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Innovative Automaker Adopts VR for Collaborative Design Efforts 


Innovative Automaker Adopts VR for Collaborative Design Efforts 

The past few years have been challenging for automakers and the fleets that rely on them. Supply chain troubles and rapidly shifting consumer demands have led to price volatility and extensive backlogs. However, amid all these obstacles, GM was able to put out the BrightDrop Zevo 600 in record time.

Going from idea to full-scale production in under two years would be impressive in any context. Doing so at the peak of pandemic-era disruption is staggering. The only way it was possible was through extensive digitization and immersive collaboration — a practice that may rewrite the future of the transportation industry.

The Challenge of Modern Industry

To fully grasp the benefits of immersive collaboration, businesses must first recognize where conventional approaches fall short. It starts with the industry’s labor challenges. Manufacturing could have 2.1 million unfilled positions by 2030, and logistics and supply chain operations face similar shortages. As current workers retire and fewer enter the sector to take their place, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to remain productive — at least by traditional means.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, many office jobs transitioned to remote work, but industrial workplaces couldn’t, leading to long periods of lost productivity. Now, home-based jobs are becoming the norm in some sectors, attracting more young workers and worsening the labor crisis in industries where that’s not an option.

As these labor challenges persist, output demands are rising. Manufacturers must produce higher-quality products in less time at lower costs to remain competitive in an increasingly agile market. Fleets must support that growth and expand to deliver more in shorter time frames. Achieving that is challenging enough on its own, much less amid dwindling in-person workforces.

The pandemic also revealed how fragile conventional supply chains are. Companies must adapt to new challenges at a moment’s notice, but standard manufacturing and supply chain practices don’t support that kind of agility.

The Record-Breaking BrightDrop Zevo 600

Despite all these challenges, GM managed to put out its fastest vehicle to market in company history. Engineers began designing the BrightDrop Zevo 600 in early 2020, and despite shutdowns they released it 20 months later. The secret to this project’s success was a quick pivot to immersive virtual collaboration technologies.

Virtual reality (VR) was at the center of this technological shift. Engineers used VR to work together in immersive digital environments, replicating in-person cooperation despite being miles apart.

The VR system BrightDrop used is more advanced than a simple headset. It also features tracking sensors called lighthouses and pucks that give users a more grounded sense of position and direction in the virtual world. These sensors also prevent collisions with physical objects. VR-capable design software and gaming computers to run it completed the system.

Through these technologies, BrightDrop employees were able to collaborate from their homes. VR provided the convenience of videoconferencing with the ability to interact with the same digital elements as physical objects in conventional workflows. 

What the Zevo 600 Means for Transportation

The Zevo 600’s development showcases immersive collaboration’s potential for industrial sectors. While VR meetups were a health necessity at COVID’s peak, they’re valuable time-savers under normal circumstances. Employees can work together without wasting time traveling to the same physical location.

Because VR is immersive, it’s easier to remain productive and ensure virtual models more closely reflect their real-world counterparts — whether they represent specific products or their larger supply chains. This advantage further shortens turnaround times by minimizing physical iterations and avoiding time waste other digital solutions may foster.

As these solutions speed up auto manufacturing, they open new possibilities for the fleets relying on these providers. New vehicles offering needed improvements in efficiency, reliability or sustainability will come out faster, enabling rapid fleet expansion. Shorter lead times can also reduce prices, further supporting logistics growth.

VR and similar technologies could also address logistics companies’ labor problems. Companies can hire employees from other cities, states and countries when people no longer have to be in the same place to work together. The labor pool broadens dramatically as a result.

VR-powered remote work doesn’t necessarily apply to drivers but can ease the burden on logistics businesses’ office staff. It also opens the door for remote onboarding and early training for drivers or mechanics, even if they must move to work in person eventually.

Similarly, some companies have started using VR to train mechanics and other personnel. Adopting this approach could let supply chain organizations bring new hires up to speed faster. Immersive digital environments are better teachers than noninteractive presentations but are safer than real-world workplaces and support remote hiring.

This digital collaboration also has benefits outside of speed and labor issues. Because it lets automakers create more in-depth designs in less time, they don’t have to sacrifice efficiency for high-quality products. That’s good news for transport companies seeking to grow their fleets while capitalizing on newer technologies for driver comfort or safety.

Despite its rapid development, the Zevo 600 brought several delivery-focused innovations to its design — including larger cupholders and a cabin that’s easier to enter and exit. Other automakers can use the same approach to equip their vehicles with in-demand features and functionality without long lead times. As a result, they can meet changing market needs faster, helping transportation and logistics become more agile.

Bringing Immersive Collaboration to New Applications

The BrightDrop Zevo 600 isn’t the only product to benefit from this technology, and it certainly won’t be the last. Maserati used a similar approach to design a car in eight weeks, aiming to have a working prototype in under two years. Computer-aided design software and 3D printing accelerated the process. As this design philosophy becomes standard, fleets can expect new vehicles to roll out faster, enabling quicker expansion or EV adoption.

Immersive, tech-centric collaboration has applications outside of automotive design. VR and its adjacent technologies enable real-time remote collaboration in workflows where simple video meetings aren’t sufficient. Logistics companies can use these solutions to connect maintenance professionals in different areas, learn to work with new equipment faster or collaborate on virtual models of supply chains for more effective planning.


This technology also has promise for fleets’ workforce and HR operations. Managers can train workers in VR so they learn important safety steps before handling potentially hazardous equipment in the real world. These immersive environments can shorten onboarding times to support faster expansion and higher productivity.

VR collaboration lets maintenance personnel train on virtual representations of different vehicles without needing the real thing. That way, fleets can prepare to work with newer equipment in less time. This advantage will become more important as autonomous driving and EVs transform logistics operations.

Supply chain management can benefit from immersive collaboration, too. VR meetings make communicating with global partners easier, informing faster, more effective operational decisions. Faster, more in-depth communication will become increasingly important as workforce struggles continue and demands for quick shipping rise.

Immersive Collaboration Is the Future of Transportation

BrightDrops’ Zevo 600 proves that digitization’s benefits for the auto industry are more than just theoretical. It enables the changes the sector needs to compete in a fast-paced, tech-centric world. While this shift is starting in manufacturing, it has ripple effects across the transportation and logistics industry.

