Ventilation Strategies to Reduce the Risk of COVID-19 in Manufacturing

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What ventilation practices can manufacturers put in place to create a safer workplace in the era of COVID-19? The National Occupational Research Agenda Manufacturing Sector Council’s COVID-19 workgroup has developed an online document that can assist manufacturers in this area.

The document is a collection of data, implementation strategies and testimonials on the use of outdoor air, existing industrial ventilation, and HVAC systems to help reduced the spread of COVID-19 in manufacturing facilities. These steps can be part of a layered approach to improve a facility’s health and safety.

Ideas & Insights

Reduce Risks and Safeguard Workers with New Technologies

The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged every part of our global society, but it has especially attacked our sense of safety in the places we once felt the least worried — among friends and family, at the grocery store or in the park, and at work. A strong economy suddenly feels fragile in the face of such unexpected disruption.

While organizations have always needed to take employee safety seriously, the crisis has created a whole host of new workplace risks to mitigate and manage, and it has revealed operational and supply chain risks that were previously unseen. As we face the possibility of multiple next waves, how can organizations face these challenges and maximize the chances of greater well-being for employees, customers, and community?

The road to recovery and resilience begins with great ideas paired with great technology to create and implement a strong risk-reduction strategy that will continue to protect your organization and its people for years to come. We live at a time when an explosion of digital capabilities, interconnected smart devices, internet of things (IoT) data, and machine learning has transformed all aspects of business. Now, these same tools can help reduce risk and safeguard your workers through a multilayered approach of mitigation, containment, and reporting. We call it social innovation, powering good to help return us all safely to the places where we work, travel, and play.

Future-Proofing Risk

Workplace health and safety has always been a strategic imperative for manufacturing organizations due to its critical significance for human life and well-being, potential legal ramifications, and reputational implications. That was even before COVID-19 struck. COVID-19 elevates the strategic relevance of workplace health and safety further. It also necessitates the adoption of a comprehensive enterprise risk management (ERM) framework, backed by a suite of digital solutions, to mitigate potential COVID-19–based adverse impacts and get employees back to the shop floor in a safe and secure manner.

A holistic risk management framework with a multidimensional perspective made up of worker, work site, societal, and compliance risk aspects is essential. An ERM strategy is the only way to objectively measure and quantify workplace risk levels, expedite mitigation measures, and most importantly, build confidence with employees and communities at large. The framework needs to be complemented with a digital suite that can support measurement and analysis of critical aspects associated with personal protective equipment (PPE) and hygiene compliance, social distancing, contact tracing, thermal screening, and more.

Any efforts to reduce risk must start with a strategy that not only determines how COVID-19 will be dealt with, but how the risk-reduction strategy aligns with the broader goals of the organization. Point solutions abound in today’s world, but end-to-end solutions that are aligned with end-to-end strategies will separate companies that thrive in the coming years from those that falter and are left behind.

Smarter, Safer World
Today’s technologies have helped create “smart spaces” that improve the safety, operations and experience of workers, customers, and passengers. These types of solutions have been adapted to address emerging needs and new use cases and are now being adapted to solve the challenges of worker health and safety, including reducing the risks related to COVID-19. This will be a significant part of getting organizations of all kinds back to business. Here are some examples of those technologies and how they can be used.

Finding the Symptoms

High fever is one of the most consistent symptoms of COVID-19 infection and it’s important to have fast, accurate temperature information to identify potential cases and prevent wider spread. But manual temperature checks can be invasive, slow, labor-intensive, and impossible to scale. Additionally, they put the temperature-takers at risk.

Picture yourself on the subway platform during your first post-pandemic commute, or on your factory floor overseeing multiple shifts of workers. Large groups of people are flowing in and out of shared spaces. Thermal scanning technology can replace manual checks in these crowds to help you quickly flag individuals with elevated temperature. This is a nonintrusive and more efficient way to select people who need additional health screening and ensure that they aren’t ill or putting others at risk. It also alleviates the risk to healthcare workers who would otherwise be testing large crowds of people at close range.

Going the Social Distance

Although people are doing their part to fight COVID-19 by socially distancing, reopening work environments is predicted to lead to further waves of infection and put a strain on our ability to coexist while maintaining a constant safe distance. But it doesn’t have to. 3D Lidar technology seamlessly collects and integrates granular, continuous information to give you a 360-degree view of what’s happening in your environment and is designed not to collect personally identifiable information (PII). This data then uses a solution, such as the Hitachi Visualization Suite, to generate real-time geospatial and graphical analytics to determine where social distancing is working and where it isn’t.

