Cross-Training: The Key to Manufacturing Success

Written By: Ben Viorel

When it comes to manufacturing, schedules are constantly being shifted and moved around in order to accommodate projects in the most efficient way possible. One of the most important aspects to assist with efficient scheduling is the ability to shuffle priorities and manpower. Cross-training allows you to accomplish this while greatly improving your operation’s efficiency and flexibility.

It is imperative that an efficient operation have the capacity to move personnel in and out of tasks at will. Most of the time, however, a specific employee may not possess the required skill or knowledge to perform a task they are not accustomed to performing.

Previously, our manufacturing personnel were very much tied to their individual job descriptions. They were extremely well-versed in their typical tasks, yet unfamiliar with others. Because of this, if an employee was tied up on another job, we would generally have to wait until he or she was finished so they could then perform their specific task. This led to a lot of down time which negatively impacted schedules and efficiency.

Cross-training employees

Photo courtesy of Ismael Maldonado, Welder at Bastian Solutions

Cross-Training Our Manufacturing Team

In order to improve our productivity, we had to go against the traditional methods and adapt a dynamic cross-training method. By doing this, you do not have to worry about an individual’s skill level in a specific task or whether or not they are knowledgeable enough to perform the task in the budgeted amount of time.

It has become our focus to ensure that our employees are well-versed in multiple job functions through cross-training. This allows us to be much more flexible and adaptable to the unpredictable nature of scheduling robotic cells.

The most important step in our cross-training program is job shadowing. Our job shadowing consists of an employee spending the day with and learning from another employee in a different area of expertise. This allowed the employee being trained to learn through hands-on experience with a person to guide them.

It is important to mix up the grouping of your team to ensure each individual has an opportunity to gain experience in all facets of the business. This will help your team become as efficient as possible. Effective cross-training takes time, so it is important you incorporate it into your schedule and make it part of the employees’ routines. For instance, we set aside an hour a week for welding and paint training. It was scheduled and fulfilled every week with no exceptions. It also helps to keep a log of activity as well. This way you can track who has done what and what they still need to be trained on.

Benefits of Cross-Training

With an increased number of manufacturing personnel able to perform specialized tasks, we are now much better suited to keep projects on schedule, even among fluctuations in priorities. This continues to be an ongoing goal and we strive to have all of our employees fully cross-trained.

Additionally, cross-training not only helps the company, but gives employees a greater sense of satisfaction. They are improving their skillset and developing professionally. With a more varied workload and a stronger skillset, employees will be more effective and efficient in their jobs.

We have seen firsthand the benefits of instilling this program. A happier workforce and a more efficient manufacturing operation are well worth the effort of creating an organized cross-training program.

Ben is the manufacturing manager at Bastian Robotics in St. Louis and has been with the company since 2006.

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