factories use computers, automation and scientific methods such as Six Sigma to control and improve their products and processes. The flexibility provided by 3-D printing is opening vast opportunities for custom discrete development previously considered impossible.
An effective and growing manufacturing memory provides the facts that help every marketing effort, press release, public discussion, website and recruiting fair proudly emphasize the high-tech and challenging nature of manufacturing. The factory should be considered the pinnacle of complex automation in this increasingly automated world.
At the same time, manufacturers must promote the critical technically skilled laborers, such as welders and CNC machinists, who support the modern automated factory. These jobs are available, and we need a new generation of workers who can step in to replace those who are retiring.
While manufacturing is making a comeback in the U.S., it still has many challenges to overcome. The successful manufacturer will be the one who efficiently manages the information, knowledge and activities necessary to allow them to succeed in this competitive global market.