In the effort to reopen society, this information is powerful in its potential for impact. Operational managers, regulators, and policymakers can use three-dimensional data to target educational programs to areas where social distancing is a challenge. Warehouses, manufacturers, retailers, and transit authorities can also use these tools to redesign the physical spaces people move through to help them maintain distance. Imagine a shopping experience guiding you safely to exactly the goods you came to purchase, or inventory specialists working in a fulfillment center designed help them do their jobs with greater accuracy, efficiency, and confidence, all while keeping them safer.

The impact goes beyond the workplace. Pulling in data from other sources in the community can help isolate risks and provide more targeted prevention planning. It’s all a part of being a good citizen as well as a good employer.

Lend a Clean Hand

Another way COVID-19 has amplified risk is by turning every piece of equipment, every cafeteria table, and every doorknob into a possible disease vector. Employers will need to have a strong plan of attack for maintaining a clean environment. One of the most effective ways to keep surfaces cleaner and employees safer is to promote and enforce rigorous handwashing.

3D Lidar can help there, too. Its machine-learning engine detects proper handwashing behavior, tracking things like the use of soap, the duration of washing, and whether a clean paper towel was used. This data can be analyzed to show which restrooms, facilities, or locations are doing the best (and worst) at handwashing, so that managers can emphasize training and policies in the right places to have the most impact. This promotes a more sanitary environment and raises your staff’s overall awareness, something they can take home to their communities outside the workplace.

Best of all, 3D Lidar collects and analyzes this information anonymously, without collecting private information, which is essential for restrooms, hospitals, and other areas where the need for privacy is critical. This protects the privacy of your employees and offers another kind of safety, peace of mind.

It Doesn’t End With COVID-19

Social innovation, and the related social innovation[i], isn’t just a temporary fix for this unique circumstance. The virus may have been the catalyst for a new, data-driven approach to worker health and safety, but the solutions can be a technological foundation you can build on to continue improving the safety and wellness of everyone in your environment.

Tools like Lumada Video Insights can leverage video analytics, 3D Lidar and other data to automatically monitor the use of masks, helmets and other PPE without slowing down productivity. You can use this information to help focus your training and communication strategy on the most effective uses for protective gear, reducing injuries, saving time and costs, and protecting people’s health. Sensors on forklifts or other dangerous equipment can be used to help your workers avoid collisions and accidents. You can also use insights from the same solution to manage evidence associated with cases to help in more effective incident response, to facilitate insurance and workers’ compensation claims, and to plan policies for the future.

Preventing injury isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s also the prudent thing for your business. Workers’ compensation claims, time lost to injury, and redundant training are all among the highest costs for many industries. Leveraging smart technology creates the foundation for reducing the injuries that can cost people their livelihoods and companies money that could be better spent on growing the business and ensuring job security for your employees.

Road-To-Recovery Checklist

Creating a safe and healthy workplace sets off a chain reaction that leads to a safer and more prosperous world for all. Having the right information to measure, communicate, and mitigate risk creates a plan for the unexpected, so it can make your organization stronger, less fragile, and more resilient. The COVID-19 pandemic seems to dictate so much right now, and the way companies reopen will set a vision for the future.

As you and your business prepare to safely reopen and recover, be sure you understand how quickly you can respond and adapt to new safety concerns to maintain a healthy environment amidst constant change. You’ll need to fully comprehend your shift patterns and work allocation to achieve maximum productivity while ensuring compliance with requirements such as social distancing. Ideally, you will have an answer for these questions, along with a future-proof strategy to ensure safety in your factory, offices, or workplace:

  • How quickly and effectively can you identify and isolate symptomatic workers while minimizing operational disruption, and what is your remediation process?
  • What is your plan for sterilizing potentially infected equipment and physical spaces?
  • How will you transparently communicate your safety strategy so that your employees have the information they need and feel confident that you are protecting them and their families?
  • Do you have the right technology in place to capture, report, and utilize meaningful data for better decision-making and policy? If not, how are you objectively quantifying safety and operational risks and ensuring a rapid response for emerging risks?
  • How do your COVID-19 response plans and technologies help advance your broader health, safety, and environmental objectives, as well as support the broader strategic objectives of your organization?
  • How can you turn the current crisis into an opportunity for accelerating adoption of digital technologies and automation, which will provide competitive differentiation in the long run?

