How to Minimize Disruptions to Your Manufacturing Operations?
COVID-19 is a contributing factor for a number of issues that impacted the manufacturing industry over the past year, prompting industrial operations to take a step back and look at their manufacturing operations. Many companies realized that outdated, paper-based ways of working are getting in the way of manufacturing efficiency, productivity and safety — and also preventing their operations from being agile at a time where flexibility is so important.
The way forward is providing your workforce with access to digital technology to empower them to be successful. Technology solutions that support the new hybrid reality of work are crucial at a time like this.
However, even with the current promise of widespread vaccination, there are still many factors that pose a risk to your operations. The biggest disruption you could face has shifted from a full shutdown to operating at half capacity.
Potential Threats to Your Manufacturing Operations
Not Everyone Will Opt to Get Vaccinated
Even though the vaccine is currently being rolled out, there still remains some uncertainty around adoption rates. There will be workers that reject the vaccine or opt to not get it, for personal reasons or out of fear. This means there’s a chance they could contract the virus as long as they’re not vaccinated, which still puts your manufacturing operations in danger.
Workers Calling in Sick
With the U.S. recently reaching a high of 3.4 million COVID vaccine shots administered in one day, there’s hope on the horizon for mass immunity. In the meantime, the risks from COVID-19 still remain real. Of course, you’ll want to encourage your workers to stay at home when they don’t feel well, but you may find yourself working with a leaner team. It’s less about a total plant shutdown and more about the potential risk and challenges you’ll face if operating at half capacity at any given time.
Clear communication and collaboration across teams is essential to ensure that the team fires on all cylinders.
Maintaining Health and Safety Standards on the Factory Floor
While we continue to manage local outbreaks, it remains critical to maintain safety measures and protocols to prevent the spread of the virus on the plant floor. Methods like social distancing, proper use of personal protective equipment (PPE) and other safety protocols among frontline workers should continue to be front and center in your daily operations.
Fragmented Teams and Lack of Collaboration
The new reality of manufacturing operations is that some of your team is physically present on the factory floor, while the rest are remotely working from home. This physical divide can pose a huge challenge if not handled properly. The lack of connection and collaboration means workers are operating in a silo, and manufacturing efficiency and productivity are out the window. Plant and operations managers need visibility to monitor operations remotely and ensure everything is running smoothly, while still maintaining worker safety.
5 Steps to Avoid Disruptions to Your Manufacturing Operations
COVID-19 prompted many manufacturing organizations to accelerate their digitization initiatives. According to a recent Gartner article, 69% of board of directors say that the effects of the pandemic have accelerated digital business initiatives. On top of that, 87% of corporate directors consider technology as having a transformational role in addressing strategic business priorities.
Connected Worker technology is being implemented at a faster rate than ever before. Here are five steps you can take to minimize risk on your factory floor and how Connected Worker technology can help:
Ensure Workers Follow Digital Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and Safety Checklists
Over the past year, the people who report every day on-site have taken on more responsibility. They are often performing new and additional tasks, or having to execute existing tasks at a far greater speed – doing more with less. How is your team expected to perform unfamiliar tasks, knowing it’s unlikely they’ll track down the outdated paper-based procedures and operating checklists?
By providing your team with access to dynamic, digitized SOPs through a mobile app or tablet, you can provide them with the step-by-step guidance to ensure they execute their work correctly. Guidance that is crucial in their day-to-day work instructions, particularly when a worker may be doing the work of two or three people on a leaner plant floor.
Digital SOPs offer a more flexible and scalable solution so that when you need to update a checklist or workflow, you can immediately make those updates and push them out across all sites. This ensures your entire team will adhere to the latest protocols without disrupting their workflow, consistently follow each step outlined in their digital SOPs and drive compliance – because a digital workflow acts as a record for the work executed.
Paper checklists are a wake-up call for plant and operations managers. This past year has shown how restrictive they can be. During COVID-19 worker safety became the top priority and companies needed to roll out new standard operating procedures rapidly, often across multiple sites at once. Digital – not paper – ensured workers adhered to these new procedures correctly.
Keep Communication Flowing and Ensure Collaboration
From shift handoffs to line changeovers, communication and collaboration are crucial between your teammates to keep everything running efficiently. This can be a challenge even in the best of times, but during COVID-19 you need to enable these exchanges to take place amid a social-distanced reality.
Mobile technology allows your workers to connect with remote experts in real time via a mobile app, scaling expertise and reducing non-productive time (NPT) and downtime. Your team can share photos and videos of in-progress processes with colleagues and industry experts, for extra guidance.
Or, during a shift handoff incoming team members can access detailed notes about where the previous shift left off, and hit the ground running. This allows you to optimize your manufacturing operations for maximum throughput across shifts.
Get Non-Experienced Workers up to Speed Quickly
If you’re relying on contractors or have workers filling in for other teammates, digital solutions can get them up to speed fast and provide them with on the job training. Paper-based work instructions are often outdated and less likely to be consulted.
With digitized checklists, workers gain access to visual resources like photos, videos and gifs, to help operators quickly understand what to look for and where to look for it. On top of that, these visuals not only help guide them through their work process, but also make it easier for non-native speakers to overcome any language barriers that they’d face with text-heavy training guides. This is a key reason why Connected Worker solutions make it easy for subject matter experts and process owners to embed digital media in-line with tasks.
Keep Your Existing Workers Safe and Happy
You want to ensure the safety of your on-site frontline workers, but you can’t overlook the importance of keeping them happy at work as well. According to Parsable’s recent study, less than half (47%) of frontline workers have been given access to mobile technology (smartphone, tablet, wearable, etc.) to help them do their jobs better. Sixteen percent of respondents say they have never leveraged digital tools to help them in their work. However, the study found that frontline workers are ready to embrace technology on the factory floor.
It’s important to acknowledge their technology expectations. The incoming, younger generation of manufacturing workers, Millennials and Gen Z, are used to the seamless integration of technology into their daily lives, particularly using smartphones and tablets. And they increasingly expect the same from their working lives.
Provide Visibility to Workers Who Aren’t on Site
If your organization is not operating at full capacity due to limitations of physical occupancy, with a limited number of workers present on the factory floor, collaboration across all teams becomes paramount. Previously, if an issue arose, a worker could call over a maintenance engineer to help address the problem.
COVID-19 has made remote collaboration across teams the norm. Using Connected Worker technology, an operator can notify their manager of an equipment issue, and communicate directly with a remote maintenance engineer to help correct the situation.
A year into the pandemic, manufacturers still face a number of challenges to their manufacturing operations. The adoption of digital technology has allowed organizations to become more agile and flexible. The time is now to lean into technology to help your workers stay on top of guidance and procedural changes, update digital SOPs and keep all employees accountable for safety compliance – ultimately minimizing the risk of future disruptions at your plant.