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What manufacturers can do about the growing workforce skills gap

The world of work is changing rapidly. As manufacturers upgrade to more intelligent machines that can produce goods faster and more cheaply, they’re faced with a people problem. Human workers still needed to operate the machines and optimize the line. Unfortunately, their skills are not keeping pace with the technology that powers the advanced machines. In many ways, worker skills are “expiring” at a pace we haven’t seen in recent history. According to one analysis, evolving technology combined with the exit of retiring workers means that by 2028, U.S. manufacturers will be faced with a 2.4 million worker shortage due to the skills gap. Let’s take a look at some of the strategies a manufacturer might deploy to minimize the impact of the workforce skills gap.

Shifting the hiring mindset

If your manufacturing facility is in an area where skilled workers with relevant experience are in short supply due to the nature of your location — let’s say it’s in a rural area with few similar facilities — it creates an ongoing challenge. If your team has baby boomer employees who are nearing retirement, this can create something of a crisis. That’s where you have to get strategic and future-focused with your workforce. Instead of following the traditional recruit, evaluate and hire route, look at your workforce as a resource that is developed and trained in-house. Here’s what that might look like.

Rethink the job description

Rather than looking for a true fit with skills and work history, hire based on other qualities, like values, work ethic and interest in developing specific skills.

Start an employee development program

This program can be for new high-potential hires along with current employees who want to grow within the organization. Pair these workers with skilled employees for ongoing training and mentorship. But be mindful: These types of programs require planning and oversight. Otherwise, you run the risk of cultivating resentment and burnout within your skilled employees. Being intentional, having a plan, and keeping employees from being overworked will be key.

Build industry-education alliances

Part of the solution can start with school — your future workforce. As an industry, connecting with educators and instructors in your community can help you make inroads on the skills deficit. You can do this through initiatives that have already been created by business groups and educational facilities. (Or, start an industry-education alliance from the ground up.) Doing so can help instructors and teachers update and optimize their curriculum, add training opportunities and build the skills that will get students in better alignment with the needs of the 21st century workforce. Read more about the power of these collaborations here.

Rethink the manufacturing line

Perhaps updating secondary packaging equipment is part of your overall strategy in streamlining production. Have you considered how the selection of the equipment itself can have an impact on addressing the workforce skills gap? In addition to speed, innovation and quality, here are some other key aspects of the design to consider so you can bridge, rather than increase, the workforce gap.
  • A unified HMI concept across the entire line. When different machines have controls that are similar to each other, responding in ways that are easy to predict, it streamlines the training process.
  • Access to diagnosis and recovery tools, so the operator can easily identify the cause of the fault and fix it quickly.
  • Automation of key features to reduce hands-on time as well as faults.
  • A data collection system that helps production managers analyze the events of the production cycle, so they can pass along detailed, useful feedback to the machine operators, with directions that will bring better results.
Ready to optimize your production line with secondary packaging machines that support your team’s ability to keep things running? Get in touch with a Douglas team member now to learn more about how our line of innovative secondary packaging solutions can be completely customized to your unique needs.

What manufacturers can do to maximize the ability of self-supporting machines

Production managers lean on their machine operators to optimize the line. As these workers adjust settings, swap components and troubleshoot faults, their agility and skill keep the line in constant motion. We need these operators to give the right support to the machines so they can support production. In reality, the manufacturers that rely on these skilled operators are faced with a shortage of qualified applicants. Hand in hand with that shortage is high turnover. Upgrading your secondary packaging machines can make a profound difference when it comes to making up for the skills gap. Part of the solution is taking a close look at the design of the machines at the end of the line, secondary packaging. Can they do a better job of supporting the functions that were previously reliant on human know-how? The answers is yes. Case and tray packers, shrink wrappers, cartoners and palletizers now feature highly automated and intelligent features to reduce training and hands-on time. With these and other features that make it easier for human operators to reach that level of “self-supporting” the machine, results start showing up pretty quickly: Fewer hours on training, a lot less tweaking, better data to make changes, and most importantly, fewer and briefer pauses for faults and changeovers. Upgrading to a self-supporting system of secondary packaging equipment is one solution that can help you gain line efficiency. The following factors can help you evaluate whether your secondary packaging equipment can do that.

Intuitive design

When designing a machine with self-supporting features, it’s important to think of the operator experience from start to finish. Look for consistency in the HMI across the entire line of company products, as it doesn’t make sense to create a tray packer, a cartoner and palletizer that look like they come from vastly different companies. A unified HMI concept reduces training in that once a new operator masters one machine, the others in the line should have similarly designed features that behave and respond in predictable ways.

