Creating efficiency on a manufacturing floor can sometimes feel like a cold and calculating process. It’s about implementing the right systems and strategies, about optimizing inputs and outputs, and leveraging technological advancements to create quality products.

As the operations director for Quanex’s Mikron vinyl window systems, I know this feeling well. And I know that it can be easy to forget how important the human element is to quality manufacturing.

Here’s an example.

When our Kent, Wash., facility made an investment in 10 new extrusion lines in late 2019, it was because of a need to replace aging equipment and part of an organizational drive to better serve our customers. But there was, of course, another element at play: Our teams would need to learn how to skillfully operate equipment that was brand new to them. Our goal was not just to get the new machines operational, but to use them to create an environment in which our teams could thrive.

Throughout this process, there were some important things we learned, and that brings us to today’s tip:

Put your people in the right position to succeed.

Today’s cutting-edge manufacturing equipment typically comes with a host of new features that grant operators and leadership deeper insight into how to make processes more efficient. Sensors throughout the machine can help automatically adjust process conditions and can help generate data you can use for more effective decision-making. This all might be controlled digitally via a touchscreen.

Such was the case with our new extrusion lines. If you’ve installed new equipment in your facility any time recently, you might be able to say the same. And for your team members who are tasked with operating this kind of equipment, there might be a bit of a learning curve.

In such a situation, it is leadership’s role to provide the right kind of training for all staff members and to match the right people to the right roles. For instance, we found that some of our younger staffers flourished in the new digitally controlled environment, and it has become a good way for our organization to recruit, retain and engage talent.

Providing these kinds of opportunities for all staff members, based on skill and interest, can be a real difference maker for your operations. I’m a strong believer that developing strong employee engagement is one of the best ways a company can put its best foot forward, overcome its challenges, and differentiate from the competition. Putting individuals into positions where they can learn new things and grow as professionals is an important part of creating engagement and cultivating new leaders.

Even the most advanced manufacturing equipment isn’t going to grant your organization automatic success. In today’s fenestration industry, where new challenges seem to be lurking around every corner, putting your teams in the right position to thrive and grow is more important than ever before.

Larry Robinson is Director of Operations for Quanex’s Mikron Brand.

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