New technologies will become essential in remaining productive as supply chain and logistics companies face mounting challenges. Immersive collaboration is the first and one of the most important steps in that goal. Now that companies are starting to see massive real-world benefits from this innovation, it won’t be long before it transforms the industry.


The Evolution of Just-in-Time (JIT) Manufacturing in the Modern Era

The evolution of Just-in-Time (JIT) Manufacturing has been nothing short of remarkable. Once confined to its Japanese origins, it has become a global force shaping how industries approach production, supply chains, and operational efficiency. Therefore, let’s explore the fascinating journey of Just-in-Time Manufacturing’s development, its applications across various sectors, and its promising future trends!

Historical roots of JIT

The historical roots of Just-in-Time (JIT) manufacturing can be traced back to post-World War II Japan, a country striving to rebuild its economy. Toyota, a pioneering automaker, played an important role in shaping these methods. They introduced the Toyota Production System (TPS), emphasizing efficient resource utilization and minimizing waste. Key elements, like Kanban systems and continuous improvement (Kaizen), stemmed from TPS. 

This approach allowed Toyota to streamline production, reduce excess inventory, and respond swiftly to customer demands. The success of TPS ignited a global manufacturing revolution. Then, these principles transcended borders and were adopted worldwide, revolutionizing industries far beyond automotive manufacturing. Today, Just-in-Time remains a cornerstone of efficient production, emphasizing lean practices, reduced lead times, and improved quality control. 

Technology’s impact on JIT

The impact of technology on the evolution of Just-in-Time (JIT) manufacturing has been nothing short of transformative. Nowadays, technology serves as a cornerstone, enhancing the precision and efficiency of these practices. Automation and advanced software systems play a big role in production processes, allowing for real-time monitoring of inventory levels, demand forecasting, and supply chain management. Therefore, this newfound visibility empowers manufacturers to make data-driven decisions and respond swiftly to changes in customer preferences. 

At the same time, integrating robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) streamlines repetitive tasks, reducing human error and improving production accuracy. Finally, technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT) enable interconnected machinery and smart sensors to communicate seamlessly, further optimizing operations. 

Globalization and supply chain complexity

In today’s globalized world, managing your supply chain well, no matter what, has become an imperative for businesses. The complexities that globalization introduces can pose significant challenges. Supply chains now span continents, cultures, and time zones, making it essential for companies to adapt and optimize their operations. 

Navigating the intricate web of international regulations, diverse market demands, and volatile geopolitical landscapes can be daunting. Yet, a well-executed supply chain strategy encompassing risk management, diversification, and agile practices can mitigate these challenges. That’s where Just-In-Time Manufacturing comes in. 

Sustainability and JIT

Sustainability and the evolution of Just-in-Time (JIT) manufacturing are now intertwined more than ever, especially with the green logistics taking center stage. As the world grapples with environmental concerns, these practices are evolving to embrace eco-friendly principles. Green logistics in this field focuses on minimizing the environmental impact of supply chains by reducing waste, optimizing transportation routes, and adopting eco-conscious packaging materials. 

Companies increasingly integrate renewable energy sources and environmentally friendly technologies into their production processes. Therefore, this shift aligns with ethical and regulatory standards and appeals to eco-conscious consumers. Sustainability in Just-in-Time Manufacturing reduces the carbon footprint and enhances cost-efficiency by trimming waste and energy consumption. Therefore, as the world moves toward a more sustainable future, this leads the way by demonstrating that eco-friendly practices can go hand in hand with lean and efficient production processes.

Just-in-Time in various industries

Just-in-Time principles have proven their versatility by making significant impacts across diverse industries. In automotive manufacturing, Just-in-Time revolutionized production by reducing inventory costs and improving production efficiency. The electronics industry embraced Just-in-Time to meet fast-paced technological changes, minimizing obsolete stock. In the food and beverage sector, Just-in-Time ensures freshness and minimizes food waste. It has enabled companies to adapt to consumer demands rapidly! 

This approach isn’t confined to these sectors alone, as it’s found its place in aerospace, healthcare, and beyond. By aligning production closely with demand, Just-in-Time brings efficiency and flexibility to various industries, demonstrating its universal relevance and adaptability. 

Inventory management in JIT

Effective inventory management is a linchpin of Just-in-Time manufacturing. Its core principle is maintaining minimal inventory levels while ensuring materials arrive when needed. Traditional inventory management strategies involved holding substantial stockpiles to buffer against uncertainty. However, JIT shifts this paradigm by emphasizing a ‘pull’ system, where production is triggered by customer demand. That reduces carrying costs, minimizes waste, and enhances cash flow. JIT leverages data analytics to forecast demand accurately, optimizing inventory levels. 

In addition, technologies like Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) and the Internet of Things (IoT) enable real-time tracking and monitoring, ensuring inventory accuracy. Still, Just-In-Time isn’t just about cutting inventory; it’s about managing it strategically to balance operational efficiency and customer satisfaction. Effective inventory management achieved in this way plays a role in maintaining this equilibrium, making it a cornerstone of modern manufacturing practices.

JIT challenges and solutions

Just-in-Time manufacturing, while beneficial, isn’t without its challenges. One common hurdle is supply chain disruptions, often due to natural disasters, transportation issues, or supplier problems. Its reliance on timely deliveries makes it vulnerable to these disruptions. Fortunately, there are solutions, such as diversifying suppliers and building resilient supply chains. 

Another challenge is maintaining quality standards when reducing inventory buffers. That can lead to quality issues if not managed carefully. The solution here lies in rigorous quality control processes and continuous improvement efforts. JIT also demands a high level of synchronization between various production stages, which can be a logistical puzzle. 

Advanced planning and scheduling systems help address this challenge. While JIT comes with its set of obstacles, with strategic planning, adaptation, and the right tools, these challenges can be overcome, resulting in a streamlined and efficient production process!

COVID-19 and resilience in JIT

The COVID-19 pandemic served as a significant stress test for Just-in-Time manufacturing. Supply chain disruptions were widespread, and Just-in-Time systems faced unprecedented challenges. However, the crisis also highlighted the importance of resilience in JIT. Companies adapted by diversifying suppliers, increasing safety stock, and investing in digital technologies to enhance supply chain visibility. They also implemented risk management strategies to mitigate future disruptions! 

