With the World Series set to commence, we thought it would be an interesting thought exercise to compare winning strategies in the game of baseball with those in manufacturing operations. Although the two may seem unrelated, it turns out that running a smooth and efficient manufacturing operation shares many parallels with fielding a winning baseball team. Break out the peanuts and Cracker Jacks and let’s begin.
Data Helps Build a Winning Operation
If it’s been a few years since you’ve watched a baseball game you’d be excused for wearing a bewildered look on your face when confronted with swarms of new statistical categories. The so-called ‘sabermetrics’ or ‘Moneyball’ era has seen the mathematically inclined dissect the game in search of an edge. The result has been a sizable shift in both talent assessment and in-game strategy.
Data is equally as prevalent in manufacturing. Data collected from machines, devices and operators is used to monitor production rates, ensure quality and predict maintenance and inventory needs.
“Today, leveraging big data is a business imperative, and it is enabling solutions to long-standing business challenges for industrial manufacturing companies around the world,” says IBM. “Indeed, industrial manufacturers are leveraging big data to transform their processes, their organizations and, in some cases, entire industries.”1
Wearable Technology and Augmented Reality Should be Utilized
“Don’t rip my shirt!” implored Jose Altuve of the group of celebratory teammates preparing to mob him at home plate. Why would the slugger, who had just hit the home run that would send his Houston Astros to the 2019 World Series, be preoccupied with avoiding a wardrobe malfunction during that momentous occasion? Was it a result of shyness, as he would later claim? Or, as others would allege, was it because his shirt obscured a secret buzzer device which a sign-stealing team operative in the outfield seats would use to illegally relay him information about the nature of the upcoming pitch?2
Conspiracy theories aside, baseball has certainly utilized advanced technology to analyze everything from body mechanics to exit velocity and launch angle.
Less salacious, but equally effective, are the augmented reality devices and wearable technology that manufacturing facilities have leveraged in pursuit of operational improvement. Smart glasses, headsets and the like have been utilized to assist in remote training, data collection and factory training, while improving safety and productivity. Good operations managers will verse themselves in the capabilities that such technology provides.
Data Analysis May Occur Off-Site
Baseball purists scoff at the idea of team managers, often grizzled veterans with decades of dugout experience, taking in-game strategy directives from hotshot statisticians texting in from the C-suite. It’s not unheard of, and not without some merit.
As in baseball, manufacturing facility data can be analyzed remotely. Machine condition can be monitored and maintenance needs predicted from a distance.
“With IIoT, quality managers can get a direct feed of machine process data for each part that is manufactured without stepping foot on the stamping floor,” writes Stamping Journal.3
Covid-19 Safety at the Workplace Requires Sacrifice
What’s a manufacturing facility without a little up close and personal lunchroom camaraderie? It’s a bit like a game of baseball without chewing tobacco being spit all over the place; a bit odd, but not that big of a deal. During Covid-19 everybody makes sacrifices.
Supply Chain Management Sometimes Happens on the Fly
Covid-19 upset the plans of many manufacturing operations as global supply chain disruptions threw them a proverbial curveball. Best prepared to deal with the chaos were those with depth in their supply chain. Others were left to wheel and deal, hoping for the best.
During the first week of this year’s abridged baseball season, 18 members of the Miami Marlins tested positive for Covid-19. Through trade, free agency, waiver wire and minor league call ups, the Marlins scrambled to bring in 16 new players, some of whom the team’s manager Don Mattingly had never met.4 After a week of delay, the patchwork team took the field. At season’s end they were playoff bound.
Bridging the Skills Gap Means Scouting and Developing
A baseball team is nothing without its developmental system. Prospects from around the world are trained and groomed for success by specialized team personnel. After all, good hitters and pitchers are hard to find.
Modern manufacturing facilities require individuals with STEM skills, which are often in short supply. University talent must be scouted. Promising youngsters must be developed. Foreign candidates should not be overlooked. It really is just like baseball!
Production operations, like baseball teams, perform best when teamwork and good process are bolstered with experience and natural talent. Just as ball clubs trust their front office to acquire the free agent talent that will put them over the top, manufacturing operations look to quality recruiters to find the right person for the job.