Six areas where you can increase manufacturing workers’ productivity

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    Measures of workers’ productivity can give important insights into how workers perform and organize a company. Managers often make decisions that involve the behaviour of individuals at work and plan production based on direct productivity measurements. This is because human capital on the job is as significant as machines, offices or other tangibles. That’s why it is vital to measure manufacturing productivity to see how the company grows month to month and whether we can do something to work more efficiently.

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    What Is workers’ productivity?

    Worker productivity refers to the amount of output produced per work hour. In other words, the calculation is:

    Productivity = output / work hours

    Output is generally measured in dollars. It might also be measured in units of a specific item produced divided by the hours required to produce those specific units within a company. So, if you made 20 cardboard boxes and sold them for $2 each, and it took you 10 minutes to make each box, this is how you would calculate your productivity:

    Output in dollars = 20 boxes x $2 each = $40

    Work minutes = 10 minutes x 20 boxes = 200 minutes (3.3h)

    Productivity = $40/ 3.3 hours = $12.12 per hour

    The simplest and the most helpful definition of productivity is the percentage of time your manufacturing workers spend on their tasks. They work, and they are making you money. When the explanation is simple, we can quickly say what is not productive. A worker is present during 8-10 hours of shift, but not all this time is spent on machines/operations. Many breaks and countless hours are wasted asking about things, walking between workstations searching for documents, information, etc. But you still pay for all these hours, but you can’t invoice them. 

    Measuring workers productivity

    Let’s say that Mr Smith, according to HR, worked about 168 hours in one calendar month. How many hours did he spend working on machines/operations? It is possible for only 100 -110 hours. Are you shocked? Unfortunately, these are the results many Prodio clients got in the first month after introducing the software. They spent thousands of dollars on salaries, but it wasn’t the production that cost them the most, but unproductive hours, regardless of the company’s size. 

    It is a common misconception that it must be tough to improve productivity. Many machines on the shop floor are numeric and programmed, so there isn’t much room for improvement. The norms are already high, and if the workers do their job well, increasing efficiency by a few per cent on some operations might be very stressful, time-consuming and not worth the effort. It is the opposite situation with workers’ productivity and time spent in the company; you can quickly boost it. 

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    Six methods showing how scheduling software can boost manufacturing workers’ productivity

    1. This might be the most obvious idea: start measuring productivity and let your staff know you are doing so. The best way to go about it is to present the data at the end of the calendar month (you can do it in a one-on-one chat). You should have information about the number of hours a person spent in the company and how much time was dedicated to tasks. Thanks to that, you will see clearly that although Mr Brown was present every day, even as much as 28% of this was was unproductive. When you compare such data month to month, you can spot patterns. Also, simple information that tracks working time and productive hours will work, even subconsciously, as a warning and a red light. Nobody wants to explain what they were doing during 20-30 unproductive hours.

    How do we measure manufacturing workers’ productivity?

    You can do it manually, using various attendance tracking systems, or manufacturing ERP. Prodio is super simple: workers use the same dashboard to register the start/stop of manufacturing operations and clock in/clock out. That’s why you can see how many hours each worker spent on tasks compared to hours spent in the company. This data is easy to access anytime, without needing to purchase additional modules or extra work.

    There are different productivity measures, some of them regarding several factors of production. However, one of the basic principles of productivity is measuring the efficiency of a given system and finding ways to improve it. In some countries, it is almost a philosophy or even a lifestyle. 

    Productivity can be measured in an old-fashioned way: paper notebooks (the attendance list, the number of working hours or the number of goods produced), but also with the help of Excel spreadsheets, Google Docs or Trello, to manufacturing software.

    When we discuss the productivity of machines, it is possible to use automated systems, which automatically measure activity.

    2. Let’s say that a machine operator takes an 8-hour shift, which makes 40h a week (providing no sick leave or holidays). When he comes to work on time (excluding lateness, which is easy to spot if we use an attendance tracking system) and with break-time, he should be productive for about 36-38 hours per week. Does it work like that? What about a situation when a worker is present at work, but they only laze around, walk from machine to machine, wait for new tasks, or spend a long time setting up a machine? 

    These minutes and hours are not productive, but they cost you a lot of money every month. Of course, we are not robots, but it is vital to have an accurate picture of what is happening on the shop floor and calculate the unproductive time when estimating costs for your client. When you use simple scheduling software, your workers register work using an online template, so you know real-time progress from anywhere in the world. What’s more, they can indicate the status of each operation/task and register breaks and other non-productive activities. Lunch or cigarette break? No problem, click the correct box, so later it is evident in work history what that absence is related to. 

    There are a few different ways to register work in production management software

    1. using PINs, 
    2. RFID key-fobs and readers, 
    3. scanning the barcode (you can make the codes directly in Prodio software)

    On top of that, introduce the system of tracking unproductive hours to pinpoint all situations not included in your calculations. In Prodio, there is an additional pause button. When the worker has to stop working on the machine, they can indicate which cause that pause by choice: lunch or cigarette break, warehouse tasks, unloading car or other reasons. At the end of the month, such statistics will give you real work time and productivity, so you can take action when needed. IT is not about shouting at your staff or discipline but finding a solution to problems. In many cases, not people are to blame, but the organizational system inside the company. Once we adjust the system and improve the organization, things start to get on the right track. 

    Many clients track break time and can’t praise this solution enough. It works superbly together with the clock in/out system.