While JIT’s core philosophy of reducing waste and maintaining lean operations remained intact, the pandemic emphasized the need for flexibility and adaptability. COVID-19 underscored that JIT systems can thrive even in the face of unexpected disruptions when coupled with a robust resilience strategy. This experience has reshaped JIT practices, making them better equipped to handle future uncertainties while still delivering efficiency and cost savings.

Future trends in JIT manufacturing

The future of the evolution of Just-in-Time (JIT) manufacturing holds exciting prospects as technology continues to evolve. Emerging trends suggest that JIT will be more data-driven and interconnected than ever before. Companies embrace predictive analytics and AI to optimize production schedules, reduce lead times, and enhance supply chain visibility. Sustainability will also be crucial, with eco-conscious Just-in-Time practices gaining momentum. 

Also, integrating blockchain technology can enhance transparency and traceability within supply chains, ensuring product authenticity and reducing fraud risks. Businesses need to adapt to these future trends to stay competitive. Investing in digital tools and fostering a culture of innovation will be key to improving your logistics approach in the dynamic landscape of JIT manufacturing, ensuring efficiency, responsiveness, and sustainability.

A better approach to manufacturing

With our exploration of the evolution of Just-in-Time (JIT) Manufacturing in the modern era, it’s clear that things are far from over. This dynamic approach to production continues to adapt and thrive, meeting the ever-changing demands of industries worldwide. In an era marked by technological advancements and the growing importance of sustainability, this type of manufacturing stands as a testament to the power of innovation, efficiency, and adaptability in shaping the manufacturing landscape!

Author Bio

Veronica Thistlewood is a seasoned logistics expert at Lippincott Van Lines who is passionate about optimizing supply chain networks and enhancing operational efficiency. With years of experience in the field, she brings a unique blend of creativity and precision to every logistics challenge, ensuring seamless solutions that drive success.

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Insights from Enable’s State of Volume Rebates Reports for Manufacturers and Distributors

In a bid to illuminate the dynamic realm of volume rebates in supply chain operations, Enable, the rebate management platform, has unveiled its much-anticipated annual reports for 2024. The comprehensive insights offered by the “2024 State of Volume Rebates Report for Manufacturers” and the “State of Volume Rebates Report for Distributors” shed light on the strategic role played by rebates in financial performance and supply chain operations.

Supply chain complexities are on the rise, making effective rebate management imperative for manufacturers and distributors. By fostering a collaborative approach, robust rebate management maximizes revenue streams, prevents leakage, ensures healthy profits, and minimizes disputes. Enable’s reports delve into the nuances of how manufacturers and distributors leverage volume rebates, uncovering key elements crucial for supply chain success.

The “2024 State of Volume Rebates Report for Manufacturers” emphasizes the potency of rebates as a strategy to influence customer behavior, boost revenue, and foster loyalty. The report highlights opportunities for manufacturers to enhance analytics, communication with trading partners, and reduce administrative burdens on finance teams.

Key Insights for Manufacturers:

1. Opportunities Exist for Manufacturers to Expand Rebate Programs:
– 62% of manufacturers offer volume rebate programs.
– The majority support fewer than 25 distributors, contractors, or retailers.

2. Rebate Strategies Lack Synergy with Company Goals:
– Only 4% find managing rebate programs easy.
– 36% use rebates to drive sales growth.
– 32% don’t believe their strategy is effective.

3. Improved Analytics and Communication Will Drive More Effective Rebate Programs:
– 64% believe better analytics will enhance rebate programs.
– 41% note periodic discussions with customers about rebate programs.
– Awareness and improved communication are seen as key factors.

4. Administrative Burdens Prevent Strategic Use of Rebates:
– One-third use Excel, and another third use ERPs for rebate administration.
– 55% lack a full-time rebate manager.
– 46% spend one month or more on reconciliation for year-end reporting.

The “2024 State of Volume Rebates Report for Distributors” underscores the critical role rebates play in distributor success within the supply chain. Distributors are urged to focus on improving communication, both internally and externally, and seek analytical insights for better performance visibility against goals.

Key Insights for Distributors:

1. Rebates Remain Critical to Distributors:
– 87% report rebates are critical to profitability.
– 79% consider the availability of a rebate program with a supplier important.

2. Distributors View Rebates as a Relationship Builder:
– 72% believe manufacturers offer rebates to become a preferred vendor.
– 43% know the rebate amount earned from each manufacturer.

3. Better Tools are Needed to Track Rebate Performance:
– 58% track performance against supplier goals.
– Concerns arise over accuracy, with 52% doubting they receive all earned rebates.

4. Communication Remains a Key Concern, both Internally and Externally:
– 48% report only purchasing and senior management are aware of supplier rebate programs.
– Communication gaps persist, with 33% hearing from manufacturers only when they reach out first.

As manufacturers and distributors navigate the evolving landscape, these reports serve as a compass, providing strategic insights for optimizing rebate programs and fostering stronger collaborations within the supply chain.


The Role of Predictive Maintenance in Preventing Manufacturing Downtime

In the dynamic and competitive landscape of modern manufacturing, downtime is a critical challenge. It represents periods when production lines grind to a halt, often unexpectedly, leading to significant financial and operational setbacks. In seeking solutions to this pervasive issue, the industry has turned towards innovative strategies, chief among them being predictive maintenance. This technique stands at the forefront of preventing manufacturing downtime, combining advanced technology with strategic foresight.

Understanding Manufacturing Downtime 

Defining Manufacturing Downtime

Manufacturing downtime refers to periods when machines or production lines stop working for various reasons, from equipment breakdowns to system failures. These interruptions are more than just temporary pauses; they represent significant disruptions that can ripple through the entire manufacturing process, affecting everything from production schedules to supply chain logistics.

Common Causes and Their Implications

The causes of manufacturing downtime are diverse. Mechanical failures, software glitches, human error, and supply chain disruptions are common culprits. Each of these causes leads to immediate production halts and sets off a chain reaction of inefficiencies and delays. For example, a single-machine breakdown can disrupt an entire production line, leading to delayed orders, increased labor costs, and strained customer relationships.

The Broader Impact

The impact of unplanned downtime extends beyond immediate production losses. It can lead to significant financial strain, eroding profit margins, and increasing operational costs. Moreover, frequent downtimes can damage a company’s reputation, affecting customer trust and long-term business prospects. This is particularly critical in industries where timely delivery is crucial. In the context of manufacturing supply chain disruptions, downtime can have far-reaching effects, impacting not just the individual manufacturer but also the broader network of suppliers and customers.

