More than 2 million U.S. manufacturing jobs will be unfilled through this decade — hurting revenue, production and potentially costing the economy $1 trillion in 2030 alone — a study by Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute states.

At the same time, more than half of manufacturing employees will continue to work fully or partially remote throughout the year, research shows.

These two challenges will force manufacturers to change how they empower their teams to produce more without more people, up-skill employees and enable continued remote work. 

It used to be that solving these challenges required companies to throw huge amounts of money and time at the problem. They’d spend heavily on solutions that would take months or years to implement. But today, cloud-based software and sensors allow factories to much more quickly and easily connect machinery and empower their teams with real-time visibility into the factory floor from anywhere, even the kitchen table. 

This new focus on cloud-based factory operations, or FactoryOps, will drive faster, better decision making to both improve production and empower talent desiring more control over where and when they work. 

With time of the essence to arrest the impacts of today’s labor shortage, here are five ways manufacturers can use advancing cloud technology and sensors to quickly boost efficiency of existing workforces and processes:

  1. Deploy a low-lift, high-return solution: Manufacturers are investing to digitally upgrade factories, but not everything has to be expensive or require a team of people to install and operate.

    One low-lift improvement? Get insight about machine run-time from the power draw of the equipment. Many factories have a mix of new and old machinery so lack a full real-time view across equipment on the factory floor. While modern factory equipment is built to monitor itself and report its data, older machines aren’t. However, by clipping sensors on machine power cords, you can use the power draw to indicate when a machine is running and how hard it is running. With that information, workers know whether machinery is operating when and how it should. With consistent data from all machines, operators can have a single source of truth that helps them react faster to problems or even prevent them. 

  2. Enable Easy Access to Data: The data flowing in from machines is most useful when it lands in an easy-to-access place. A single source of truth in a cloud-based system can enable access to data from the team’s existing mobile phones as well as laptops. For example, one plastics manufacturer had two factories in different locations six to ten hours apart. Neither factory was fully staffed to ensure smooth and efficient production, and the distance between the plants made it challenging to bridge the gap through travel. The company put sensors on machines and sent the data to the cloud to get real-time visibility into conditions. With software that provided automatic alerts and dashboards, teammates could see what to act on, even if they weren’t in the plant. The production manager, based at one of the two sites, ran both of the plants. 

  3. Automate manual data entry: Many factories still rely heavily on manual data entry, which means workers spend time on tasks that could be automated instead of spending time on driving and improving production outcomes. By automating tracking of machine downturn with data analysis and alerts to workers so they could act preemptively, one plastics manufacturer decreased lost production time by 50% across more than 10 bottleneck machines — with no new workers needed to make such improvements.

  4. Reduce waste of time and resources: Boosting production often requires more people. But reducing wasted resources, including production time, can improve profitability, too. In many plants the key efficiency metric, overall equipment effectiveness (OEE), is 60%. That means 40% of potential production capability is lost. State of the art factories regularly achieve 85% OEE. The production time that’s lost, thus wasted, when factories change over a line or machine from running one product to another is often large. By using sensors to closely track  the duration of changeovers and runtime for every shift and machine, one manufacturer decreased lost production time due to changeovers by 26%. 

  5. Bring employees on the journey together: Both people and machines contribute to factory floor efficiency. Without employees on board, digital initiatives efforts often fall short. When all employees have an active role in improvements, and are armed with tools that are easy to use, they’ll see that their contributions count and will become more invested in changes.

Winning in a New Normal

Labor constraints aren’t going away any time soon. Technology can enable plants to get ahead by freeing workers from tasks that add less value to focus their time instead on boosting efficiency and profitability. Increasingly, cloud-based factory operations, or FactoryOps, will help companies adjust to the new normal of bringing both the best of workers and the best of machines to reach peak performance.

Visit for more information.