Industrial neo-humanism: where we stand today

Written by Noemi Boggero on .


A European project that emphasizes the “human factor” in manufacturing companies

Manufacturing companies are the backbone of the eurozone economy. The numbers speak for themselves: industrial production accounts for 16% of Europe’s GDP and provides employment for over 30 million people, while 80% of Europe’s exports are manufactured goods.

European industry’s world leadership is beginning to come under attack, however, from emerging competitors in a series of key sectors who are becoming more and more competitive.

In order to maintain their positions in the market, European manufacturers are required to deal with a series of challenges posed by a market that is becoming more and more complex and dynamic. Up until now, these challenges have been read only in economic terms in the triangulation of cost, quality, time – and for this reason productive processes have been streamlined through the standardization of work procedures and productive systems have been automated in order to cut costs and increase output.

The big challenges of today, or at least those of a future that is already here, go by the name of the Internet of Things and the extreme digitalization of the manufacturing companies.

In a word, today’s attention is focused more than ever on practicality and efficiency, but there is an element not taken in consideration that in reality continues to be a decisive factor for the stability and the satisfactory operation of any organizational system: the human being.

Yet it has been universally acknowledged that the gratification and motivation of the workers and their assumption of responsibility lie at the heart of any company’s health. This aspect of the work organization, the conquest and maintenance of these conditions, in other words, attention on the human factor have often been considered to be in contrast with the company’s economic objectives, however.

Business and the human factor must, instead, work together and become the pillars of the company’s development, competitiveness, and success.

In the context of the action plans on entrepreneurship it launches regularly in order to increase European enterprise potential, remove existing obstacles, and revolutionize entrepreneurial culture in the eurozone, the European Union developed the SO-PC-Pro (Subject-Oriented People-Centred Production) Project in 2013 with the objective of developing methods and instruments for the holistic planning and management of future jobs and reconcile economic requisites with human needs over a 3-year period. The Project is part of a wider project funded by the European Community in the FP7 Funding Scheme – EU FP7-2013-NMP-ICT-FOF “Workplaces of the future: the new people-centred production site”, “Factories of the Future” – 2013.

The Project was developed through the creation of a consortium composed of three manufacturing companies (the Slovakian TC Contact, the Italian Fimap, and the Mexican multinational Bimbo), each supported by expert consultants in engineering, economics, information technology, and university researchers, all of whom were coordinated by a public university, namely, JKU University in Linz, Austria.

With the University of Linz, the Slovakian TC Contact, the Italian Fimap, and the Mexican Bimbo group, with its productive units also in Europe, were selected as the manufacturing companies; while Axiss (Mexico), ByElement (Switzerland), Centire (Slovakia), Cesaro & Associati (Italy), Fondazione Bruno Kessler (Italy), MA System (England), and Metasonic (Germany) were selected as the consultancy studios with a wide range of professional expertise.

The Project’s scope – as SO-PC-Pro researcher Nicola Flores explained – is to concentrate attention on the workers in manufacturing companies and to verify whether or not by providing them with the right instruments, information, and the chance to interact, modify, propose, and suggest improvements, they feel more motivated, and then, whether or not the work processes benefit in any particular way. Lastly, it must also be verified whether or not all this also has a positive economic return.

In short, things were given the chance to start (again) from people. The workers were given detailed explanations of the company’s internal processes, of which they are usually unaware because they are asked only to perform the specific tasks decided by others without any word in regard, and asked if they had any problems to report, suggestions to make, or solutions to propose for the work they perform and the area in which they operate every day. They were also questioned in regard to how they felt about their current situations, workloads, and personal relations with colleagues or superiors, and then solicited for any considerations and proposals for improvement they might have.

The interviews were initially performed at individual level and conducted in the presence of experts in psychology; the data collected was then analyzed by business engineers and economists using the S-BPM information technology system designed ad hoc by the German Metasonic company, which processes the proposals, simulates the changes, assesses the impact of the modifications proposed inside the process, makes business intelligence assessments and provides a response that takes into account a complete set of variables, starting from the inviolable constraints, such as the ISO processes. All this is performed by insisting on people, not the process.

This form of neo-humanism restores a soul to the company in a period of globalization.

The three manufacturing companies involved all met the three objectives below posed by the Project, which aims at creating new models of productive processes and the human relations established in them:

1)developing new interactions between man and machine in order to enable workers to achieve greater autonomy and control;

2)allowing workers to re-design their work stations and create truly cooperative inter-company department relationships;

3)integrating production and business, in this way creating more comfortable workplaces.

Research on the man/machine relationship was applied by the TC Contact company based in Slovakia that makes heavy carpentry and precision mechanics components – a type of work behind machines that is completely repetitive and always the same. The stress levels of the workers were monitored and assessed by the BIORING (“biological ring”) information technology system developed by the English MA System that checked their arterial pressure and heartbeat and provided information that could be used to modulate production line speed on the basis of worker stress levels. The workers were also given the opportunity to decide on the priorities of the operations to be performed.

The Italian Fimap company (operating in the cleaning sector, Editor’s note) was selected to re-design workstations in recognition of the importance it grants to the individual worker and its participation in the Great Place to Work project. The consultant paired with Fimap was the Cesaro and Associates Studio, also because Franco Cesaro, who supervises the research firsthand as organization consultant for family-run companies, has been dedicated to ensuring wellbeing at production companies for years.

The project was explained to the workers and managers at Fimap in groups, and the workers were invited to offer suggestions and make proposals that were then entered into an information technology system that traced every workers’ comment and transmitted it to the intended receiver, who assessed the request and provided a reply with the reasons for its approval or rejection. This process is important and obliges everyone, especially the managers, to reconsider the roles they play, because they are the ones who must deal with any worker who requests a meeting face to face, even the one on the lowest rung of the corporate ladder. The third company involved is Bimbo, an enormous Mexican multinational with 165 productive units around the world.

