Manufacturers are facing a knowledge crisis. Baby-boomer talent is retiring - and walking out the door with them are decades of knowledge crucial to company operations. Capturing knowledge that took years to develop and refine is difficult, time consuming and inefficient – but it does not need to be. Modern software and digital technologies can overcome many of the difficulties of traditional ways of capturing knowledge, easily preserving it for the future.
What is knowledge capture?
Knowledge capture is the ability to retain the knowledge within your firm that was learned and cultivated over time, in a manner that can be leveraged by future employees.
This knowledge mostly comes from the experiences of employees who have been doing their job for years (solid citizens). They know the ins and outs of what they do and knowledge capture helps retain their knowledge when they retire or leave. When properly executed and paired with a modern training and deployment approach, knowledge capture can provide new hires and future employees with a headstart on decades of experience.
The problem is that knowledge capture, if done at all, often uses outdated and ineffective methods. Examples include shadowing a retiring employee for a week or two or asking solid citizens to document what they do, even though they are not trained to create proper work instructions and training materials. Another approach is to record a video of the expert performing the procedure. However, getting these videos in a usable format, editing them and updating them is often very challenging and time-consuming. With these weak approaches, vital knowledge is lost or preserved in a way that is difficult to use, hard to find or confusing.
Modern technologies can help manufacturers to properly and quickly document this imperative information to ensure smooth day-to-day operations, even after the most experienced workers have left.
Why should you care now?
Currently, an entire generation of highly skilled workers (baby boomers) is retiring, taking decades of experience with them. This means that manufacturers will rely on a new, less-experienced era of employees to take over. On top of that, processes and jobs are becoming more complex. With traditional learning methods, it will take the new generation years to gather the experience to be able to perform at the level of their predecessors.
In the past, systematic knowledge capture was a goal of many knowledge-based organizations, but the technology was never quite sufficient to fully do the job. Over the last three decades, it always felt like the required technology was ‘just five more years away.’
Today this is no longer the case. The technology companies need is here and ready to rapidly add value.
Newer workers grew up in the information-technology age and are more than comfortable leveraging these new tools and technologies. As companies seek to hire new people, interesting technology may also become a draw, encouraging them to take jobs that have traditionally been less attractive.
A use case for knowledge capture with Digital Technologies
In the factory of the future, capturing knowledge can be an effective and intuitive process by using specialized software and augmented reality (AR), a set of technologies that superimposes digital information on the physical world. One example of this is PTC’s Vuforia Suite on the software side along with a headset, like the RealWear HMT-1, on the hardware side.
Here's a use case for the technology. Equip-solid citizens have a headset that acts as a ‘wearable iPad’ that allows them to keep their hands free, while the device captures an entire work process from the doer’s perspective. The most knowledgeable workers can provide oral explanations of what they are doing, either live or captured later as a voice-over. The voice-controlled capturing software installed on the headset allows the expert to distinguish different steps in the procedure and add initial mark-ups during the recording. This saves a considerable amount of time in the editing process later.
Once captured, the recording can be edited to add text instructions, annotations and voiceovers to turn the visual material into an easy-to-follow tutorial. This step should not take long as the software already cuts the videos and creates a step structure during the recording, so editing is often limited to highlighting a few key steps. Because tutorials are stored in the cloud, you can also easily update existing procedures and create different versions that will be automatically and instantaneously available. This process can be repeated as often as necessary to build the knowledge repository you desire. Overall, the process of creating, distributing and maintaining these digital tutorials is very streamlined and efficient with the specialized solutions available today.
The upcoming tech-savvy generation will have no problem adapting to and embracing this technology. Learning through information-rich visual material is much more effective and engaging than studying manuals and paper-based references. This results in an improved first-time operation success rate and a substantial reduction in training time when using digital tutorials over traditional training methods and materials.
The digital tutorials are accessible at any time, from anywhere, and on any type of mobile device, enabling needs-based learning. This means that every employee can learn what they need at the time they need it, which considerably increases workforce flexibility.
Furthermore, the hands-free devices allow you to use the digital tutorials as a memory-aid on a day-to-day basis, helping to reduce daily and costly mistakes, even for experienced operators.
Most technologies include a tracking feature that allows you to see who completed the tutorial, when it was completed and how long did each step take to complete. This enables you to quickly see who is trained to perform certain procedures, which can be important for maintaining compliance records or the planning of re-training.
Additionally, if a newly trained employee encounters something unexpected or gets stuck, many AR headsets support live connections or sessions with a more experienced expert. The headset enables the expert to see through the eyes of the person seeking assistance, allowing the expert to provide live advice and superimpose digital annotations over physical objects for the person seeking assistance.
The Bottom line
The clock is ticking as the most senior resources continue to retire, taking with them valuable insights and knowledge. With today’s digital tools, effective knowledge capture is no longer an idea for the future – it’s a reality today.
Like any digital technology, the transformational potential is huge and knowledge transfer is a strong use case that can drive real value.
Michael Glessner is a director with Kalypso and has worked extensively in the areas of business and innovation strategy, product development, portfolio management, smart connected operations, large-scale organizational change leadership, and the software systems that enable innovation. His industry experience includes life sciences, industrial and high technology companies. He is a frequent speaker and writer on innovation effectiveness, disruptive innovation and time-to-market reduction.