A Modern Guide to Manufacturing Signage

EPISODE 64 | Guest: Chip Kepner, region sales manager – West Great Lakes for Visix

Just as factories, warehouses and assembly lines have embraced technology to help them do their work, manufacturing signage has evolved to modernize communications with a fast-moving, far-flung workforce.

When workers can’t get to a computer to check email, or there’s no good internet in the area of the plant, how do you keep them engaged, informed and safe? In this episode, Chip Kepner walks us through how modern facilities are using digital signs to unify communications across their facilities – both in the office and on the floor.

  • Get lots of content ideas for manufacturing signage
  • Learn how signage affects employee engagement and productivity
  • Hear best practices for HR and safety messaging, KPIs and more
  • Discover how to unite messaging across jobs, teams and locations
  • Understand what not to do on screens
  • Explore some best and worse real-world examples

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Get more content ideas in our white paper: Drive Change and Improve Safety with Digital Signage for Manufacturing


Derek DeWitt: Obviously, there’s not a sector of the business world that doesn’t benefit from a modern communications medium like digital signage, but the one we’re going to talk about today is the manufacturing sector. We’re talking about warehouses, factories and the like.

This is one of the areas of business that during this pandemic lockdown that we’ve seen everywhere, where a lot of people were working remotely, these people are not really able to do that (or at least many of them are not) because their jobs require them to be physically present operating physical machines in a physical environment.

So, we’re going to talk about some best practices and some real-world examples of how people in the manufacturing sector are using digital signage to communicate better. To help me talk about that today, I have Chip Kepner who is region sales manager for Visix in the Wisconsin, Minnesota and Illinois area. Hello, Chip.

Chip Kepner: Hello, Derek. How are you today?

Derek DeWitt: Excellent, excellent. I’d like to thank Chip for talking to me, and I’d like to thank everybody out there for listening.

Derek DeWitt: So, the manufacturing sector is actually quite different than a lot of the other ones that we sort of try and target. The corporate world and the university world, while they’re a bit different from each other, they have a lot of similarities. But it seems to me that the manufacturing sector is kind of really its own thing when it comes to the way that they have to communicate and what they communicate.

Chip Kepner: Yes! And when you think about manufacturing, there’s a little bit of everything that manufacturing covers. You know, a majority of their employees, or their internal communications are for individuals who typically do not have, laptops, desktops, email. So communication via digital signage is a very, very important way that they’re able to communicate corporate messaging, safety messaging and the like.

Derek DeWitt: Sure. That makes sense. They’re not sitting in front of a computer; they’ve got their hands on the dials and leavers.

Chip Kepner: That’s exactly right. And they’re constantly moving. You know, in the manufacturing world, the organizations are constantly trying to find the best ways to be able to communicate that different information to them. And that information varies depending upon each type of manufacturer and their goals and what they’re trying to accomplish. So, there’s a variety of different things that they are trying to do with them.

Derek DeWitt: Sure, that makes sense. Each kind of business, and even each individual organization, is going to have different metrics and different ways that they define success.

Chip Kepner: Correct. And you know, when it gets down to such as KPIs, key performance indicators, you know, it could be the number of widgets that are being produced for an hour, or it could be the number or how long it’s going to take for a shift to end; the number of pallets or widgets or whatever it is to make before the individuals can leave for that shift.

You might have a manufacturer that has… they’re on a project for a specific client, right? They do custom-type work. What jobs are in progress? They’re just not producing widgets. They do custom piping, as an example, right, or custom railings. And there’s a certain manufacturing process that has to go through that. But you have a group who are working on that particular job, right? You have another work group that’s working on another job, right? The folks out on the floor, they need to see okay, the progress of this job; where is job A, where is job B and so forth, right? I’ve seen that out there for folks to be able to see.

Derek DeWitt: Sure. I also think that kind of information could be useful for managers who have, say, multiple teams. Like you might be thinking, hey, you know, whatever, I know Fred here is really good at doing A, B and C; he’s in team 1, working on job 1; I see job 1 is going to finish ahead of schedule and I’d love to pull him off and stick him on job 2. And now that I have that information, I can go ahead and do that.