Diagnosis and recovery tools

Faults happen, and when they do, you want the line to get back to running as quickly as possible. A self-supporting system puts the how-to resources into the hands of the operator, so they can locate and fix the problem ASAP. Look for access to step-by-step instructions on how to recover from a fault in an easy-to-follow format, whether it’s directly on the HMI or an online video channel. A robust self-supporting system can also keep the machine working in top condition. A data collection program that gathers information on machine performance can be used for predictive maintenance. This keeps small issues from cascading into massive, full-scale expensive breakdowns.

Foolproof changeovers

When it’s time for a changeover to a new product, pausing the line to manually switch out physical parts eats up valuable minutes and it doesn’t take much to push tight time frames into the red zone. Automation does quick work of this task, switching to the exact parts and precise frequencies. A robust automated system has change part validation, which uses computer technology to compare and analyze a chosen part against the recipe. This feature goes a long way in reducing faults and ensuring correct outcomes.

Data collection and analytics

Knowing what went wrong during a run, and why, is half the battle. A self-supporting machine system offers a complete data set so operators can make better decisions in the future. This data can uncover root causes of machine faults, when they happened, why they happened, and the length of the recovery time. Because the security system replaces the traditional 4-digit keypad with ID tagging, it’s now possible to identify which operator was logged in at the time. These reports provide the detail you need to debrief the fault and identify the right improvements. At the end of the day, you’re running a production and the last thing you want is idle machines, which inevitably lead to wasted products and missed deadlines. Investing in a secondary packaging system with the above innovative self-supporting features can be a key solution to optimizing your line. Ready to optimize your production line with secondary packaging machines that support your team’s ability to keep things running? Get in touch with a Douglas team member now to learn more about how our line of innovative secondary packaging solutions can be completely customized to your unique needs.

Parameter Change Tracking and RFID Login

Troubleshooting is a part of business, in any type of business. Operations run smoothly and then they do not. It is no different in manufacturing. When your equipment is down, time is money, and it is time to problem solve. You search for the source of the problem, and unfortunately, it is not always a fast process. You continue troubleshooting until you find the source and then resolve the issue. Production is in full swing again, only to find yourself in the troubleshooting loop down the road once again.

Are you looking for a way to positively impact your troubleshooting process? One system that speeds up troubleshooting is Parameter Change Tracking with HMI Security via RFID Login (individual user login). Beyond faster troubleshooting, it provides enhanced HMI security.

Base machines use numeric passcodes to help identify issues by highlighting changes to baseline parameters. This new system greatly enhances HMI security and root cause troubleshooting. It features tighter control of who can make changes – managing the level of access users have, tracks what was changed and when it was changed. This information allows you to more easily identify and address issues related to maintenance, operations or even packaging materials. It allows you to move into production mode much faster.

The Parameter Change Tracking with HMI Security via RFID Login that Douglas offers includes:

  • Logging of 500 most-recent parameter edits; viewable on the HMI
  • Logged data including:
    • User name (captured through individual user login)
    • Recipe name
    • Parameter changed
    • Values before and after the change
    • Date and time of the change
  • RFID reader located at the HMI(s)
  • Twenty-five individual user RFID key fobs (or use of end-user supplied RFID keys if successfully tested)
  • HMI screen administration of user names, assignment of keys fobs and security levels (capacity 50 users)
  • Scan in, scan out and automatic log off timer
Parameter Change Tracking and RFID Login

These functions combine to provide you with the highest level of value toward increasing machine performance and uptime. This system is offered as a standard option. Upon request, parameter change tracking and RFID login can be purchased separately, along with a more basic RFID login option providing key fobs preassigned to three different security levels. Ask us about this new, performance enhancing system to learn more. Partner with us to do more.

What is a Palletizer?


A palletizer is a machine that provides automatic means for sorting, transferring and stacking cases of goods or products onto a pallet; usually at the end of a manufacturing line. Automatic palletizing is good for convenient, high-volume shipping. Palletizers provide load stability, precision and operation speed. They also make it possible to move more loads at once.   Manually placing boxes on pallets is time consuming and expensive. It can also put unusual stress on workers. To move away from this process, the row-forming machine was developed in the early 1950’s. The row-forming machine formed neat rows of product on the pallet. Down the road, the development of computers and robotics brought great enhancements for palletizing. The machine itself could handle more of the work and control. The variety of products that palletizers could handle also grew to include items, such as bottles, which would be difficult and not cost effective to palletize by hand.


There are four groups of Palletizers: robotic, low-level, high-level and in-line palletizers.  

Robotic Palletizer (Robot Palletizer)

Robotic palletizers are automatic or semi-automatic. They typically stand between a pallet dispenser and a pallet conveyor belt line that carries incoming products. A hydraulic robotic arm lifts the product and neatly organizes it onto a pallet. Robotic palletizers can only lift one item at a time, yet they are much faster than manual stacking and are not prone to fatigue or injury.  

