White Paper - MRP and the Human Factor

Most people know that implementing MRP will deliver the usual benefits such as better stock control, more efficient sales/purchasing processes and improved visibility, but an important factor is often overlooked altogether and one of the key reasons for implementing it in the first place - people. These are the lifeblood - literally - of your company, and focusing on their physical and mental wellbeing with manufacturing software can pay dividends.

MRP and the human factor white paper

Physical wellbeing problems in manufacturing

Companies that don't have control of their stock and order workflow process suffer from many common problems. Firstly, if they don't know exactly what stock to buy or what is slow-moving they will often hold too much of it. In companies that manufacture larger products this often results in physical risks through improper lifting techniques. A study published on the British Medical Journal website cited that 32% of people that experienced back pain were not back at work after one month.

Production processes may also not be as lean as they could be, with stock spending longer on the shop floor, not only creating more risk of damage to products but also a potential risk to staff. For example, raw materials or unfinished metal products located on low-level pallets may not only cause a trip hazard, but sharp edges can cause considerable injury. In a 2017 report the US Bureau of Labor Statistics cited that out of 303 total fatal injuries in manufacturing 79 were caused by contact with objects and equipment, while another 50 were caused by falls or trips.

In these COVID-conscious times social distancing continues to be important, but a crammed factory floor might leave little possibility to maintain a safe distance between staff. This may be compounded by the need for multiple staff to use a single computer for logging operations or booking stock in/out.

Many companies without a manufacturing system will still be heavily reliant on paper, but this in itself requires additional effort for paperwork to be 'pushed' through the facility.

All of these factors can combine and take a toll on staff. Tiredness can lead to mistakes and heightened risk of injury. Repetitive manual processes, such as having to re-key data into separate systems, can potentially cause or exacerbate repetitive strain injuries, with the TUC (Trades Union Congress) citing that 1 in 50 workers have reported experiencing RSI symptoms, with these figures being as high as 1 in 4 for those that have to spend more time on computers.

Case Study: An electronics company implemented 123insight, reducing their stock by 30%. They saved so much space that they were able to reclaim stores space as an office for their designer, creating a much better working environment for him while improving the working conditions for staff in the storeroom.

Mental wellbeing problems in manufacturing

An often invisible and overlooked factor of staff wellbeing is mental health. While the topic is now much more openly discussed than previously, it is important to be mindful of the issues that staff may currently be experiencing and what can be done about them. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) reported that 17.9 million working days were lost in 2019/2020 due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety.

Furthermore, there is still such a stigma for many around mental health that the charity MIND reported that 41% of staff would not disclose a mental health issue to their employer for fear that their boss would think that they could not do the job properly. (https://www.mind.org.uk/media-a/5990/mind-index-insight-report-2019.pdf)

An independent mental health study commissioned from Deloitte by the Stevenson/Farmer review entitled 'Mental health and employers' noted that the annual cost to employers ranges between £33 billion and £42 billion. This relates to lower productivity, absence due to sickness and staff turnover. A further figure of between £24-27 billion is lost from the government due to the cost of benefits, falls in tax revenue and costs to the NHS.

Aside from the occasional workaholic, we work to live, not live to work. The pandemic caused some to lose their jobs early on or be furloughed for months on end. Many businesses have not returned to pre-pandemic levels of turnover, often causing staff to harbour concerns over job security or the future of the company in general.

During a live panel video session with Manufacturing Management magazine, the mental health charity Solent Mind and 123insight customer Butser Rubber, Dan Warren-Holland, Program Lead for Employment and Inclusion at Solent Mind noted; “MIND created a tool called the Workplace Action plan, which an employee and manager can go through to understand what being well , anxious or unwell looks like, along with what the manager can do to support this. People are less likely to ask for help when they are struggling, but if you’ve already had that conversation and mechanisms (such as remote working) are an option then they are more likely to be open about issues.”

A knock-on effect is that some may opt to work harder to 'save' the business, or indeed need to work harder if resources are thinner, potentially leading to burnout in both cases. With targets and deadlines perhaps seeming more out of reach than before this can lead to further anxiety.

As mentioned earlier, companies without a manufacturing system will be reliant on paper-based or heavily manual systems. In addition to the risks of physical repetition, staff are left performing manual, mundane and unsatisfying tasks. Certain individuals may be 'gatekeepers' of information, either relying on memory or because they have to perform unnecessary complex operations to complete tasks.

Case study: A company manufacturing products for restaurants replaced their paper and Excel spreadsheet systems with 123insight. They were able to increase their turnover by over 800% without the need for additional administration staff. They also integrated a bespoke touch-screen system on the shop floor with 123insight, reducing and simplifying repetitive tasks.

With manual systems being a breeding ground for errors, staff can often feel that they are to blame, piling on further pressure. Some have described it as a constant treadmill, running at a speed that's just a little too fast for comfort so that you never feel in control or that you are making progress.