Chip Kepner: Right. You can move people around accordingly. I mean, that’s a great point. So, each company’s a little bit different, but at the end of the day, they’re still a variety of areas they’re trying to communicate. Especially on the plant floor. But if you also think about manufacturers, and manufacturers, it runs the gamut small to large, you know, multi-national organizations. And so when we are talking to those individuals, you know, a lot of times we’re talking to them about how they can affect the entire organization with digital signage.

So, it’s not just necessarily what they do on the plant floor, but it’s also what they might be doing in the corporate offices, potentially also in their lobbies as well. And the other kind of aspect of what we do to be able to help out these organizations is provide them a software system that can actually communicate information out from multiple locations and have that centralized control.

So, corporate offices can make sure that, you know, the branding standards are all the same, messaging can be consistent, but allow for that localized, specific information that a certain plant or distribution center needs. You know, for someone, for example, who might be in Milwaukee, Wisconsin does not need to see what’s happening for the birthdays in Minneapolis. So, it runs the gamut, but there’s a lot of different ways that we can help them out.

Derek DeWitt: Sure. I mean it, even when I think about probably one of the number one things that people are using digital signage for in these kinds of environments, certainly on the factory floor, is safety messaging. And even the specific safety messages and guidelines and reminders would be different. It’s going to be different if you’ve got a bunch of people who are cutting sheet metal, than people who are loading trucks; they’re going to be completely different safety messages.

Chip Kepner: That’s correct. And so, you know, the safety messages, specifically on safety messaging, it can vary, right? Safety messages could be specific to that individual organization, whether that’s something that Visix as an organization we help provide, or in some instances some organizations have their safety team that is consistently creating messages that they’re sending out via digital signage to the plant floor. So, it runs the gamut.

But in addition to safety messages, there’s also safety videos, there’s training videos that can be done as well, that some organizations use. We’ve even had some organizations that are using our digital signage software to bring the plant employees into a central area, and they’re switching over via our interactive capability, hitting a button on the screen and that switches it over to a training video, which a group might be watching for 10, 15 minutes. Once that safety video is over, it switches back to digital signage.

The other things that are happening regarding safety as well. You know, one thing that is a constant, that has to happen, whether it’s manufacturing or, you know, you can also think of distribution centers falls under that same category, but distribution centers and the like, they need to be able to post up the number of days that they’ve gone without an accident. So, that needs to be posted on a consistent basis, right?

And so, what a lot of older-school manufacturers have done in the past, obviously, is they just have a ticker that someone’s having to manually change every day. You know, that could be manually changed on a whiteboard, right? They’re just going up and making that change. Or they have just one individual, kind of the old dot matrix piece and the presentation in a modern-day factory does not fit. So, you know, that’s been an important piece to always add into, you know, the digital signage that we work with our groups.

The other things that do pop up and especially, and we think about what’s happened in the last year, think about COVID as well. You know, the COVID messaging, in terms of making sure you’re social distanced and you’re wearing your mask, any other types of areas that people need to be aware of, all of that kind of falls within that kind of that safety messaging arena that is so important on the plant floor.

But if you also think about it for the corporate offices for manufacturing, in the front offices, right, it’s the same type of thing. And so that information has to be communicated out. And reminders. If people aren’t being reminded on a regular basis, they’ll forget about it and they’ll move on or think they don’t have to necessarily follow those rules.

You know, one thing that this past year has taught all of us is to be flexible and to be willing to change on a moment’s notice. You know, if we think about what happened at the beginning of the pandemic to the middle, to now the end in regards to social distancing, to mask wearing, to, you know, how people operate in close quarters, you know, the guidance tends to change, or it has changed, quite a bit. So that messaging through digital signage has been an important piece to a lot of different groups out there.

And one way that we’ve helped with that, Visix, is we’ve provided some free messaging out there to folks be able to have access, to be able to quickly import that over and schedule that out there for whatever location or wherever they might need that in their organization.