Finding the right answers gets everyone back to doing the things they value. You can do better work, create better products and solutions for your customers, do your part to strengthen the economy, and contribute to a more sustainable world.

See video:

Ideas & Insights

Fighting COVID-19 With Analytics

It’s hard to overstate the continuing collective toll taken by the COVID-19 pandemic. The scope is staggering. In the United States alone, millions of people have been infected, trillions of dollars have been spent, and a large portion of the economy has been shut down. Industries like hospitality, food services, retail and transportation have been disproportionately affected, but no sector is immune. Your business isn’t facing this challenge alone.

Data analytics are being employed at the heart of the battle against COVID-19. Tracing the outbreak and modeling data to predict outcomes is critical in this crisis. Businesses and governments around the world are starting to apply a wide range of advanced analytics to that data to address the unprecedented health, economic, and social impacts.

For example, Canadian startup BlueDot has successfully used artificial intelligence (AI) to trace and predict outbreaks by analyzing unstructured data in social media and news reporting.[i] And analytics is also finding a home on the front lines, with AI solutions that help health care workers diagnose and monitor the virus much more efficiently.[ii]

Data analytics is center stage in the lab, too, where the development of ever more effective vaccines continues. For instance, Google’s DeepMind unit applied its AI algorithms to catalog the structure of the potential proteins that could help the virus spread. The division then published its findings to assist scientists working on potential treatments.[i]Natural language processing (NLP) and AI fuel the COVID-19 Open Research Dataset (CORD-19), which applies analytics to more than 138,000 scholarly articles and shares new insights across the globe to accelerate medical breakthroughs and inform smart policy.[ii]

Back to Business

After the health consequences of the pandemic, no other factor is more important to address than the devastating economic impact of closed businesses. As you prepare to get your business back open, it’s critical to take advantage of all available data, and that means leveraging analytics.

The safety of employees and the success of reopening strategies will include multiple safety protocols. You’ll need to identify potential signs of infection and have policies in place to help mitigate any spread. Tools such as thermal imaging combined with AI can help you quickly identify elevated temperatures among people at your site.

You can also use 3D Lidar Sensors with data analytics to spot poor handwashing techniques so you can target education and promote greater hygiene awareness. And you can use video analytics to gain insight into the effectiveness of your social distancing measures and use the technologies mentioned to enforce the policies that have been created.

AI and analytics can also help in monitoring sanitation standards and creating efficient schedules for disinfecting equipment. For example, Hitachi is working to combine robotics, 3D Lidar Sensors, and UV light to create automated cleaners that maintain continuous sanitary conditions in the workplace. These analytics-driven solutions can help your customers and your workforce feel safe and comfortable at your facilities.

Not only can these technologies help you successfully reopen your facilities, they can extend across your business to provide essential visibility. By using advanced data services to capture and combine information across regions, you’ll also be in a better position to navigate regulation and compliance in multiple locations around the world.

Navigating the New Normal

Once you’re able to safely reopen, analytics will be an important tool to help you understand the ways your customers’ behavior has been drastically affected by the pandemic. According to a McKinsey study, COVID-19 is significantly shifting what, where, and how consumers are making purchases. Demand for household consumer goods skyrocketed 76% over 2019 levels in the three weeks following the first major U.S. outbreak. E-commerce in the grocery industry more than doubled in March alone, and between 30% and 40% of all consumers experimented with new brands during this time.[i]

Analytics can provide you with insight into the highly dynamic and volatile trends that are impacting your industry. AI and machine learning (ML) algorithms can analyze point-of-sale transactional data across multiple locations. This information can help you control inventory and personnel at fulfillment centers that will most likely see spikes from online sales. You can also use it to reduce production of specific parts in segments that have seen a slowdown, or better monitor competitors to identify opportunities in the marketplace.

Building Operational Resilience

In addition to tracking consumer trends, analytics can be applied to operational data to improve efficiency and visibility. This can be useful in the near term for businesses such as restaurants that must meet capacity restrictions. With analytics and AI, these businesses can determine what changes and improvements they need to make to stay in business at different percentages of capacity through the phases of reopening. For instance, in addition to optimizing seating arrangements, restaurants can use NLP to monitor social media to predict online or dine-in options and use conversational chatbots for customers’ orders.