A simple lack of visibility means that staff worry more about the unknown. The production manager may be stressed about being able to meet lead times, while the Managing Director may not have full visibility of their order book, cashflow, etc.

MIND created a 'workplace wellbeing index' report in 2019. In it, several stats stood out. Out of 43,838 employees 21% of workers cited having an unmanageable workload. 75% of those reported anxiety, with only 35% stating that they were happy at work. Compare this to those with a manageable workload, happiness rose to 74% and anxiety dropped to 41%. Over 1 in 4 employees are working more than 50 hours a week and three-quarters of those with an unmanageable workload had experienced anxiety multiple times in the last month.

How can MRP software help physical and mental well-being?

Some may question how MRP software can help staff, either physically, mentally or both, but there are many examples where manufacturing software has made a major difference to the quality of the working day for staff across all departments.

Firstly, when you replace a mixture of disparate systems with a single, common user interface, processes that were previously disjointed immediately become more streamlined. They take less time and require less brainpower from staff to think about them.

Another common by-product of these efficiencies is that companies can often achieve significant growth without needing to increase or even put strain on administrative staff. Production processes will always need people to drive them, but even these areas often see increased capacity as the function of processing works orders can be reduced to a few clicks of a keyboard or taps on a tablet.

When staff start to realise that the system is the single, most accurate place to obtain information they will start to rely on it, rather than committing information to memory or printing it out. When less paper needs to be pushed from department to department it frees staff up to focus on more proactive, productive tasks.

Case study: A company was considering investing in new CNC equipment worth hundreds of thousands of pounds. They implemented 123insight and decided that the machine was not required, as the visibility and planning that it provided allowed them to see that they could easily handle demand with their existing machinery and reduce staff workload at the same time.

Staying with memory for a second, every company has customers that have out of the ordinary requirements that don't slot into current systems, requiring notes or reminders to ensure that the requirement is met. 123insight allows for this and includes many features that solve such issues. For example, if a customer requires a Certificate of Conformity to always be supplied this can be automatically produced, either in print or electronically. Similarly, if a particular product requires something unique, such as a quality check at a specific stage of production, a reminder note can be triggered to pop up. It is functions such as these that de-skill processes previously deemed complex or that require staff with years of experience in the role.

When holidays or sickness remove key staff from the company, this places undue stress on those covering their jobs. Tasks that take the absentee minutes or even seconds can take much more time, as staff try to unravel the dark art of the bespoke system or processes. A common interface and workflow mean that staff can easily cover. For example, the process of creating a sales or purchase order in 123insight is extremely similar, so it is easy for staff from sales to help with purchasing if need be.

Benefits to physical wellbeing can come in several forms, with the first being a significant reduction in repetitive tasks. Where staff previously had to replicate data entry across systems, now data is entered just once. Less time is spent sitting and typing, reducing the risk of common ailments such as RSI and back pain.

Moving onto the shop floor and stores, a common benefit of MRP is much better stock control. Only the right stock is purchased, and often in smaller amounts due to better visibility and/or more strategic purchasing. As a result, staff have fewer items to move between locations, with fewer raw materials or parts cluttering up the shop floor. All of this goes to reducing the risk of injury.

The benefits to management staff will relate less to physical wellbeing but are no less important. Where time would previously be spent collating and crunching data for monthly reports, these would now be generated automatically.

Stresses around finances can be reduced drastically for several reasons. Firstly, purchasing will be more controlled and strategic, reducing the value of stock on hand and freeing up cash. Visibility of the forward order book, coupled with detailed history allow staff to quickly make well-informed decisions without the hassle of having to search for the data. The phrase 'knowledge is power' has never been truer, as management can competently plan for the future.

Case study: A biscuit manufacturer used 123insight's skills matrix to expand on their profit-share scheme by also adding performance-related pay for individuals on top of a general bonus scheme. The transparency of the figures meant not only that staff could see that the company was doing well, but they could also benefit individually as their skillsets improved.

The phrase 'knowledge is power' has never been truer, as management can competently plan for the future.

Often, companies will publish 'KPI' (Key Performance Indicator) data to staff. Several 123insight customers have linked their intranets to the system so that live and relevant KPI data can be displayed at specific locations. This gives staff the comfort and confidence that management has effective control over the business and enforces the feeling of job security.

When MRP is used as the data backbone of a business, other systems can be integrated with it, further simplifying and streamlining job roles. For example, weigh scales can automatically pass weighed amounts back to the system or testing and measurement equipment can log results against parts on a works order. This further reduces additional data touch points and the effort required to keep systems linked.

Summary

Although companies invest in manufacturing software to aid staff, the focus tends to be on the processes they perform rather than the wellbeing of the staff themselves. Identifying the current physical and mental challenges that staff face can be extremely useful when considering a new system.

Not only can companies implementing a manufacturing system expect to see significant benefits to their profitability, but they will also create a healthier, safer, and happier workforce.