But also, in the HR world, what’s constantly changing is, you know, benefits. Open enrollment, and things of that nature. You know, we talked a little bit about reminders for safety messaging, but the same thing applies for human resources to remind folks how soon open enrollment will start or when open enrollment will be completed, right, and it will close, things of that nature.

Think about what happens on payday. One of the things that our, you know, we can do, our clients want to do, is to be able to post announcements on payday, right? Typically there is a digital signage display right where people are clocking in and out. So to be able to do announcements that might pertain to their paycheck, like make sure, you know, in December-January, making sure that their W4 is updated for the new year, things of that nature, so their deductions are right. And that type of information, those employees on manufacturing floors are not going to be able to get access to that because they don’t have email. So they have to have a way, a method of communication. And digital signage is a great way to do that.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah. In fact, in many ways, it’s the only way to do it, really. Unless you’re going to have somebody walking around going, hey, don’t forget this, don’t forget this, don’t forget this. And with the, with it being on the screens, you can decide, hey, I just want it on this screen and this screen. And it repeats periodically throughout the day in a playlist, so it’s like, oh yeah, that’s right. I got to get that done. Especially I think when it comes to things like benefits and HR stuff, because sometimes those deadlines are imposed from outside the organization, they’re state or county deadlines. So, it’s like, no, seriously, guys, you got to get your stuff in by the 15th, no kidding; it’s not us making this decision, it’s the county.

Chip Kepner: That’s right. It’s their federal, state, local, all those guidelines have to be adhered to by an organization. And you’re right. A lot of folks, they sometimes don’t necessarily get that. They think it’s, you know, it’s that corporate’s just saying it, but it’s not.

Derek DeWitt: I mean, think about how often people forget that April 15th is tax day. We all know April 15th is tax day. And yet every single year, we all remember on the 14th.

Chip Kepner: Going back to what we talked about with flexibility and why messaging through digital signage is so important, think of what’s happened with COVID for the last two years for the tax deadline. It’s been moved twice.

Derek DeWitt: Oh, that’s true. Yeah.

Chip Kepner: Right! So those are the types of things that, yeah, in our head, we always think April 15th, but in this case, in the last two years, because of COVID, it’s changed. So, that those are the types of things that are very important to be able to communicate; reminding the folks that tax deadline was actually May 17th this year, right, rather than April 15th. So, especially this last year is a great example of why digital signage is so important to the manufacturing world.

Derek DeWitt: Right. Because it can be responsive if you’re using it correctly. This is, the argument is, well why not just use posters? You know, you hear this argument sometimes that people just say, look, you know, the safety advice is don’t cut your fingers off in the machine. That doesn’t change, why not just stick a poster up there? But people get used to seeing it there. And it’s very fast actually. It’s just a few days. And then people stop seeing it because it doesn’t change, it doesn’t move, it doesn’t have any alterations to it. So, it just becomes part of the background and they just forget.

Chip Kepner: That’s exactly right. And so that’s why also, just in general with digital signage, it’s important to change up the content and the look and feel for the content on a regular basis. Because, just like any other road sign, if that road sign doesn’t change, to your point, if it doesn’t change after the first, let’s say first week, you drive by it all the time without even looking at it. It’s just part of the background from that point forward. That sign changes on a regular basis? You’re going to be looking at it, right?

Derek DeWitt: You’re actually going to train yourself, oh, I got to check in with that sign and see what the deal is.

Chip Kepner: That’s exactly right. So, you know, the other thing is, and this kind of revolves around, you know, the HR, the safety messaging, now we live in a world where these manufacturers and organizations are battling for employees, right?

Derek DeWitt: Yes, yes.

Chip Kepner: And they are trying to really do whatever they can to 1) you know, hire these employees, but 2), just as importantly, keep those employees and keep them engaged and productive. Right? So, there’s a variety of ways that organizations are doing that with digital signage as well. And some of this applies to not just on the plant floor, but also on the corporate offices, right?