Analytics can also help with supply chain disruptions. Resource shortages in Brazil or railway delays in China impact your bottom line, and the ability to track these vagaries in real time is a strain for traditional forecasting. With advanced analytics, you can increase the efficiency of business operations by predicting the availability of your parts and optimize your supply chain dynamically. Given the speed at which the virus continues to spread, it is imperative to increase the frequency of your supply-chain forecasts while synthesizing thousands of data points across every geography in which you operate. This allows you to outmaneuver disruption, manage resources, and support your partners across the chain.

Analytics also maximizes your operational efficiency through better, more actionable communications by informing you about infections in the workplace and initiating contact tracing more promptly. Imaging solutions, smart sensors, and automated tracking powered by AI can provide you with important tools to refine policy around workflow, safety procedures, education and training programs, and operational or business process changes.

5 Ways to Use Analytics to Respond to COVID-19

With endless ways to leverage data in your COVID-19 response, where can you best deploy analytics to have the greatest impact on your employees and business? The following strategies can help you leverage your data resources effectively:

  • Closely monitor for potential outbreaks among people on-site and inform your social distancing policy with tools like thermal imaging scans, 3D Lidar Sensors, and video analytics.
  • Better understand and anticipate customer behavior affected by the pandemic by using transactional data from your end customers downstream.
  • Better predict changes to your demand and supply chains by using more advanced analytic models and increasing the frequency of your forecasting.
  • Incorporate geography-specific outbreak or resurgence information into your decision-making process for your business operations.
  • Predict delays across the supply chain and setbacks with employee health, and optimize your operations accordingly.

Learn more about how to use technology to respond to COVID-19: Digital Health and Safety Solution.
[ii] Ibid.
[iii] Ibid

Thought Leadership

NAM Webinar Tackles Vaccine Questions

As COVID-19 vaccines such as those from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna begin to become available, manufacturers have a lot of questions about vaccination in relation to their workforces.

Moderator David R. Brousell, MLC

To provide as many answers as possible at this point in the vaccination journey, the National Association of Manufacturers and its Manufacturing Leadership Council held an informational webinar on December 18. Webinar panelists included Robyn Boerstling, Vice President, Infrastructure, Innovation and Human Resources Policy with the NAM; RJ Corning, Global HR Executive with Whirlpool; Patrick Hedren, Vice President of Litigation and Deputy General Counsel at the NAM; and James Paretti, an experienced management-side employment and labor relations attorney with employment and labor law firm Littler. MLC Co-founder David R. Brousell moderated the session.

Like everything else to do with the pandemic, the vaccination rollout will be complex and evolve over time, the panelists stressed. It will entail local, state, and federal governments.  It will involve agencies such as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, as well as federal laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act. It also gets tricky because many people may have personal or religious objections to vaccination.

Here are some of the questions addressed by the panel:

When will vaccines become available?

The Department of Health and Human Services including the CDC and its Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) and all 50 governors are among those developing plans for the deployment and distribution of the vaccines as they become available. To date, the number of vaccines being delivered is limited and distribution will focus on health care workers and residents in long-term care facilities.

Robyn Boerstling, NAM

There are issues involved in supply chain and distribution logistics, such as the ultra-low temperature needed to keep the Pfizer vaccine viable. Pfizer is relying on its own logistics and supply chain to distribute the vaccine, whereas Moderna will use the supply chain developed by the federal government’s Operation Warp Speed program. Both vaccines require a second dose several weeks after the first for full protection. A Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which hopefully will become available at some point in early 2021, “could be a game changer,” said Boerstling, because it only requires one dose and does not need to be shipped at ultra-low temperatures.

When will the vaccine be available for manufacturers?

The hope is that there will be enough vaccine available by Q2 to move to the next tier of recipients, those over the age of 75 and front-line workers. Manufacturing workers were recommended by ACIP to be vaccinated in its 1b prioritization but, as discussed, much is left to the states to determine specific populations to be vaccinated upon arrival of the vaccines.

The NAM sent a letter to the National Governors Association urging the nation’s governors to follow the DHS and Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) guidance to determine what constitutes “critical” and “essential” infrastructure workers. The definitions are well understood by manufacturers and would provide a clear and consistent basis on which to make vaccine allocation decisions, said Boerstling.

How will manufacturers acquire and distribute vaccines once they become available?

Do manufacturers purchase the vaccines themselves, work in partnership with government, or rely on other internal or external partners? All of the above is possible. But first, manufacturers should decide whether they want to be proactive or defer to local governments and health institutions when it comes to administering the vaccines, they said. And know your local laws. Some states have sites where organizations can register to determine their level of prioritization, which could come into play for distribution support as well.

