If you are in manufacturing, you may think that social media belongs to your marketing department. But think again—your manufacturing employees already use Facebook and LinkedIn to stay in touch with friends and colleagues, even at work. Even if the sites are blocked inside your company, anyone can use an iPhone to connect with their social networks. Some companies see this as a problem, but others are harnessing social media networking to foster collaboration and share knowledge. Social networking also gives you new tools for solving knotty manufacturing, supply chain, and logistics problems.
Gaining favor in manufacturing companies are tools like Microsoft SharePoint for file sharing and Yammer for Twitter-like chatting, as well as others like Socialtext and NewsGator for collaboration. Each system is rapidly expanding its suite of social media functions. Companies are also deploying combinations of tools or developing their own. In addition, YouTube, SlideShare, Instagram, and WordPress are getting a lot of use for work-related non-confidential purposes. The growing use of iPads in offices, on the factory floor, and in logistics is accelerating the trend toward constant connectivity.
Large companies like Ericsson, Nokia, and Cemex are capitalizing on social media’s collaboration advantages. Mid-sized and smaller enterprises like Nalco and Industrial Mold and Machine are doing the same. How are social media technologies helping them?
Teamwork and collaboration: Internal social media tools include file sharing and wikis to help global manufacturing, engineering, and supply chain teams work together better.
Person to person: With a social media tool’s messaging function, you can immediately reach the person who knows why the shipment is late. You can check on how manufacturable a design feature might be. Work flows faster. You can also get involved with a special interest groups around an issue like sustainability, participate in discussions, and work together to produce invaluable ideas and innovations.
Knowledge sharing: Companies have tried to collect what is known, but access to who knows it is more current and immediate. With member profiles noting areas of technical and business expertise, social media allows you to search them out and contact them, wherever they are based. With tools such as wikis, you can make best practices more sharable and searchable. Companies have found that social media knowledge-sharing tools are making for faster and more successful onboarding of new employees.
Online communities for company and customer engineer-to-engineer problem solving are working for technology companies like Texas Instruments and SAP .
Tony Martins, VP of strategic services at Halo Pharmaceuticals, believes the significant supply chain connections are people to people, not system to system. He points out that even in the best supply chains, problems crop up. If people can spontaneously gather around the problem, they can improvise quickly to set things back on course. When something goes wrong, social networking systems may provide the immediate connections with the right people to pinpoint what needs to happen. (Read more on Social Media and Supply Chain)
Ericsson is giving tech enthusiasts, engineers, even hobbyists, a behind-the-scenes peek at ongoing research and innovation with Ericsson Labs, enabling the company to crowdsource ideas and report bugs. For research topics like Internet of Things and Security, anyone can access hands-on areas for prototypes and get software and tools to try. Developers of the new Bowser audio/video web application recently released it for testing. A Bowser blog keeps users up to date and a Bowser Google Group was formed for sharing problems and answers.
Industrial Mold & Machine (IMM) uses collaborative tools in manufacturing. IMM’s system is based on Socialtext, which gives employees tools such as blogs, wikis, and searchable user profiles for knowledge sharing. Employees can access IMM Connect even on the shop floor. From engineer to apprentice, everyone can find color coded 3D animations of mold designs as well as production schedules and job status. Larry Hounsel told the Cleveland Plain Dealer in an interview how the social-based system and the iPads helped revitalize both manufacturing effectiveness and much-needed apprentice training.
How to make social media work best for your company? Deploy it first in a few groups that want to try out new tools. Let them experiment. If the new technologies make their work easier, the social applications will catch on. Be prepared. Employee demand for them can expand fast. Be sure to develop a policy for using social media and communicate it to everyone. Worry less. Despite their worst fears, companies rarely experience adverse effects from bringing social media into their cultures.
Read more on how manufacturing innovation thrives in digital spaces.
Karen Wilhelm has worked in the manufacturing industry for 25 years, and blogs at Lean Reflections, which has been named as one of the top ten lean blogs on the web.