And what I mean by that is when you have a new hire, it’s announcing that new hire. And it helps with 1) the individual feeling like they’re being recognized, but 2) also, you know, for those folks on the floor to be able to get up to place a face with a name; knowing that Chip Kepner is brand new this week, let’s go make sure that we introduce ourselves to them to make sure that they feel welcome. But that’s part of that welcoming process, that onboarding process, you know?

And we talked a little bit about safety messaging earlier, the videos; there can be ways to be able to utilize digital signage for that onboarding process with safety messaging, with interactive capabilities that we have for someone to be able to walk up and be able to see what the most recent safety video is.

You know, so those are all really important, but then moving over to more of that engagement, right, you know, when you think about key performance indicators, right, and I mentioned this before, but number of widgets being made for the hour versus the goal, right? How important is that? And that helps with 1) knowing where folks are on the plant floor with their production, but 2) also, you know, and I’ve seen this in, you see this in the sales world, you see this in a lot of different organizations, where putting up sales numbers, production numbers, things of that nature, can also help with that. You know, everyone’s got a little bit of competitive nature in them, right? And they don’t want to see that machine A is out producing them on machine B, as an example. And so that’s a very, very important piece that I see. And I’ve seen a variety of my clients do it different ways. Some are utilizing our software to do that, to be able to do some integration with data sources that they might have on site.

Derek DeWitt: Right, because they’re entering the data anyway somewhere; why not? It’s a simple matter to just have the digital signage software pull that data because you’re sticking it in a spreadsheet anyway.

Chip Kepner: That’s correct. It could be in a spreadsheet, it could be coming from some sort of ERP. And there’s a variety of ERPs out there. And the other aspect of that is some of those ERPs, they also have the ability to create webpage dashboards. And so those webpage dashboards already have that information in a format that might be presentable to the folks within the organization. And there are groups out there like Power BI that do some of that as well, and aggregate all that and get it onto webpages. So those are all vital.

You know, I’ve seen other groups and a variety of different organizations that are trying to get that information out there. I saw in one of my client’s ‘ plants in Canada, they actually were having information sent over via their ERP and produced into a PDF, and that was dropped into a file, and our software would then pull that up and show that on whatever frequency that they had set up. So, there’s a variety of different ways that production data is put out there.

And, you know, and then think about it in the front offices, right? And I mentioned it before, sales numbers. Sales are what’s driving everything. So if they don’t have that information out there for the sales team, you know, that can affect the sales numbers to some extent. So, posting sales numbers, posting financials, things of that nature can be important to organizations.

Every organization’s a little bit different in terms of what their goals are and what information they want to be made public. But I’ve seen a variety of different things out there across the board.

Derek DeWitt: We’re not going to name names obviously, but what are some mistakes you’ve seen, out there in the world of internal communications in manufacturing? Sort of like, ooh boy, that, uh, that didn’t work or god, why are you doing it that way?

Chip Kepner: Yeah. I think the biggest thing that I’ve seen is almost trying to put too much information.

Derek DeWitt: Like on the screen at once?

Chip Kepner: Right. You know, think of digital signage. You know, it’s a canvas that allows you to do pretty much whatever you want and get a lot of different information out there. But at the same time, too much information: people aren’t going to be paying attention to the individual messages. It’s going to be too much and too scattered.

So, I’ve seen it a few times where, you know, they want to be able to put safety messaging with shift or job, labor information. And then they’re also putting company, HR information all on the same screen, right? In different quadrants, as an example.

So, you know, one way that my client actually changed that a little bit is they made specific screens for specific types of messaging. So, what this individual client did, where the employees are coming in through the building, what they did was that they had three different types of messaging, right? And these are just examples, but if they had quality, safety and deliverables, as an example, right? They color coded the backgrounds and the messaging to each of those three areas. So the front of the building, they had actually three different displays. One that would go through each of those different areas. And then on the plant floor, they would then have those messages intermingled, but there would just be a message per those different areas that I mentioned.

Derek DeWitt: Right. Still with the color coding. So people are, people have like, oh yeah, green means this and blue means this. I got it. Yeah.