Patrick Hedren, NAM

Costs for the vaccine also are a concern. In the U.S., Operation Warp Speed has purchased enough supply to vaccinate every American who wants to be vaccinated, and it should be available at no cost to recipients. However, administrative costs associated with implementing the vaccine are likely, panelists said. Companies are urged to harness a variety of health care partnerships to prepare and plan for accessing the vaccine for the manufacturing workforce. It’s not too soon to start having conversations with local hospitals, plan administrators, and other third parties such as Walgreens and CVS.

While we’re still in the initial vaccine rollout phase, the supply chain issues are still unclear, said Paretti. His advice is to start formulating your strategy now, but keep in mind that the situation is still evolving.

How will state, local, and federal policies likely evolve?

Policies will be left to the leaders of the 50 U.S. states, U.S. territories, tribal nations, and the District of Columbia, each of which has developed a plan and shared it with HHS and the federal Operation Warp Speed program. The EEOC recently released an update to its COVID-19 guidance that includes information about how employee vaccination interacts with legal requirements of the ADA, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, and has provided resources on its website specific to COVID-19 and EEO laws.

Watch for how individual states handle the vaccination rollout, panelists said. Some states do require flu vaccines for certain populations, which could be an indication of how they may treat a mandate for essential workers for the COVID vaccine. But don’t expect the state to make it easy for you — every manufacturer needs to develop a strategy and policy that fits with its corporate culture and circumstances, panelists agreed.

How should manufacturers approach developing vaccination policies for employees?

R.J. Corning, Whirlpool

Corning said Whirlpool feels it’s important to be fact-based, globally consistent, and locally relevant — and to keep employees at the forefront of decision-making while also having strong leadership from the top — when developing a vaccination policy. Whirlpool has already had success using that approach in developing a flu vaccination campaign, which resulted in a much higher level of flu vaccination rates across the globe than it had previously. One key his company has found is to work with cross-functional partners within communications, government affairs, HR, manufacturing, supply chain — all those who not just can make decisions, but also do the work on the ground.

Again, the most important thing is to align your policies both with local regulations and your overall company culture.

Should a policy be mandatory or voluntary?

While nothing in the EEOC guidance or the ADA explicitly prohibits a manufacturer from instituting a mandatory vaccination program, Paretti said that the decision to make a policy mandatory or voluntary is an individual decision each manufacturer has to make depending on their specific circumstances. The EEOC and ACIP will continue to develop additional guidance, so it is likely that more will be known as the vaccine rollouts happen.

While the CDC has rolled out its recommendations for Phase 1a, b and c vaccination priorities, state governments also will play a leading role moving forward. While you don’t necessarily need to have a full-blown policy at this stage, Paretti advised manufacturers to start formulating a strategy on how to handle the stickier issues, including employees with disabilities, pregnant workers, workers with religious objections, and those who may need special accommodation.

James Paretti, Littler

Manufacturers should also consider how the policy will handle essential workers on the factory floor, as opposed to office workers who may face a different level of risk, and how you plan to approach those who don’t want to get vaccinated, which the EEOC is already beginning to address in its latest guidance. Another consideration: How do you plan to approach compensating people for their time in getting the vaccination? And if you plan to vaccinate on site, how will that work? How will you handle privacy concerns related to subjects such as certification of vaccination and potential allergies to the vaccine?

Paretti strongly advises that you work closely with counsel to determine how to address these and other issues.

Whirlpool is centering its approach on educating, developing, training, and encouraging employees to participate in its COVID-19 measures, which likely also will include vaccination. It’s important to take into consideration both those deemed essential by the state, and also which workers might be most at risk due to co-morbidities or who are immune-compromised. Then layer in how to adjust the messaging due to overall levels of vaccine acceptance.

At this point in time, it likely makes more sense to incentivize employees to participate in vaccination programs rather than mandate them, Corning said, adding that this approach has proven successful with his company’s flu vaccination campaign.

Below is a list of resources already available for reference. In addition, NAM and MLC will be providing more information sessions in 2021.  Paretti’s firm, Littler, also is holding free, open-to-all webinars on legal issues surrounding vaccination on January 13 and January 20, 2021, and is regularly updating guidance on legal issues on its website.


Thought Leadership

The Connected Enterprise Shouldn’t be Next for Manufacturers – It Should be Now

The Connected Enterprise has been a priority for manufacturing companies in recent years but has experienced unprecedented acceleration due to COVID-19 in 2020.

