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The Pivotal Role of Knowledge Management During the Pandemic

By: Margarita Deviakovitch

April 22, 2020

The Pivotal Role of Knowledge Management During the Pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic is causing one clear trend to soar now more than ever before: Industry 4.0 is no longer the way of the future -- It’s now the way of the present. Companies need to either adapt and implement technology into their processes or face constraints.

Now more than ever, it’s the time to introspect and ask yourself the question: how smart is my factory? Although the pandemic absolutely shattered our normal way of living faster than anyone could have ever thought possible, it also put a blazing spotlight on the fragility of supply chains and manufacturing operations around the world.

The consequences of the pandemic on manufacturing are set to linger, but with Industry 4.0 already in full swing, it’s now also inevitable for companies to evaluate and adopt new production technologies if they want to remain effective. Leading the way of change in manufacturing and operations is the concept of connected workers, which improves the effectiveness of the workforce by connecting them to crucial information.

As we talked about in What Is Knowledge Management and Why Is It Important, documenting your current practices leads to small improvements that go a long way. Let’s further break down the crucial role knowledge management plays in times of crisis and how any company can soar past the uncertainty.

Challenge #1: Managing Multiple Locations Effectively

When looking at how best to manage multiple locations, the number one advice is always standardization and establishing open channels of communications. The more you can simplify everyday tasks, the easier it is to then transfer them to a new location or share knowledge across multiple sites with speed and efficiency.

If you already have all your processes set-up at one location, it doesn’t make sense to start from scratch or scramble to merge all the required documentation. It’s even worse if all the required paper instructions are stowed away in a cabinet file somewhere and hasn’t seen the light of day since it was typed up (or written by hand) numerous years ago. Now, imagine if you had the information available in a digital format either on your own server or stored within a cloud solution, allowing you to transfer information at the click of a button. This would mean the elimination of having to send valuable employees to another location, incurring travel costs and spending time training the new workforce.

Challenge #2: Inconsistency in Quality

People have different skills, passions and learned experiences. When a product is assembled without visual work instructions, inconsistencies in the end result are high-reaching. As Jeanine Burket, the Gerber Gear Process Improvement and Logistics Manager, pointed out in the 4 Challenges Solved by VKS case study, “When you deal with a hand-crafted item and you have a dozen people who are specialists in building it, they all are specialists in their own ways.”

Placing emphasis on consistent product quality therefore needs to be your utmost priority – not just for your company’s bottom line, but also for empowering your workforce and boosting confidence on the shop floor.

Challenge #3: Loss of Knowledge

Do you dread the day your star veteran employee retires? Tribal knowledge loss is a very real problem felt by manufacturers across the world. As COVID-19 has shown us, retirement isn’t the only problem to fear as labor shortages are also another major challenge in times of unexpected world crises.

No one expected the pandemic to progress as rapidly as it did, but it also highlights another important issue. Can your company survive if your star veteran employee suddenly fails to come in tomorrow? If you’re still relying on drawings, papers and PDF instructions to show new and veteran-alike employees on how to perform a task, then you’re at a serious disadvantage moving forward.

Challenge #4: Inability to Work from Home

It’s well-known that working from home in manufacturing simply isn’t an option – or is it? As we demonstrated in our Guide to Working Remotely with VKS, creating new work instructions is possible from home and more importantly, can be accomplished within minutes with plain text, images of 3D models, videos or any other explanatory information. Smart Forms are configurable to collect data and combined with our Rule Engine, provide the ability to create a questionnaire that immediately assesses a person’s level of learning.

The remote accessibility to work instruction software also ties into the management of multiple locations as production can easily be shifted from one location to another.

Responding Quickly to Global Crises

In the first few weeks of the uncertainty of the coronavirus, countless manufacturing companies were forced to close as a result of being considered nonessential. Ironically, such is the case of Corona beer, which was ordered to shut production by the Mexican government. While many of these companies will be able to recover from the loss of revenue, many more will have to keep their doors shut for good.

All the praise in the world goes out to the frontline workers fighting to save lives and keep the coronavirus at bay. Recognition also goes out to the many manufacturing companies that switched production to make one of the many products affected by shortages as a result of the pandemic and decades of offshoring. For example, vacuum-maker Dyson switched to make ventilators and major fashion brands are now making masks and gowns. Without a streamlined process to share knowledge, these factories would have been in no position to switch gears as fast as they did.

Adapting production to a different product altogether is harder than it sounds, but it’s greatly facilitated by the adoption of technologies by these companies well before the pandemic hit.

Going Paperless

It’s the 21st century, is your plant really still running all its operations using paper documentation? When operations have been running smoothly for a long time and there is a certain reliability associated with the quantity and quality of production, that’s where most companies are usually fearful to adopt new technologies or ways of working. It usually stems from the belief that there’s no sense in changing everything when operations have been running smoothly for years. It’s hard to give up the reliability of already-implemented procedures (whether or not they are effective), but it’s important to consider the incredible and immediate benefit from going paperless.

Straightaway upon going paperless, we have noted that companies have reduced the time it takes to train employees, increased productivity by a significant percentage, and reduced defects.

Standardizing Work

More importantly, going paperless with digital work instructions also solves the knowledge management paradigm in times of crises by standardizing work. While it’s true that most people learn by doing, the fact remains that our learning is enhanced with visual work instructions. If you ever tried to assembly furniture without instructions, then you’ll know what we mean. Assembling furniture for your home is one thing, but what about operating a million-dollar machine without work instructions? The simple thought of anyone operating one of these from memory is enough to fill anyone with unease.

Unfortunately, our memories can be unreliable from time to time. Even when we think that we know how to perform a task without visual aids, it’s been proven that having a visual reference aids in production even for the most seasoned worker.

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