In the U.S., manufacturing accounts for 23% of direct carbon emissions. A 2020 survey concluded that “smart” manufacturing can result in significant improvements in energy consumption, factory utilization and machine efficiency. Manufacturers have a huge opportunity to decrease their environmental impact from within.

Factories need to improve machine and labor productivity by connecting frontline teams through collaboration tools that reduce energy and material utilization. Technologies for visualizing information, preventing problems and improving processes can go a long way toward ensuring compliance with environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) requirements in factories.

Success Starts on the Floor

While managers have access to lagging manufacturing data through existing systems such as enterprise resource planning (ERP), it’s much more impactful to increase the visibility of real-time data for frontline workforces. This specific, localized data allows for the reduction of production-line issues such as downed machines or poor product quality, and enables orders to be delivered in full the first time.

The key to an efficient work environment on the factory floor lies in the ability to equip frontline teams with the technology that enables them to take action autonomously, and find the fastest path to resolving issues as they happen. By cutting down on the red tape required to notify managers or maintenance, production lines can get up and running faster than ever before, while giving workers the chance to take charge of the issue.

The resulting boost in productivity and engagement builds employee confidence and sense of empowerment. Workers feel a stronger tie to their roles, and this enhanced sense of purpose often results in increased employee retention rates. 

Modern-day supply chains are faced with an increase in government regulations, many of which are intended to limit environmental impacts. Connected teams allow important environmental data to be tracked and accessed in real time, giving the workforce the power to analyze carbon footprint and emissions and making sure that supply chains and manufacturing plants are in regulatory compliance.

Data visibility in ESG programs also increases transparency for customers, who are increasingly becoming concerned about buying ethically sourced products. More than 75% of consumers say they’re more likely to buy from a company that supports ESG principles. This puts increased consumer-driven pressure on factories and supply chain management to ensure that processes are conducted in an ethical and accountable way.

A Digitally Connected Workforce

To date, only 24% of manufacturing companies have introduced “smart” manufacturing technology. Following are three steps to building data visibility: 

  • Data digitization. Digitization provides quicker and easier access to real-time data for all employees, so that teams can focus on improving processes and reducing waste. The resulting visibility enables risk mitigation by monitoring manufacturing process and equipment, staying ahead of productivity roadblocks and mechanical setbacks. Data visibility also tracks supply chain demand, so that manufacturers can adjust to disruptions and shortages. 
  • Regulatory compliance and data audits. Ensuring that your team is following all regulatory requirements provides accountability to manufacturers and minimizes the chance for forged data, building trust between the supply chain and consumers.
  • Boosting employee confidence. A connected workforce tool increases employee morale and empowers to do their jobs better and solve problems on their own with increased data at their fingertips. In addition, team collaboration ensures that each frontline worker has an explicit role to follow. 

Slowly but surely, manufacturing plants are integrating technology into their processes, offering data visibility and connected workforce tools for both employees and consumers. This necessary transparency creates an improved work environment and more efficient workflow for all involved, leading to greater productivity, return on investment and overall customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Ken Fisher is senior vice president of product management and solutions consulting with Redzone.