For this company, supported by its own management and informational technology consultants, research consists in both analyzing the man/machine relationship and re-thinking the workplace by applying the models developed by TC Contact and Fimap, which are both SMI, even if markedly oriented to exportation.

The goal is to verify whether working processes can be improved by starting at grass-roots level, in other words, by inverting for the first time the classic procedure in which the direction that production processes take is imposed on the workers from management above, in this way constituting a model that becomes the company standard that is then adopted also by smaller companies, which in the hope of achieving greater competitiveness and profitability adapt their own operational procedures to those of the multinationals.

With SO-PC-Pro, the workers in small-to-medium enterprises are the ones that suggest the improvements to be made to the internal process and create the models that will then be applied to larger companies.

The European Project began in October, 2013, with a scheduled duration of three years. The first year was dedicated to the organization and scheduling of research; the second year focused on conducting the tests developed to obtain suggestions and signal errors useful in analyzing the entire process, checking the modifications, if any, to be made to the system, and assessing the impact such modifications have had on the entire process.

A Focus Group was set up at Fimap, for example, that conducted individual interviews with all the parties involved for the purpose of evaluating the empowerment. All the answers from the company’s workers and management were collected and considered. The test lasted around six months and provided a body of information that was closely scrutinized for the purpose of setting up the definitive model that was applied in a real company as a system during the first months of 2016.

Also this phase is closely monitored, and at the end of the test period, conclusions will be drawn on the basis of the findings in terms of satisfaction and utility in increasing productivity and then be compared to the degree of wellbeing expressed by the workers.

The same process will be adopted at TC Contact in regard to the corresponding sphere of competence.

The two productive process reformulation models will then be combined and applied to the multinational Bimbo group, in order to see if the new model can be replicable in every type of corporation regardless of size. The Project will then be presented in Barcelona by Massimiliano Ruffo (Fimap CEO) during the 2016 World Manufacturing Forum to the producing and manufacturing companies, which will in this way receive yet another instrument that can help them re-think their strategies and address the epochal challenges facing them. The SO-PC-Pro Project won Cesaro & Associates a prize in the Personal & Organizational Wellbeing category at the 1st Edition of the Annual Adriano Olivetti AIF Awards.


Endüstriyel neohümanizm: tam olarak neredeyiz

Üretici firmalarda insan faktörünü vurgulayan bir Avrupa Birliği projesi

Avrupa Birliği, Avrupa’da girişimcilik potansiyelini geliştirmek, mevcut engelleri kaldırmak ve Euro bölgesindeki girişimcilik kültürüne kökten bir değişim getirmek için periyodik olarak başlattığı Girişimcilik Eylem Planları dahilinde 2013 yılında SO-PC-Pro (Subject-Oriented People-Centred Production) adlı taslağı hazırladı. SO-PC-Pro’nun amacı üç yıl içerisinde, insan ihtiyaçları ile ekonomik ihtiyaçları bağdaştırarak gelecekteki pozisyonların tasarlanmasına yardımcı olmak ve bu pozisyonların bütünsel yönetimi için gereken yöntem ve araçları geliştirmek. Proje, Avrupa Birliği tarafından finanse edilen FP7 Funding Scheme – EU FP7-2013-NMP-ICT-FOF ”Workplaces of the future: the new people-centred production site” “Factories of the Future” – 2013 adlı daha büyük proje kapsamında hayata geçirildi. Bu projeyi geliştirmek için üç ayrı üretici firmanın katılımıyla bir konsorsiyum oluşturuldu: Solvakya’dan TC Contact, Italya’dan Fimap, Meksika’dan çok uluslu Bimbo. Firmaların her biri mühendislik, ekonomi , bilişim, psikoloji alanında uzman danışmanlar ve üniversite araştırmacıları tarafından destekleniyor ve hepsi Avusturya’da bulunan devlet üniversitesi JKU di Linz tarafından koordine ediliyor.

Projenin hedeflerinde üretim süreçleri ve içlerindeki insan ilişkilerinde yeni modeller yaratmak var. Katılımcı üç firma bu hedeflere hizmet ediyor. Hedefler üç başlıkta şöyle sıralanabilir:

1. Çalışanlara daha bağımsız ve işi daha kolay yönetebilecekleri bir çalışma ortamı sağlamak için insan ve makinalar arasında yeni etkileşimler geliştirmek.

2. Şirket içindeki tüm birimler arasında gerçek iş ilişkileri kurulmasını sağlayarak çalışanlara kendi çalışma ortamlarını yeniden planlama imkanı tanımak

3. Daha rahat çalışma ortamları yaratarak iş ve üretimi entegre hale getirmek

Amaç, en alttan başlayarak çalışma süreçlerinin iyileştirilmesinin mümkün olup olmadığını tespit etmek. Başka bir deyişle, ilk kez geleneksel süreç tersine çevriliyor. Geleneksel sürece göre yönetim, üretim süreçlerini tanımlar ve firmanın standardı haline gelen bir model oluşturarak çalışanlara aktarır. Bu model sonraları, kendi işletme yönetimlerini, rekabet ve karlılık perspektifinde çok uluslu şirketlerinkine adapte eden küçük firmalar tarafından da benimsenmiştir. SO-PC-Pro ile, küçük ve orta ölçekli firmaların çalışanları üretim sürecinde değişiklik önerilerinde bulunuyorlar. Bu öneriler, daha sonra büyük şirketlerde uygulanacak üretim modelleri yaratmak üzere dikkate alınıyor.

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