Predictive Maintenance: An Overview 

Exploring Predictive Maintenance

Predictive maintenance is a proactive maintenance strategy that uses data analysis and technological tools to predict when a machine will require maintenance. This approach differs significantly from traditional reactive maintenance, where actions are taken only after a failure has occurred, and from scheduled maintenance, which relies on predefined intervals.

Contrast with Traditional Methods

Traditional maintenance methods, though tried and tested, often lead to either unnecessary maintenance or unexpected breakdowns. Predictive maintenance, by contrast, offers a more efficient approach by monitoring the condition of equipment in real-time and predicting future maintenance needs. This method helps prevent manufacturing downtime by identifying issues before they escalate into major problems.

Technological Foundations

The backbone of predictive maintenance is a range of advanced technologies. IoT sensors play a crucial role in collecting real-time data from equipment. This data is then analyzed using AI and machine learning algorithms to identify patterns and predict potential failures. This technological integration enhances the accuracy of maintenance schedules and provides deeper insights into equipment performance and lifespan.

The Mechanics of Predictive Maintenance in Manufacturing 

Incorporating Advanced Technologies

Predictive maintenance in the manufacturing sector is heavily reliant on cutting-edge technologies. IoT devices, for example, are used extensively to monitor various parameters like temperature, vibration, and pressure. This real-time data is crucial in predicting equipment failures.

Illustrative Examples in Manufacturing

To understand the real-world impact of predictive maintenance, consider a manufacturing plant that produces automotive parts. By using sensors to monitor equipment, the plant can predict when a particular machine is likely to fail, and maintenance can be scheduled accordingly. This approach not only prevents unexpected downtime but also extends the life of the machinery.

Another example can be seen in the food and beverage industry. Here, predictive maintenance is used to ensure that refrigeration units are functioning optimally. By predicting potential issues, manufacturers can prevent spoilage and ensure compliance with safety standards.

Software Technology in Transforming Global Construction

The transformative impact of predictive maintenance extends beyond manufacturing. A notable parallel is seen in the construction industry, where the integration of software technology in transforming global construction reflects a similar shift toward predictive techniques. This adoption in construction, characterized by software-driven solutions for project management and structural analysis, echoes the predictive maintenance model in manufacturing. It highlights a broader industry trend towards leveraging technology for proactive management and efficiency. Such cross-industry applications underscore the versatility and effectiveness of predictive approaches in modern industrial practices.

Data Analysis and Decision-Making

The effectiveness of predictive maintenance lies in its ability to analyze vast amounts of data. This analysis helps in making informed decisions about maintenance activities. It allows manufacturers to schedule maintenance at the most reasonable times, thereby minimizing disruptions to production. This strategy aligns with the latest manufacturing industry trends, emphasizing efficiency and data-driven decision-making.

Benefits of Predictive Maintenance 

Minimizing Downtime

The most significant advantage of predictive maintenance is its effectiveness in preventing manufacturing downtime. By identifying potential issues before they lead to failures, predictive maintenance ensures that equipment is always operating at optimal levels.

Cost-Effectiveness and Efficiency

Predictive maintenance offers considerable cost savings. It reduces the need for emergency repairs, which are often more expensive than scheduled maintenance. Moreover, extending the lifespan of equipment reduces the need for frequent replacements, leading to long-term cost benefits.

Enhancing Equipment Life and Safety

Regular and timely maintenance not only prolongs the life of machinery but also ensures that equipment is safe to operate. This is particularly important in industries where equipment failures can lead to safety hazards.

Challenges and Considerations 

Adopting Predictive Maintenance

While predictive maintenance offers numerous benefits, its implementation can be challenging. It requires a significant investment in technology and training. Companies need to invest in the right tools and ensure that their staff is trained to use these technologies effectively.

Cost-Benefit Analysis

Organizations need to perform a thorough cost-benefit analysis before adopting predictive maintenance. While the long-term benefits are clear, the initial investment can be substantial. Balancing these costs with the potential savings is crucial for a successful implementation.


Predictive maintenance is a key strategy in preventing manufacturing downtime, offering a proactive approach that integrates advanced technology and data analysis. As manufacturing evolves, embracing predictive maintenance is not just beneficial; it’s imperative for maintaining efficiency, reducing costs, and staying competitive in a rapidly changing industry.

Author Bio

Dustin Long is an esteemed industry analyst and writer. His collaboration with prominent companies, including Eagle Van Lines Moving & Storage NJ, has further enriched his expertise. Outside of his professional pursuits, Dustin is an avid technology enthusiast, always keen to explore the latest digital trends.

upskilling manufacturing upgrade

Fixing the Manufacturing Labor Shortage

How pronounced is the labor problem for North American manufacturers? Let’s just say it has been tough for recruitment and retention. For several years, manufacturing suffered from a lack of candidates to assume roles. Back in 2018, researchers predicted an applicant shortfall of more than two million within the next decade.

The coronavirus caused many manufacturing facilities to shut down or reduce output, which somewhat alleviated the problem (at least temporarily). But with manufacturing back on the upswing, countless positions remain unfilled due to a tight labor market and a lack of skilled individuals.

This issue begs an essential question: How can manufacturers woo new team members and — even more critically — keep the ones they have from leaving? The answer starts with corporate leaders focusing less on production numbers and more on supporting potential candidates with the kind of benefits (e.g., medical, workplace flexibility, growth opportunities) that leave them feeling professionally and personally fulfilled.

For example, professional development (aka upskilling) can help workers broaden their skill sets in a changing, tech-heavy environment. By making upskilling in manufacturing an executive-level priority, employees feel valued and are more likely to stay. In turn, this strategy frees up human resources personnel to concentrate on sourcing top performers to fill skill gaps rather than dealing with ongoing turnover.

The Advantages of Upskilling in Manufacturing Environments

Company-sanctioned upskilling and reskilling can be an attractive part of a corporate benefits package. Why? To be honest, it historically has been a bit of a novelty. Traditionally, manufacturers offer employees solid, comprehensive health-based benefits packages. Typically, these offerings include reasonably priced medical benefits and a retirement vehicle option, like a 401(k). Yet, they’re not enough to meet the needs of today’s workers.

