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Manufacturing firms can combat the skills shortage with AR and IoT

By all indicators, the talent shortage in the manufacturing space is at critical levels. Job openings continue to grow at double-digit rates, and it’s expected that nearly 2.6 million baby boomers will retire over the next 10 years, according to the fourth annual skills survey by Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute.

In this landscape, finding the right talent is the number one competitive driver for manufacturing companies, according to the manufacturing executives surveyed for the report. Executives said for those with digital talent, skilled production and operational manager experience, skills shortages were “very high.” What’s more, the Deloitte report said that this difficulty will triple over the next three years.

But while the stakes and challenges are great, manufacturing is one of the industries leading the charge in adopting cutting-edge technologies to meet them.

It’s in the manufacturing space, in fact, that we are witnessing some of the most exciting and mature applications of IoT technologies, where phrases like edge computing, digital twins and augmented reality (AR) are out of the vaporware stage and into live deployments where they are delivering value. They’re being applied to everything from increasing overall equipment effectiveness to enhancing the roles of the people who work on the shop floor.

And one of the most exciting applications of these technologies is how manufacturing firms are combining them to deal with this skills shortage. They are using these technologies to evolve training strategies to fit both the needs of current workers and the way the next generation of workers will access relevant education and training.

Manufacturing firms are already using IoT and AR hardware to allow experienced manufacturing professionals to essentially document their processes as they conduct them, and new staff to consume that information through augmented reality. In this scenario, an experienced worker clad with an intelligent wearable collects the information about the process as she goes about it, without disruption to her daily routine. That rich knowledge is then visualized in an AR headset for the new worker, as he is led step by step through the process, with the instructions overlaid on the machine itself to guide work or maintenance.

The value of this combination of IoT and AR extends beyond strictly completing the process correctly to include all of the many factors that require years of experience to know how to complete it safely. IoT-enabled equipment can relay information on things like temperature through the AR experience, showing when a part is too hot to touch, or lending the worker crucial insight and indicators on failure points to provide predictive maintenance. AR headsets can even overlay caution tape around equipment, showing the worker areas in which it is safe to step and complete the process, and those that are not.

Thus, training and competency are imparted by experienced workers in a way that doesn’t take time away from their crucial work and, at the same time, is delivered in a relevant manner for the next generation of those who want to both learn and work. This builds competency faster, increases efficiency and further positions the plant to use this IoT and AR base for additional innovation.

This foundation lends itself to interesting integrations with data in the ERP systems. It enables the power of integrating bill of materials information in a way that is easily consumable in the augmented reality experience, or integrating information on inventory to show a worker that a certain part is not available. As a result, manufacturing facilities will drive even more efficiencies into their supply chain processes by optimizing the assets and the processes themselves.

In all, it’s an exciting time to be in the manufacturing space, where the challenges of growth and skills development are driving cutting-edge deployments of these cutting-edge technologies.

All IoT Agenda network contributors are responsible for the content and accuracy of their posts. Opinions are of the writers and do not necessarily convey the thoughts of IoT Agenda.

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