Chip Kepner: That’s exactly right. And it’s consistent, right? So they always know safety is going to be red, as an example. Quality is always going to be blue, right? And so it’s just reinforcing those messages with the same color coding on a daily basis.

Derek DeWitt: What about like room signs for meeting spaces and things like this? Obviously, when you think of that, you think of more of our corporate office thing. But even factory workers, like, especially if they’re union, they got to get together and have conversations with their shop steward or their union rep or whatever. So, do we see manufacturing facilities also using room signs and meeting room signs?

Chip Kepner: You do. It’s not at the same level as you see digital signage. Where the meeting room signs come into play is a little bit of kind of what you’re talking about, but it’s more in the front offices. And where they have, you know, in a plant, right, the plant has, they’ve got the front offices that are doing accounting, purchasing, whatever it might be, and they could also be their corporate offices. But then they might have four to five to ten different meeting rooms that they would like to be able to have some sort of meeting room sign.

And it varies of what they’re trying to accomplish with that. Whether it’s just getting up the individual room schedule, which is very easy to do with one of our products, to more advanced type of functionality where it’s allows for two-way booking of information; not just to see the room schedule, but also to be able to book the room from that individual device. So, it runs a gamut, but it’s not quite as popular as what you see for something like digital signage.

Derek DeWitt: Any other awesome, awesome deployments you’ve seen?

Chip Kepner: I’ve also seen, this past year, a couple of times, where clients would like to be able to put up the labor schedule for the upcoming week and the week after that, by using an Excel viewer. So that is becoming a little bit more of a common request from clients.

The other piece that I see also that has been a little bit more common now, it’s popped up a couple of times this year, is if you think about these distribution centers in plants, they have trucks coming in to pick up or drop off material, right? And so now the individuals, not just the individuals on the floor, but also the people driving the trucks, they need to know which dock to go to. And so that has been brought up a couple of times as something that needs to be done through digital signage. And so we’ve had those conversations as well. So that’s something that’s becoming a more common request.

The other thing that I’ve seen, I saw this in one of my client’s plants in Indiana, is they actually would like to stream the CEO’s company announcements. Because think about pre-COVID, everyone would go to the conference room or a training room and gather around, get together.

Derek DeWitt: Right. Shoulder to shoulder.

Chip Kepner: That’s exactly right. You can’t do that anymore. So, now what they’re doing is, or thinking about doing, you know, with digital signage, and now because you have the space within the building or on the floor, you could have 10 people in front of one display, 10 people in front of another, and they’re all socially distanced, watching that, either it could be a video or it could be a streamed CEO announcement, company announcements, things like that.

The other thing that I’ve seen, I’ve seen this, one of my clients, they did this in one of their corporate lobbies (actually, I’ve seen this a couple of times now) where they want to be able to put up on a kiosk, on a touchscreen, whatever it might be, to be able to welcome in new clients or clients coming in, but also to be able to put up product information, company history, things of that nature.

So, when someone walks up to the screen, they can touch on a button and have that go over to a company history. Some of my clients have been around for 125 years, 150 years. They want to really show that history. One of my clients in Wisconsin, they actually have a like a museum, history area, where they have a digital signage with Visix up going through some of that information. So, there’s a lot of that that I also see. And so, it’s not just what happens on the plant floor, but it’s also, you know, some of the information that they can do in the front of the building and the lobbies corporately. So one thing about Visix is we can help with a lot of different areas and help expand that across an organization.

I’ve had a pharmaceutical client who, you know, they have people coming in, they wanted to, they’re coming into the facility in the corporate office facility, and they want to be able to show information about the drug and that manufacturing process and studies and things of that nature. So, there’s a variety of ways to do that, and we we’ve helped them out with that.

Derek DeWitt: Because manufacturing, and when we say manufacturing, we mean a whole bunch of different things. As you said, we’ve got delivery, we’ve got warehouses, we’ve got utilities, we’ve got all these different kinds of organizations and businesses. But what are the unique challenges for communicating internally for that kind of a business? Because, you know, like a corporate hub, everybody’s in the office; we know this (maybe not now, maybe they’re partly from home). But it seems to me in, in an environment like this, you’ve got people, they’re kind of already spread out doing stuff.