Adding career development components to a manufacturer’s benefits package helps differentiate that business from its competitors. It’s no secret that manufacturing is a demanding career, so providing opportunities for continuing education — whether through tuition reimbursement or free online education programs — is essential to retaining workers. Putting physical work behind them through promotions can be an appealing reason to stay with one employer rather than look for another.

Of course, professional development opportunities can run the gamut. Companies should therefore survey their workforces to determine what types of upskilling their people need and want. For instance, younger or midcareer employees may be eager to earn continuing education credits toward certificates or degrees. Team members who have already been through the higher education system could appreciate the opportunity to hone their skills and become experts in particular areas. Meanwhile, seasoned workers closer to retirement age might prefer workshops or seminars to build upon years of experience.

No matter where your employees are in their professional journeys, offering them the opportunity to grow as employees is a plus.

Upskilling Your Team Works — So Do These Benefit Add-Ons

Of course, manufacturers don’t have to limit their benefits package overhaul to upskilling. Other benefits have come to the forefront over the past 18 months that keep employee retention in the manufacturing industry high.

  1. Flexible work arrangements

Many employees seek flexibility when it comes to scheduling. This preference doesn’t mean they want to work remotely, which may not be viable. Instead, flexibility equates to working beyond traditional workdays. One example might be someone working four 10-hour days a week. Having more choices can help workers balance their work and personal lives, which keeps them loyal to their employers without negatively affecting efficiency or production.

  1. Mental health support

The onset of COVID-19 has spurred many folks to report declines in their mental health, such as increased depression and suicidal thoughts. To combat this growing issue, some manufacturers are providing specialized mental health benefits to their team members. Being able to talk with professionals can help employees feel less anxious while reducing absenteeism, presenteeism, and risky behaviors.

  1. Family-friendly benefits

Plenty of manufacturing workers fall into the so-called “sandwich generation” category (i.e., they have competing childcare and eldercare concerns). These employees might feel like they have no choice but to find an employer that supports and understands their unique positions. Though parental leave and related benefits aren’t universal, they’re becoming more popular.

Manufacturers can’t afford to take a “wait and see” attitude when dealing with the labor shortage. They need to build a strategy of upskilling and reskilling while augmenting benefits packages to attract newcomers, strengthen skills gaps, and retain exceptional performers who are destined to become tomorrow’s leaders.

Author’s Bio

Susan Baxter is the senior vice president of HR at Integrity Staffing Solutions, a full-service staffing agency that ranks in the top 2% of agencies across the country for quality service based on ClearlyRated’s “Best of Staffing” client survey.

upskilling manufacturing upgrade

Upgrading Your Manufacturing – 5 Point Guide to a Smart Factory System

The manufacturing industry has seen significant changes over the last decade due to the fourth industrial revolution. Also known as Industry 4.0, this revolution has been fueled by new technologies like automation, IIoT, cloud computing and AI.

Manufacturers that have invested in these technologies are seeing visible improvements, proving smart factories are here to stay. Early adopters reported average three-year gains of 10% or better for factory output, factory capacity utilization, and labor productivity.

Today, the majority of manufacturers agree on the importance of smart factories in the future of the industry. In the United States, 86% of manufacturers believe that, by 2025, smart factories will be driving the competition in the industry. Moreover, 83% also believe that smart factories will transform how products are manufactured. In such times, businesses have to move towards upgrading their manufacturing facilities to smart factories.

Here’s a five-step guide to help you upgrade your manufacturing to a smart factory system.

Step 1: Decide on Goals and Identify Your Needs

Making changes to the manufacturing system is capital-intensive, and such critical responsibilities demand top leadership involvement. To begin the process of upgrading, the top management has to take initiative and get involved in the process throughout the project. This helps in making important decisions related to identifying the need for upgrades, long-term goals, allocation of resources, and expected ROI.

For a successful upgrade to a smart factory, top management has to involve all the employees in the process. Employees know the manufacturing system closely. They can help identify needs for changes, suggest solutions for improving the product and create a culture centered around efficiency, productivity and safety.

The first step is finished when the management has defined the goals of upgrading to a smart factory, the need for changes, the KPIs (Key Performance Indicators), and the expected ROI through efficiency and productivity. The goals and needs of the plant should be in line with the long-term strategy of the enterprise.

Step 2: Choosing the Critical Areas for Upgrades

Creating a smart factory out of your conventional factory isn’t a one-time change but a long process that involves allocating resources based on the goals and needs identified in the first step. The second step – choosing critical areas – is key to starting off the process on the right foot.

For this, the current production system and processes are analyzed for efficiency, productivity and bottlenecks. The analysis highlights various opportunities for smart technologies and modern processes to improve system efficiency. These opportunities are listed based on their criticality to the system. For example, if a workstation breakdown can bring the whole plant to a halt, it is the most critical and at the top. If an area upgrade can improve efficiency by a large amount, it is also critical.

Solving the issues in these critical areas reduces unplanned downtime and provides higher return on investment through improved productivity. Consequently, they become the perfect choices for implementing pilot projects. The results of these projects, in terms of unplanned downtime reduction and productivity improvement, can help choose the next upgrades and critical areas.

Step 3: Investing in Workstation and Workforce Upgrades

Smart factories are a result of Industry 4.0 technologies like IIoT, automation, big data analysis, AI and more, which have been advancing rapidly over the years. The third step is investing in these technologies to bring the changes for the critical areas identified in the first two steps. Smart factories tend to have customized solutions for assets with sensors, automated processes and new tools to improve worker productivity.

The workstations and assets with sensors create the IIoT for the system that allows communication between all the plant’s assets. To handle the data from all assets, inventory and orders, an EAM software is central – it handles predictive maintenance as well. Predictive maintenance can be implemented using real-time data from assets to achieve near-zero unplanned downtime.

A smart factory isn’t just about workstations but about the workforce as well. After all, workers are the ones who have to utilize these technologies to get the best out of them. It is vital to invest in training the workforce to use all the features of the new systems and workstations to achieve the productivity goals.

Step 4: Data Collection and Analysis for Optimization

Data drives improvements in the modern manufacturing industry. All assets produce large amounts of data but only a small part is utilized by most manufacturers. A smart factory has to be focused on collecting data efficiently and analyzing it thoroughly. Investing in capable IIoT and EAM software for data collection and analysis becomes important for this reason as well.