Low-Level and High-Level Palletizers

Both types work with conveyors and a feed area that receives products. The difference between the two is that low-level load products from the ground level and high-level load products from above. In both cases, products and packages arrive on conveyors, where they are continuously transferred to and sorted on the pallets. These palletizing processes may be automatic or semi-automatic, but either way, both are faster than the robotic palletizing process.  

In-Line Palletizer System

In-line systems are systems designed to stack complete layers of bags or cartons at one time. Row stripper palletizers are a type of in-line palletizer that organizes a row then pushes it to the side until another row forms. The palletizer will stack row on top of row until a pallet is complete. Another type of in-line palletizer is the vacuum-head unit. Vacuum head units grab and hold onto items with air-powered suction cups.  

What Affects the Speed of Palletizers?

Looking back in the history of manufacturing, the goal has always been to make processes faster and more efficient. This mentality also applies in packaging. There are a number of factors that decide the speed of a palletizer. During design, you need to know product length, product per layer and product weight.  

Choosing the Right Manufacturer

Even with the most thorough knowledge of palletizers, if you’re not working with the right manufacturer, you could end up with a very unsatisfying product. It’s extremely important that you take your business to a palletizer supplier or manufacturing company that is experienced and trustworthy.

Why Choose a Douglas Palletizing System?

  • Customers are number one
  • Single-source supplier
  • Deep expertise in system engineering
  • Experienced in factory needs and environments
  • Optimized line efficiency
  • Small footprint
  • Efficient
  • Creative
Douglas Stratum Palletizers are robust in design, build and assembly—built to last.

Robotic Palletizers with Douglas Machine Inc.

For end-of-line palletizing, the Douglas Stratum™ Robotic Palletizer completes your packaging process. The Stratum easily combines with Douglas packaging and cartoning or other upstream and downstream equipment for seamless integration. It completes your secondary packaging process, fully automated, from start to finish.
Stratum palletizer
Douglas Stratum Robotic Palletizing System
At Douglas, we form a partnership with our customers. We listen to your needs and offer education on best practices, determining the most effective integration solution. Our engineering and manufacturing experts work closely with your team to customize a layout that meets your unique plant and process challenges while maximizing ROI. Our experience and drive for continuous innovation equal a creative, seamless and optimized solution for your unique needs. For more information on Douglas and our comprehensive palletizing solutions, call or message us. We look forward to working with you.    

Achieving Vision through Innovation and Teamwork

Douglas’ Production Planning and Control (PP&C) Team’s vision is to provide planning, scheduling, support services and control of production activities for all our Douglas customer’s so they can execute their Team’s purpose. This past year the PP&C team implemented a large improvement to manufacturing operations. A new system for planning, dispatching and controlling manufactured components was put in place. There are a few key goals for this project and our future state of operations: process control, high efficient workflows, timely and accurate capacity planning and achieve a 96% on-time rate for manufactured components. At the close of 2019, the PP&C team was at the halfway point of their 10-year vision! The team needed to change strategy to create the flexibility to support production from revenue growth. The process needed to be innovative, follow operational planning principles and leverage available technology.

First, the team enhanced capacity planning tools to forecast current status and calculate the potential outcome of the varying decisions to handle the increased forecasted workload. Second, they created electronic dispatch queues. Work that is planned to be subcontracted is released to these queues. All other work is released per Material Requirements Planning (MRP) recommendation and will go to internal queues for our Machine Shop. Every morning MRP creates a series of recommendations telling us which orders should be canceled, expedited, deferred, rescheduled and released. With the click of a button, the team answers the recommendations and the system automatically updates the work orders in the queues.

Electronic queues allow the team to react more quickly when constraints arise and adjust work center throughput as needed. There are three staging locations: at the machine, in sawing and the control room in Production Planning and Control. When work at the machine has been completed, employees pull in the next work staged from sawing, which then triggers sawing to pull their next work from the control room. This creates a “pull” system from the operator at the machine to the PP&C team to request more work to be dispatched.

The Douglas PP&C team strives to be on the cutting edge of Continuous Innovation and Improvement by persistently challenging the status quo through innovative planning and operational improvements that are benchmarked against industry standards. Since September 2019, the team exceeded their on-time goal every week. The 2018 overall on-time average was 2.4% higher than the 2017 average. Lead time reduction has improved as well with the average order taking almost half a day less than it did in 2017. The PP&C team, working together with Machine Shop, designing and implementing the pull system has allowed all employee owners of Douglas to benefit from the system’s success.

All employee owners of Douglas strive to work with other departments and each other to exceed our customer’s expectations. We would be proud to partner with you to help you reach your goals.