How Small-Scale Manufacturers Can Succeed with a Hybrid Workforce

  • May 25, 2021
  • Feature
How Small-Scale Manufacturers Can Succeed with a Hybrid Workforce
How Small-Scale Manufacturers Can Succeed with a Hybrid Workforce

Bernard Ang
If people are part of a startup manufacturing company, a maker community, or a low-volume novelty product manufacturer, they fall under the business category as a small-scale manufacturer or developer.  They are likely inventors, looking for a big break to produce a winning product. In the technology business, people are familiar with failures, but they want to learn and grow fast. As Albert Einstein once said, “failure is success in progress.”

As a small-scale manufacturer or developer, individuals cannot afford expensive equipment to increase capacity, productivity, and to some level, better-controlled quality of products. As a result, they end up with tier-two equipment that is good enough to achieve new product development and manufacturing goals.


Market challenges

Many small-scale manufacturers or developers often face similar growing pains and market challenges. Externally, they will be competing with large companies and each other on product cost, quality, and time to market for new products. The technology market, in general, is also not always an open and level playing field for companies. Small-scale manufacturers or developers will notice overseas competition produce products at a lower cost, with equivalent quality due to cheaper labor costs or materials.

The following are internal challenges small-scale manufactures or developers typically face because they lack: 

  • information systems to manage shop floor capacity and resource utilization

  • staff with technical skills because a centrally controlled training center is not available

  • equipment asset management tools to track, service, and repair

  • software program that has collaborative tools to get real-time project status, test data with reports to make fast informed decisions, and competitor analysis data

  • remote access tools to monitor or control equipment to maximize equipment usage and speed up product time to market.

One major worldwide trend that affects not only small-scale manufacturers or developers in the general workforce is the growing acceptance of working remotely. The global Covid-19 pandemic helped catalyze this change. The remote working trend will eventually require companies to embrace the change, not think of it as a liability, and use it to innovate and create a positive situation.


Innovation and transformation

For most industries in 2021, the pace of innovation will accelerate. Whether it is a large or a small company, customers need to adopt digital tools, processes, and software-led solutions to grow fast or fall far behind from their competitors. Even small-scale manufacturers or developers must embrace this digital transformation by using software to improve productivity, efficiency, accuracy, security, and time-to-market. Collecting and acquiring information digitally and using advanced analytics and data visualization helps companies to gain the critical insights needed to accelerate innovation.

Figure 1: Engineers using software tools to increase factory productivity and efficiency.

Many large and small companies are transforming their workforce to become a hybrid workforce, to harness the distributed and remote workforce’s untapped potentials. Even small-scale manufacturers and developers will not ignore the use of software to enable faster product design and development, productivity and efficiency on their manufacturing shop floor, and digital collaboration tools to enhance marketing engagements and customer interactions (Figure 1). Everyone is looking to obtain an edge to survive and, better yet, prosper in this modern and competitive world.


Get an edge over the competition

Small-scale manufacturers and developers do not have the luxury of state-of-the-art, high-end, and high-performance manufacturing and test equipment.

The following are four tips to keep in mind when purchasing manufacturing and test equipment:

Tip 1.  Find a vendor that provides a complete portfolio of manufacturing and test equipment. Avoid as much as possible, mix and match solutions from various vendors.

Several solutions from different vendors can lead to long-term incompatibility issues, managing assets, and scaling up or upgrading equipment. A complete solution portfolio from the same vendor ensures an easy transition to higher performance test equipment.

Tip 2.  Look for equipment with intuitive interfaces, so engineers can quickly get up to speed to use the instruments.

Some vendors have equipment with smart test connectivity and a software test solution that enables engineers to:graphically and intuitively configure and integrate multiple test equipment instruments to execute test sequences, from a single computer - remotely. Engineers can then store or export data into common readable formats for post-analysis work. When coupled with advanced analytics and data visualization, engineers gain needed insights to accelerate innovation. This way, engineers experience product development work more seamlessly and productively.

Tip 3.  Purchase a software solution that enables engineers:  the ability to manage their manufacturing or research and development lab assets, keep track of maintenance to ensure the equipment is fully utilized, and minimizes unplanned process downtime.

Several software solutions can perform mass updates of firmware and software to improve lab productivity automatically.

Tip 4. Address workforce transformation by adding a software solution that provides remote lab accessibility.

Software is available in the market today to remotely perform product design, research and development, testing, manufacturing, track production, and diagnostic troubleshooting. Many companies now rely on software to support a remote workforce by leveraging the cloud and providing advanced computation abilities (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: Keysight Smart Bench Essentials Series test instruments and PathWave application software.

Summary

To be successful as a small-scale manufacturer or developer, make sure to invest wisely and prudently on assets that are scalable and upgradable. To improve productivity, look for equipment that is easy to integrate and automate through software. Be bold and invest in software solutions that keep track of your resource utilization and minimize unplanned process downtime. Start pivoting to software solutions that harness the distributed and remote workforce’s untapped potentials.

Learn more about Keysight’s Smart Bench Essentials Series test instruments and PathWave software solutions at Smart Bench Essentials

About The Author


Bernard Ang has been with Keysight Technologies (previously Hewlett Packard and Agilent Technologies) for more than 29 years. Bernard held roles in manufacturing test engineering, product engineering, product line manager, product development manager, product support manager, and product marketing. He is currently a product marketer focusing on data acquisition systems, function generators, and digital multimeter product solutions. Bernard received his Bachelor of Electrical Engineering from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, Illinois. 


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