The data from workstation sensors is collected and processed by the system to create useful insights into the production. Various KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) can be monitored using real-time data. Close collaboration between the IT and OT departments can help ensure better data collection and analysis. Data experts from the IT department can train other employees to ensure a better understanding of data analysis.

After analysis, the insights should be discussed to identify opportunities for improvement in the production, as well as in management. Management should make decisions based on the learnings and keep track of the effects of the changes over time.

Step 5: Monitor, Learn, Improve

As mentioned earlier, upgrading your manufacturing system to a smart factory is a continuous process. A smart factory provides the data and tools which the employees have to utilize efficiently to improve results by making changes and upgrades. Monitoring the progress with the available systems and EAM software highlights various opportunities for improvement across the factory. With the available information about the productivity, costs and efficiency since last changes, management can make better decisions about which improvements to prioritize. 

Developments over the last decade have made it clear that smart factories are here to stay. The key to effective upgrading is utilizing tools and strategies efficiently in the critical areas, and monitoring the progress. Businesses that want to remain competitive must start upgrading their systems to move towards smart factories. The five steps listed here will help you create a good plan for your journey of creating a smart factory.

Author’s Bio

For over 30 years, Eric Whitley has been a noteworthy leader in the Manufacturing space. In addition to the many publications and articles Eric has written on various manufacturing topics, you may know him from his efforts leading the Total Productive Maintenance effort at Autoliv ASP or from his involvement in the Management Certification programs at The Ohio State University, where he served as an adjunct faculty member.  

After an extensive career as a reliability and business improvement consultant, Eric joined L2L, where he currently serves as the Director of Smart Manufacturing. His role in this position is to help clients learn and implement L2L’s pragmatic and simple approach to corporate digital transformation.   

Eric lives with his wife of 35 years in Northern Utah. When Eric is not working, he can usually be found on the water with a fishing rod in his hands.  


Five ways the war in Ukraine will change the world’s economy

The war in Ukraine is a tragedy that will continue to play out for months, with an uncertain ending as far as the sad cost in human life, new alignments in global geopolitics and the stunning damage that will be done to the economies in countries beyond just Russia and Ukraine. Even though the repercussions of this war will reverberate for decades, we can already identify some trends that will impact the global economy in the future.  As with any volatile trade and economic situation, there will be clear losers (the Russian economy), but there will also be potent secondary developments that arise as a result of this aggressive invasion of a democratic, Western-oriented Ukraine.


Energy Security / Renewable Energy

The U.S. and EU have spent decades wringing their hands over the Transatlantic joint dependence on oil and gas from ‘bad actors’, including Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela.  In the last few weeks, attempts to punish Russia economically have been hamstrung due to the fact that much of Europe still receives about half of its gas from Russia, an impossible dependency when it comes to confronting Russia for its illegal actions in Ukraine. While the ‘fracking revolution’ has assisted the U.S. to a certain level of energy independence, a sizeable portion of the nation’s oil still comes from unreliable external sources. The irony of Russia’s attack on a democratic Ukraine is that it might finally push the U.S. and EU to commit to a substantive, immediate and dedicated pursuit of renewable energy sources for which environmental activists and innovative business leaders have been lobbying for decades.  Renewable energy’s strongest proponent just became the national security crowd.

Defense Spending – Globally

The same national security concerns will also lead to a huge rise in defense spending from EU and other nations.  Germany’s proposed budget increase alone will be a critical shot in the arm for the European defense industry, but we can assume that other nations that have put off investments in this area were shaken by Russia’s willingness to break global norms and attack Ukraine and will respond with substantial budget increases.  Images of Turkish Bayraktar drones destroying Russian armor and video of the U.S.-made Javelin helping to stymie the 7th largest army in the world are going to change how smaller nations structure their arms inventory.  More importantly, Russia’s actions have disabused any remaining doubters of the notion that a country like Russia will ‘play by the rules’ of international law in the modern era.  If Russia can so brazenly violate their international agreements and obligations, then so can China – and that realization will have a substantive domino effect on the planning and defense expenditures of everyone from Finland to the Philippines.

Wheat and Foodstuffs – Even Greater Price Inflation

Russia and Ukraine accounted for 30% of the global wheat trade prior to this conflict. But that is not the only food product that will be taken off of the market as a result of the war – sunflower oil, corn and other key products will either be destroyed (or unplanted) as a result of the fighting or will be locked inside Russia’s domestic market due to sanctions and the inevitable tariffs.  The rest of the world will see massive price increases and shortages in certain foodstuffs.  Combined with the global surge in inflation and increasing transportation costs, many global food-producing companies will struggle to provide products that are affordable for their usual clients.  If there is a silver lining to this cloud, it is that locally-sourced products and wheat-alternatives (rice, corn, bulgur) should see a boom in demand.

Cybersecurity and Information Warfare

Russia and China have been fighting a shadow war with the U.S. and EU in the cyber realm for years, but this conflict has pushed that fight into the light of day.  U.S. and European struggles with Russian governmental and pseudo-governmental cyber strikes (from denial of service attacks to outright hacks for information and funds, as well as documented attempts to impact elections in both regions) should have the same impact on corporate and governmental cybersecurity spending as watching Russian tanks roll into Ukraine did for defense spending.  No one wants to be the easy target in this war and corporations that took some risk and saved money on cybersecurity will be scampering to close those gaps as quickly as they can.  Russian desperation to get at global fund sources in the next few months dramatically increases the risk of pseudo-governmental ransomware attacks, and the information warfare we are seeing between Russia/China and the rest of the world is astoundingly blunt (and for Ukraine, remarkably effective in generating global support).  The gloves are off.  Is your company ready to defend its business interests from cyber and information / reputational attacks?

