A frequent topic of discussion during OpExChange plant visits is the scarcity of skilled workers.
How do you effectively preserve the valuable knowledge and expertise possessed by long-serving employees, ensuring it can be passed down to newer generations of workers? During a recent visit to the Stanley Black & Decker (SB&D) plant in Fort Mill, South Carolina, they showcased their approach to tackling this issue using an artificial intelligence (AI)-based training platform.
SB&D, an OpExChange member for three years, hosted their second plant visit for fellow manufacturers. In their previous event in 2021, they shared their progress in automation and digital connectivity, outlining their Industry 4.0 roadmap and remarkable progress after only one year.
During the most recent event, they went into more detail about their utilization of a product known as DeepHow, an AI-powered, video-centric platform designed for training a skilled workforce. Over the past two years, the site has effectively employed DeepHow to capture critical expertise and create standardized training experiences akin to those found on YouTube.
The event drew attendees from twenty-seven OpExChange organizations, spanning thirteen counties in South Carolina and three in North Carolina.
Cool Tools Made in South Carolina
SB&D, recognized globally as the largest tool company, is not only synonymous with quality and innovation but also renowned for its exceptionally cool tools. Nearly every workshop or garage in the United States boasts a collection of tools from the diverse SB&D product line and brand names, a testament to their enduring appeal and utility.
The Fort Mill plant, which began production in 2012, expanded to its current 345,000 square foot facility in 2018. This expansion was in line with the company’s broader strategy to enhance manufacturing capacity within the United States. In 2020, the facility officially embarked on its Industry 4.0 journey. Their progress garnered national recognition when it was prominently featured in 2021 on “Modern Marvels: Machines” on The History Channel. The feature highlighted the plant’s highly digital and sustainable practices, positioning it as a competitive force among sister plants worldwide. Through automation and digital connectivity, the plant successfully eliminated non-value-added activities, exhibiting a step-level improvement to their operational excellence.
DeepHow: Transforming Workforce Training
At the core of Stanley Black & Decker’s innovative approach to workforce training lies DeepHow, a video-centric platform powered by artificial intelligence (AI) designed to address a wide range of training and skills management requirements. DeepHow represents a revolutionary shift in how organizations manage video-based Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), knowledge capture, safety, Environmental, Health, and Safety (EHS) training, onboarding, external training, and more.
This program functions as a video platform and capture application, enabling users to record real-time technical expertise via a smart phone to create intelligent how-to videos. At the heart of the DeepHow program is its AI system, affectionately referred to as “Stephanie,” which plays a crucial role in capturing the knowledge of experts and constructing a comprehensive enterprise knowledge repository. By harnessing the capabilities of AI, SB&D is combatting challenges such as high employee turnover rates, costly training initiatives, reduced productivity, and inconsistent quality.
DeepHow boasts two noteworthy AI features: the ability to transcribe audio from the individual being recorded and subsequently translate it into different languages. This functionality has proven highly valuable within the plant setting. An illustrative example in the visit showcased an associate demonstrating a machine changeover while speaking in Spanish, with the instructional text displayed in English. DeepHow offers support for approximately forty languages.
Sarah Jones, the EH&S manager for the site, noted significant improvements since the implementation of DeepHow in their safety training programs. Not only has there been a marked enhancement in retention rates, but completion rates have surged by more than seventy percent.
The Stanley Black & Decker Plant Tour
Following the introductory presentations and discussions, the group divided into four smaller groups for a tour of their factory floor. During the tour, the plant’s unwavering commitment to lean and visual manufacturing principles was consistently evident. The team observed how each production cell was organized, employing U-shaped configurations to promote continuous flow manufacturing. It was noted on the tour that there is very little work-in-progress (WIP) on the floor. Once material is issued from the warehouse, that same material is in a packed box on a trailer within four hours.
Automation plays a pivotal role in the various production processes, with collaborative robots seamlessly executing tasks such as loading and unloading machines. The tour also highlighted the plant’s in-house automation solutions tailored for specific processes like soldering and gluing, as well as the robotic palletization of finished products.
One of the most noteworthy achievements in automation was the plant’s commitment to reducing the number of “touches” a product encounters during production. Once a product leaves the final assembly step, it does not come into contact with a human hand again within the facility. Robots efficiently load boxed products onto pallets. When the pallet is nearly full, the robot will summon an autonomous mobile robot (AMR) to transport the pallets safely through the factory. These AMRs, a testament to advanced automation in material handling, safely convey the pallets to the shipping area, where they are loaded into automated stretch wrappers. Following the stretch-wrapping process, the AMRs transport the pallets to a staging area, where they are subsequently moved a short distance by forklift onto trailers. This ingenious approach not only enhances efficiency and throughput but also significantly improves safety by eliminating pedestrian interactions with forklifts throughout the majority of the factory.
Synthesizing Manufacturing Foundations & Technology
An enduring takeaway from Stanley Black & Decker’s Fort Mill plant is the importance of people, skill development, and a steadfast commitment to lean manufacturing principles as foundational elements toward success. While cutting-edge technology and AI-driven solutions like DeepHow undoubtedly propel the industry forward, they must always be integrated within a framework that prioritizes the growth and development of a skilled workforce. In Fort Mill, the synthesis of these elements not only addresses the pressing challenge of labor shortages but also elevates manufacturing excellence to new heights.
Looking forward, the SB&D journey is a reminder that amidst the ever-evolving landscape of technology and automation, it is the investment in people, skill cultivation, and the steady adherence to lean manufacturing that should serve as the compass guiding the industry forward. The path to sustainable success lies in harmonizing the power of innovation with a workforce empowered by knowledge, and it is this enduring synergy that will continue to define manufacturing excellence in the years to come.
About Stanley Black & Decker
Headquartered in the USA, Stanley Black & Decker (NYSE: SWK) is a worldwide leader in tools and outdoor operating manufacturing facilities worldwide. Guided by its purpose – for those who make the world – the company’s more than 50,000 diverse and high-performing employees produce innovative, award-winning power tools, hand tools, storage, digital tool solutions, lifestyle products, outdoor products, engineered fasteners and other industrial equipment to support the world’s makers, creators, tradespeople and builders. The company’s iconic brands include DEWALT®, BLACK+DECKER®, CRAFTSMAN®, STANLEY®, CUB CADET®, HUSTLER® and TROY-BILT®. Recognized for its leadership in environmental, social and governance (ESG), Stanley Black & Decker strives to be a force for good in support of its communities, employees, customers and other stakeholders. To learn more visit: www.stanleyblackanddecker.com
The OpExChange, sponsored by the South Carolina Manufacturing Extension Partnership, is a peer-to-peer network of manufacturers and distributors in South Carolina known for generating success for members through benchmarking and best practice sharing. Member companies host events and share practical examples of industrial automation, lean manufacturing improvements, and leadership development. It is an invaluable resource to South Carolina companies that provides access to others who are on similar improvement journeys. If your company is interested in participating in this collaborative effort to improve both the competitiveness of your operation and South Carolina, contact Mike Demos (Mike@OpExChange.com). More information and upcoming plant visits are available on the OpExChange website www.OpExChange.com.