Chip Kepner: Yeah. I think the biggest challenge is having so many people spread out with no way, they don’t have anything tying them back to the corporate messaging center of email. And so, it’s really important to be able to have some sort of method to communicate all that information. And, think about also that, you know, some of these locations, right? You have, you think of a plant floor, right? A plant floor could be 30,000 square feet, maybe larger — 100,000 square feet.

Derek DeWitt: That’s true. It takes me a half an hour to walk across this thing!

Chip Kepner: Right! And you might not have folks who are even on one side of the building or the other, ever. So logistically that’s important. But that’s at that specific location.

The other thing that I’ve found has become, or is an issue as well, is you have organizations that have plants in areas that don’t have very good internet access. You know, in the food production industry, beef and chicken and things of that nature, right? They have a hard time with an internet connection. So that’s where we can help as well, where information is just comes over on one time a day, right, as an example.

Derek DeWitt: Right. Boom! Here’s today’s messages. Bam!

Chip Kepner: That’s exactly it. And then it will play all day long because, or it changes every other day, whatever the situation might be. Those two things are the two biggest challenges that organizations face, is kind of logistics and getting that information out to everyone. And that’s why someone like ourselves, Visix, is so important to these organizations to help them get that info out there.

And think about what we’re all having to do now. It’s doing more with less. A software that allows you to be able to communicate to a lot of people, you know, within minutes, right?

Derek DeWitt: Right, yeah, sure.

Chip Kepner: Your manufacturing plant floor, corporate environment, those types of things, that type of efficiency is so much more important with, now in the world we live in, with doing more with less, right?

If you have to go building by building and plug in a USB drive, or display by display to plug in a USB drive to get that information out there, that could take, you know, we talked about 100,000 square foot building, it could be two hours to do that, right? And that individual who’s doing it, do you think that they want to be doing it and spending all their time? That’s actually high technology, right, using USB, you know, and that still takes a lot of time.

But think about, I’ve seen, I’ve been into a lot of organizations that have whiteboards. So now they’re printing that off right and wasting paper is 1, but then 2, now they have to go to, on that 100,000 square foot building, it might have five whiteboards or poster boards, but they have to then post all that up. That’s still another hour to two hours of time that they could be spending in doing other types of things.

Because if you think about what some of these individuals are doing, let’s say they’re in accounting, that’s an hour that that individual could have spent collecting, you know, working on AR (accounts receivable). If it’s someone who is doing HR, that could have been an hour or two hours of things that they could have been doing to help with maybe save money on benefits. And those are the types of areas that help a company make money or save money rather than having someone walk around from board to board or display, to display, to be able to get that information out.

Derek DeWitt: The manufacturing sector, as we call it, is actually incredibly diverse and diversified. And very often even physically distant, either because the facilities themselves are excessively large or because they’re spread out over a large geographical region, sometimes even the whole country and maybe even internationally. And yet technologies such as digital signage allows a consistent messaging to everyone that can be done from a central location and accomplished in an incredibly short period of time. It doesn’t just look good, it’s also much more efficient.

Chip Kepner: It’s night and day, going from kind of the old school technology to a more modern, contemporary way to get information out.

Derek DeWitt: Well, that’s all very interesting stuff. I’d like to thank Mr. Chip Kepner, region sales manager for the, one might call it the Northern Midwest, for Visix. Thanks for talking to me today about the manufacturing sector, Chip.

Chip Kepner: Derek, thanks for having me. I really enjoyed it and look forward to talking to you again.

Derek DeWitt: All right. Thank you, once again, everybody listening to this episode of Digital Signage Done Right. Don’t forget that you can check the Visix website under Resources/Podcasts for a transcript of this episode. And if you prefer to watch a video version, you can check that out on our YouTube channel in the Digital Signage Done Right playlist. Warning: it’s just a bunch of graphics, however, it’s not pictures of me and Chip talking. Though that would be awesome because Chip is one handsome devil.

Chip Kepner: Look out!