A More Unified, Emboldened EU

The last month has been a litmus test for EU leadership, and they have come out looking much more poised and united than anyone would have believed.  Should they have taken this threat more seriously in the last decade?  Absolutely.  Have they tolerated Putin-loving populists in the EU club for years (Orban, Zeman, Le Pen, Salvini)?  Sadly, yes.  But all of that changed when Russia headed for Kyiv.  Member state leaders closed ranks and the EU turned from a reluctant bystander into ardent supporters of Ukrainian defense efforts in a few short weeks.  From an economic perspective, this more unified and confident EU will disrupt a number of patterns.  They’re likely going to be much more aggressive in nurturing and protecting their internal innovation in technology and defense.  They will redouble efforts to reduce their dependency on external energy sources (to the benefit of renewable technologies, electric vehicle innovations, the nuclear industry and even public transportation ventures).  Most importantly, they can be expected to be stronger proponents of democratic ideals in their foreign political and business affairs.  Countries (and companies) that interact with this new EU will likely find that they are much more insistent on ESG concerns and support for human rights, democratic principles and adherence to the rule of law.


Kirk Samson is a Director at the International Trade Association of Greater Chicago.  He is a former U.S. diplomat and spent ten years as an international law advisor for the Department of Defense.


Reducing emissions requires efficient supply chain solutions

In November 2021, the United States Department of State and the United States Executive Office of the President released a new long-term strategy for reducing CO2 emissions. The report laid out the ambitious goal of achieving net-zero emissions no later than 2050, which will require significant change, adaptation, and transformation across almost every sector, and in particular the manufacturing and transport industries.

These ambitious targets build on last year’s summit, where the US pledged to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions by 50-52% in 2030, in line with the European Council’s requirements. According to experts around the world, these new, increased goals are essential when it comes to meeting objectives set for the middle of the 21st century.


Around the world, the food and beverage sector is responsible for about one third of all greenhouse gas emissions, largely due to their complex supply chains. Without taking significant action to address supply chain emissions, meeting emissions targets will be a challenge. Mitigation efforts will require a significant shift in the way supply chain issues are considered within the sector, particularly when it comes to agriculture and land use.

The largest direct source of greenhouse gas emissions, is the US transportation sector, having overtaken the power sector back in 2015. It is responsible for 29% of all US greenhouse gas emissions, according to an EPA report released in 2021. As part of the drive towards Net Zero, President Joe Biden signed an Executive Order on Strengthening American Leadership in Clean Cars and Trucks in December 2021. This set a target of 50% of cars and light trucks to be zero-emissions by 2030 and directed NHTSA to finalize emissions targets for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles by December 2022.

These strategies, targets, and directives are a clear indication that the US approach to CO2 emissions is hardening, and that decisions are being made that will have significant impacts on those responsible for supply chains.

However, reducing emissions is not solely linked to vehicles, and clean technologies and lower-emission cars and trucks cannot be the only solution, even in the transportation sector. A huge part of achieving these ambitious goals will come from significant improvement in efficiency throughout the entire logistics process, including, of course, the decisive areas of warehouse and transport management. Warehouse management solutions (WMS) and transport management solutions (TMS) have become key elements that not only improve general efficiency, but are also essential to creating a more effective and seamless supply chain process, optimizing transportation and, in turn, reducing emissions.

Warehouse management solutions

The warehouse is the heart of the entire logistics system, and its management has a direct impact on the rest of the links in the supply chain including, unsurprisingly, on transportation. An effective WMS not only guarantees more efficient use of physical warehouse space but also optimizes the movement of goods and materials inside the warehouse, ensuring cost savings and reduction of emissions right from the outset. But a WMS is not just about managing what goes on in the warehouse itself. It improves the organization of transportation and creates significant improvements in this area by synchronizing warehouse operations with arrivals and departures of carriers, transferring the newfound efficiency of the warehouse to transport, and onwards to the entire supply chain.

Transportation Management Solutions

Increased focus on emissions and environmental improvements reinforces the strategic value of TMS tools as well. According to analysis by Gartner and Supply Chain Digest, among others, TMS tools can offer immediate savings of anywhere between 15% (for the annual transport costs) and 30% (for personnel and management). Greater efficiency also undoubtedly has an effect on the reduction of emissions throughout the entire logistics chain. The two-pronged benefits of using technology to improve your supply chain operations is a decisive element for companies in the immediate future.

Transportation and Climate Initiative

Many leading companies looking to take proactive and practical steps towards decarbonization participate in the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI), a scheme similar to the European Lean & Green platform. The TCI is a regional collaboration of 13 Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states and the District of Columbia that seeks to improve transportation, develop the clean energy economy, and reduce carbon emissions from the transportation sector.

As with the Lean & Green initiative in Europe, many companies who operate under the jurisdiction of the TCI take advantage of Generix’s WMS and TMS solutions to achieve greater efficiencies in warehouse and transportation management; solutions without which it would be extremely difficult to reduce and ameliorate the energy costs of transport.

In short, logistics is in the process of a significant transformation to meet the demands of an increasingly demanding market, as well as to address environmental targets and requirements. There are a number of technological tools already standard in the world of logistics that have completely changed the productivity of the sector, and which will be essential to be able to take the next steps towards productivity, efficiency, and decarbonization.

For the manufacturing and transport industries, the path to Net Zero does not have to be a painful one. The tools and processes that are vital for reducing emissions also come with significant benefits and improvements for productivity and efficiency.

Supply chains are central to the fight against climate change. Decarbonization and emission reduction efforts also help improve sustainability, as well as making supply chains more resilient for the future.

If you want to reduce your carbon footprint through our solutions, contact us!

Generix Group North America provides a series of solutions within our Supply Chain Hub product suite to create efficiencies across an entire supply chain. Our solutions are in use around the world and our experience is second-to-none. We invite you to contact us to learn more.

supply chain management

Expert Insight: Supply Chain Disruptions Through the Eyes of TITAN Professional Tools

“Supply chain troubles.” “From bad [2020] to worse [2021].” It was a “perfect storm for our supply chain crisis.” These are just a few of the headlines I’ve seen in recent weeks looking back on 2021. While I think we’re all eager to turn the page and start anew, I fear many of the challenges we experienced last year will continue into 2022 – and perhaps beyond. If there’s one thing we learned last year, it’s that our supply chain is more fragile than many of us imagined.

Case in point, a recent estimate from the American Trucking Associations (ATA) reported that the truck driver shortage has risen to 80,000 – an all-time high for the industry. According to the ATA study, the driver shortage could surpass 160,000 by the end of the decade, noting that the industry will need to recruit nearly one million new drivers to replace those retiring or leaving the business. Not only did the outbreak of COVID-19 in early 2020 exacerbate the issue, but it also revealed gaps in every link of the supply chain and then amplified the impact of those collective weaknesses.


