The manufacturing sector has a diverse range of operating environments including design offices, development facilities, production lines, and logistics operations. Many standard COVID-secure practices apply to manufacturing, but there are also specific challenges facing the sector.
This section describes application examples of manufacturing-specific COVID-secure practices. However, it is conceivable that the virus may be in circulation for some time and manufacturing businesses must also address the economic and logistical challenges presented by the virus. Also described are techniques that may require modest investment training and or technology that will help organisations achieve longer-term resilience and efficiency.
COVID-related challenges facing manufacturing firms
Manufacturing normally involves product development, logistics, transforming materials into components, product assembly, as well as testing and assessment of finished goods. This generally involves close human interaction and naturally presents a risk of COVID transmission between workers.
Cross-functional teams and virus transmission
Cross-functional teams and collaborative working within design and manufacturing facilities typically involves many human interactions, increasing the chances of COVID transmission between workers.
Many materials, tools, parts, and finished goods are handled during the manufacturing process, and every time a worker touches these items they risk passing on the virus.
Social distancing requirements can impact on assembly practices and result in manufacturing processes taking longer than usual to complete the standard assembly hours for the product, therefore reducing output and resulting in reduced turnover.
Product demand may have increased or decreased as a result of COVID-19, depending on the product type. Changes in demand will result in changing output requirements for the manufacturing facilities.
COVID-secure manufacturing facilities: control measures
Below are described immediate control measures that may be appropriate to manufacturing firms.
- Employ standard COVID-secure practices in all office spaces, such as a one-way systems, sanitisation stations, facemasks, and remote working for knowledge workers where possible.
Create bubbles on the manufacturing line to ensure workers have a protected work space and others do not enter without permission. e.g. Use Tensa-barriers as temporary perimeters to control zones in the factory.
Prohibit tool sharing to prevent viral transfer.
- Implement a reverse-parking only rule in the factory car park to reduce the chances of contact between car drivers at the beginning and end of shifts.
- Stagger line changeover times where possible to reduce the number of workers moving around the facility at a given time.
- Ensure regular and clear communication to colleagues of any changes to working practices.
- If someone does not report absent from work but does not attend, assume it is COVID and secure their workplace for cleaning or isolation. Assume the worst, hope for the best.
- Stabilise business operations and ensure resilience
Once the manufacturing facilities are COVID-secure, the longer-term health of workers and the business itself must be considered. Below are the wider actions that may be appropriate to help manufacturing businesses and their value chains live with COVID:
Provide access to mental health support to help alleviate fears around job security, personal or family members’ health, or if team members become ill and cannot work
Ensure supply chain resilience to reduce bottlenecks, reduce work-in-progress inventory, to improve material flow e.g. using value stream mapping
- Alter the manufacturing Takt Time so the daily quota can be achieved in fewer shifts
- Simplify the production line to achieve the same output for less worker exposure
- More training/empowerment, i.e. fewer managers /checkers on the shop floor
- Manage cash flow with smaller batch sizes and staged payment terms
- Reduce unnecessary overheads
- Create alternate revenue streams by switching product and service offerings
- Employ new technology to improve assembly associate safety such as proximity sensing wearable technology
- Consider safety stock levels, design in alternatives and dual source components to ensure production continuity
- Strengthen partnerships with suppliers. Work even more closely
- Reduce inspection or perform non-contact inspection to reduce chance of virus transfer. This was a big issue in the Ventilator Challenge
- Employ modern techniques and collaborate for the future.
Reduce human interaction
Some of the challenges that require close human interaction in manufacturing result from the systems used to manage design information and physical products. Below are described tools and techniques that may require investment but are intended to create longer-term efficiency and business resilience.
Introduce electronic sign off and digital rights management systems to eliminate paper documents and manage information in a product lifecycle management system
- Utilise Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality product design reviews to collaborate remotely, and get life size understanding of the product, e.g. remote worker support using Augmented Reality was used successfully in the Ventilator Challenge
- Remote asset monitoring with Internet of Things (IoT) eliminates the need for anyone to go to the asset, so there is a lower chance of virus transmission to others
- Automate the production line further to reduce staffing levels and redeploy workers to other roles in the business
- Use Collaborative Robotics (Co-Bots) to enable one person to lift heavier items and work alone
- Deploy independent air systems for workers who have to work closely together….not a mass market solution but for some industries this might be a relatively moderate increase in PPE, e.g. clean rooms particularly
- Changing from a face covering “protect others from me” to proper particulate filtering gas masks (masks that protect the wearer may generate more compliance than face coverings that just protect others
- Develop custom solutions with partner organisations such as IfM, MTC, Catapults.
- Investigate funding calls from government sources to share development costs on new innovations. These change frequently and address many industry sectors, so keep monitoring.
Caveats and considerations
The appropriateness of recommendations in this section will depend on the nature of the manufacturing business considering the deployment of these techniques. The business must determine if a given suggestion is appropriate.
Some recommendations are relatively quick and cost-effective control measures, whereas others may require investment and deployment of new technologies at higher cost. The business must assess the relative cost-benefit of the recommendations in their specific circumstances before adopting any suggestions in this section.