    3. Start to track the productivity of specific operations and set up manufacturing norms. This partial productivity makes up the total productivity of each shift and the whole company. For example, you must know precisely how long sanding, milling, packing, or glueing takes. You might live in the fantasy world thinking that your workers do these things as fast as possible when the reality is far from that. When you have precise data, as in Prodio, you will know exactly how much time is needed for each manufacturing process step. Maybe you decide to automate a working station because putting a robot on some jobs might be more economical. But this kind of decision isn’t made out of thin air. Real-time data and analyses support it.

    4. Cut to a minimum time people need to find the necessary information. For example, it is common for workers to ask numerous questions: how to produce something, which components they should use, machine settings, or operation steps. These are the precious minutes where time is wasted, but your management style causes the delays. 

    In Prodio, everything is straightforward: a worker clicks on the task and sees all attachments – photos, drawings, documentation, and parameters. Then, the dashboard shows a queue of orders with tasks that should be done first. 

    Unfortunately, in most manufacturing companies,s this isn’t the case. The drawing or parameters are missing, so a worker must go to the office or find the boss to get clear answers on priority and production. The number would be staggering when we sum up tens of questions asked daily. So it is no surprise that productivity is low.

    5. When you track productivity and use production management software, it is much easier to show the ropes to new workers. When the are clear product descriptions, BOMs, product recipes and technology, nobody has to wait for a long training process, providing relevant experience and expertise. On the other hand, suppose you don’t have any knowledge database or clear organization. In that case, there are only two ways a new person can go about things: either they try to work things out (which might be challenging and cause many errors and costly complaints), or they will bother you or other staff members. Mind you – it doesn’t depend on experience. Even after providing extensive training, if new workers don’t have clear information on what to do, they will be looking for the answers and spend a lot of time asking questions.

    Workers’ productivity – definitions

    Employee productivity is the amount of work (or output) produced by an employee in a specific period. In a general sense, productivity is the ratio between a measure of output and input. Workers’ productivity could thus be measured as an output, e.g. sales or units produced, relative to a piece of information, e.g. the number of hours worked or the labour cost. 

    A firm uses inputs to produce output. Intuitively, the firm’s output ratio to its input defines its productivity; a firm with more output per unit of input is more productive. But how should ‘units of input’ be measured, given that there are many input types, and each is measured in different units (hours of work, hectares of land, barrels of oil, and so on)? As a manager, no matter which industry you are in, you have the power and responsibility to help your staff do their best work and be more productive.  

    There are two types of productivity:

    • Total factor productivity (or TFP) relates an output index to a composite index of all inputs.
    • A partial productivity measure relates output to a single input.

    What factors impact productivity?

    Two factors impact manufacturing workers’ productivity: external factors – connected with the economic environment, competitors in the industry, legal constitution, customer preferences, and internal factors – which the company can control and adjust. 

    • The internal factors can be divided into many categories, including employee motivation systems, management of the company and the general mission, technological advances, and process improvement.
    • The external factors include international politics and changes in the global markets, political conditioning, social and economic changes, values systems, education and literacy levels, ambitions and motivations. 

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    Can we boost workers’ productivity?

    There are different ways to achieve a boost in workers’ productivity:

    1. First, to do more work in the same time slot.
    2. Second, to do the same tasks but within a shorter time.
    3. Third, a combination of the above points, so more work in a shorter time.

    From the manufacturing perspective, the most effective is eliminating losses, but it is possible only when the information flow is smooth. You can’t boost productivity if you don’t know what generates losses.

    Why aren’t the workers productive? 

    There are many reasons your employees may suffer from low productivity levels in the workplace.

    Personal angle:

    1. lack of motivation
    2. personal problems and stress
    3. conflicts in the workplace
    4. bad habits
    5. misplaced duties, not adjusted to worker’s skills and talents
    6. professional burnout/routine

    General angle:

    1. bad work organization
    2. unrealistic norms and expectations
    3. incorrect workstation / bad logistics
    4. low salary level
    5. bad working conditions
    6. problems with communication (it takes too long to reach a decision or managers give contrary decisions) 
    7. insufficient training 

    The chances for an improvement

    Numerous tools, methods and trends regarding management target an increase in productivity. The most common include:

    1. Lean manufacturing primarily focuses on reducing times within the production system and response times from suppliers and customers,  creating a vision of a lean organization with no waste practices.
    2. Smooth communication is ensured by implementing production management software such as Prodio, which reduces the number of mistakes and saves time.
    3. Team building and involving workers in the process of productivity improvement (showing the benefits of changes and personal wins)
    4. Analysis of the benefits system (bonuses, perks, etc.)
    5. business continuity plan helps keep employees productive in times of business disruptions. Also, it protects the business from undesired consequences like damaged reputation, financial troubles, etc.”
    6. Implementing different optimization methods, i.e.: 
    • SIX SIGMA strategies seek to improve manufacturing quality by identifying and removing the causes of defects and minimizing variability in manufacturing and business processes. It does this by using empirical and statistical quality management methods,
    • KANBAN is an effective tool to support running a production system and an excellent way to promote improvement. Problem areas are highlighted by measuring lead time and cycle time of the entire process and process steps, 
    • KAIZEN refers to business activities that continuously improve all functions and involve all employees, from the CEO to the assembly line workers. Kaizen also applies to processes, such as purchasing and logistics, that cross organizational boundaries into the supply chain.