A recent Wall Street Journal article perfectly summarized the challenge:

Trucks haul more than 70% of domestic cargo shipments. Yet many fleets say they can’t hire enough drivers to meeting booming consumer demand as the U.S. economy emerges from the pandemic. The freight backup has intensified longstanding strains in the industry over hours, pay, working conditions and retention. The surge of goods has created logjams at loading docks and port terminals, gobbling up scarce trucking capacity and making drivers’ jobs even harder. Factories and warehouses are also short of staff to load and receive goods. Meanwhile, the broader labor shortage has left openings for other blue-collar jobs that compete with trucking, including in local delivery operations, construction and manufacturing.

To better understand the operational and logistical issues retailers, importers, wholesalers and other distribution organizations are facing due to the state of today’s supply chain, I recently spoke Nick Tsitis, vice president at TITAN Professional Tools. His account is eye-opening, to say the least, and can hopefully help those facing similar challenges.

Q:  How did the Suez Canal accident create operational and logistical issues for businesses like TITAN Professional Tools?

A:  No one talks about this anymore. Before conversations of current supply chain issues, however, our forwarders often referenced the incident. I believe it significantly contributed to and accelerated our current supply chain problems, including shortages of equipment and limited space on vessels and at our ports. There’s been a huge stress on the ports, making it difficult to even get containers off the ships. And when you do get them off the ships, they sit in these piles disorderly piles they’re calling “pig piles” now. Whatever’s on top becomes available first.  And if you’re on the bottom of that pig pile, your merchandise is stuck.

So, not only is it taking time to get containers off ships, but it’s also taking time to get them from the ground onto chassis. Once containers finally do make it to our facility, and we get them unloaded, you would think with such a shortage of equipment there would be an urgency to return containers, but they cannot be returned to the port. We recently discovered 12 containers being stored in our business park from someone that is not a tenant here.  Apparently, they ran out space in their complex, and decided to park the equipment at ours.

Q: How have issues like this impacted your operating costs?

A: In so many ways.  It used to cost $1,500 to get a container from Asia to Seattle. Now we’re paying as high as $18,000. We are often charged demurrage for containers that are off vessels but not delivered to us within a week.  There are surcharges being implemented on both sides as well (Asia and USA). It’s a huge burden on us. It also affects our cash conversion cycle as goods invoiced to us are stuck in transit, and we can’t invoice until we receive and ship to our customers.

Q: How are you dealing with dock scheduling and similar issues caused by all this unpredictability?

A: Once we can get the container and get an appointment, it hasn’t been too big of a problem. On occasion, the truck drivers will have to wait sometimes six to eight hours to pick up a container. We used to pay under $100 to get a container from Seattle to Kent. Now it’s almost $700 to move it seven miles. Local drayage is up, and we’re often having to pay the drivers by the hour to wait in line to ensure we get our merchandise.

Q: Are you also facing labor shortages in the warehouse that compound these issues?

A: I know others have but we haven’t realized that because we’re a small business and have a lot of family here that have been with the company for a long time.  We are fortunate and may be y the exception when it comes to labor. But, yes, when you look down the road and see Amazon hiring at $23.50 an hour with a $3,000 signing bonus, it can be hard to compete with that.  it has in the past.

Q: How close do you think we are to seeing an end to these disruptions?

A: Well, everything’s related in one way or another – if not directly, then indirectly – to these supply chain problems. Our lead time with several factories is now as high as 18 months, where it used to take 45 to 90 days to manufacture product and 14 days transit is now taking as many as 60 or 90 days transit. There are some factories, that if we placed an order now, we won’t see it for almost two years. That’s an extreme. Most factories now are taking 6 to 8 months. As a result, we’re buying out a year, which is really scary. So, yes, it’s going to take a long time to recover. I don’t think it’s going to get back to normal for at least another year.

Q:  Based on your experiences, what advice would you share with other businesses facing similar challenges?

A:  We often use the word “partnership” between vendors and customers. We are making it thru these challenging times because of the true partnerships we have on both sides, with our vendors, and our customers. Everyone is understanding, being more flexible and forgiving, and more willing to accommodate than before. Pardon the pun, but everyone is “in the same boat” on this.  We need to work together to get through it.


China Has Doubled Exports of Sanitary Towel, Tampon and Diaper to $2.3B

IndexBox has just published a new report: ‘China – Sanitary Towels, Tampons, Napkins And Napkin Liners For Babies – Market Analysis, Forecast, Size, Trends And Insights‘. Here is a summary of the report’s key findings.

China’s Exports of Sanitary Towels and Napkins

From 2013 to 2020, China doubled exports of sanitary towels, tampons, napkins and diapers to $2.3B. In physical terms, supplies from China rose from 325K tonnes to 726K tonnes during that period (IndexBox estimates).


In 2020, the U.S. (148K tonnes), the Philippines (90K tonnes) and Australia (44K tonnes) were the main destinations of exports of sanitary towels, tampons, napkins and diapers for babies from China, with a combined 39% share of total supplies. These countries were followed by South Korea, Viet Nam, Russia, Japan, Hong Kong SAR, Venezuela, Chile, South Africa, Taiwan (Chinese) and Myanmar, which together accounted for a further 26%.

In value terms, the U.S. ($377M), the Philippines ($227M) and Australia ($123M) appeared to be the largest markets for sanitary towels, tampons, napkins and diapers exported from China worldwide, with a combined 32% share of total supplies. These countries were followed by Viet Nam, South Korea, Russia, Venezuela, Hong Kong SAR, Chile, Japan, Myanmar, South Africa and Taiwan (Chinese), which together accounted for a further 30%.

In 2020, Venezuela (+67.3% per year) saw the highest growth rate of the value of exports, while shipments for the other leaders experienced more modest paces of growth. In 2020, the average export price for sanitary towels, tampons, napkins and diapers for babies amounted to $3,122 per tonne, remaining relatively unchanged against the previous year. There were significant differences in the average prices for the major overseas markets. In 2020, the country with the highest price was Venezuela ($5,012 per tonne), while the average price for exports to the Philippines ($2,529 per tonne) was amongst the lowest. In 2020, the most notable rate of growth in terms of prices was recorded for supplies to Venezuela, while the prices for the other major destinations experienced a decline.

Source: IndexBox Platform