Manufacturing leaders from Lockheed Martin, VirTex Enterprises, and IBM discussed major drivers of this acceleration, including enablement of the virtual workplace and data-driven decision making, in “Learning for the Future,” the fourth and final installment of the Manufacturing Leadership Council’s What’s Next for Manufacturing? virtual meeting series, which took place July 28. Based on the theme of the June Manufacturing Leadership Journal, this meeting was focused on how manufacturers are planning for the new normal.

Enabling the Virtual Workplace

Having a Connected Enterprise doesn’t just mean systems that talk to each other and share data; in the era of COVID-19, it enables employees to work and communicate from anywhere, with minimal disruption.
Panelist Brad Heath, President and CEO of VirTex Enterprises, a provider of electronic manufacturing services, shared that many customers declared VirTex to be a critical business, requiring it to remain operational throughout the pandemic.

To minimize disruption, VirTex enhanced its customer product lifecycle approach with virtual collaboration and data sharing, meetings, and product prototyping. For new customers, VirTex began offering virtual sales calls and factory tours. To facilitate all of this, the company utilized technologies like Microsoft Teams and Zoom for product and site metrics meetings, as well as Microsoft Government Cloud and Egnyte as a secure server.

Heath added that tools like Zoom and Microsoft Teams need to continue to evolve. “[They] don’t fit the bill yet as one solution for collaborative communication and planning, said Heath, a member of the MLC’s Board of Governors. “They do a good job of replacing meetings, but we need to find a way to fully integrate our data analysis, whiteboarding, planning with integrated meetings.”

However, more broadly, virtual approaches with suppliers and customers have been successful; VirTex has maintained 94% on-time delivery with suppliers and 96% on-time delivery for customers. Heath said they will use their internal collaboration tools with suppliers and vendors. For example, VirTex recently conducted a full MES implementation remotely with its software vendors, which resulted in a $10,000 savings on travel costs for vendors and a 20% decrease in implementation costs.

Similarly, panelist Dr. Don Kinard, Senior Fellow, Aeronautics Production Operations at Lockheed Martin, said with the help of technology, 80,000 Lockheed employees have been able to work effectively from home, conducting virtual meetings with suppliers and hosting virtual industry and customer events. The company has continued hiring but has shifted new hire onboarding to a virtual orientation.

Connecting the Enterprise with Cutting Edge Technologies

The Connected Enterprise is built upon cutting edge technologies like IoT, AR, blockchain, and more. But to get the most out of those technologies, especially during a pandemic, companies need those systems to collect and analyze data to empower workers to make rapid, intelligent decisions.

Panelist Ron Castro, Vice President and Chief Supply Chain Officer at IBM, said the company had previously invested in digital platforms, allowing it to take quick action during the pandemic. He emphasized the importance of real time, saying that cracks in the global supply chain often happen because of three main reasons – lack of real-time information, lack of ability to respond to rapid changes, and lack of real-time collaboration.

Castro, also a member of MLC’s Board of Governors, shared that IBM has moved to agile development for digital transformation and is now delivering new capabilities every two weeks. They’re also doing both collaborative planning and intelligent workflows in real time and rely on digital twins to enable training and remote work.

For example, with much of its supply coming from China and other locations around the world, IBM uses  VR to meet with suppliers and manufacturing teams, and digital twins have helped minimize the number of people required to go onsite at plants.

Toward the end of the session, all panelists agreed that the Connected Enterprise has never been more important, but there is still more work to do.

“We believe that connecting our enterprise is a fundamental thing… we’ve been on a journey to connect our equipment, to get all that data collected,” said Kinard. “COVID has slowed us down a bit because the factories have been occupied with [it], but I don’t see that it’s changed our approach.”

Recordings of all four What’s Next for Manufacturing? virtual meetings are now available on demand at:

Critical Issue: COVID-19: What's Next for Manufacturing?

Pella Accelerates Adoption of AR Technology During Pandemic

In the 12th town hall meeting of Manufacturing Leadership Council members, Don Lanke, Director of Engineering at Pella Corporation discussed how the window and door manufacturer is leveraging augmented reality (AR), mixed reality (MR) and remote assistance technology in response to the pandemic.

The pandemic forced many Pella employees to work from home, leaving them without access to the 10+ physical plants and equipment that are necessary to their jobs. Because of that, the company looked into cutting edge technologies that can recreate physical environments and interactions for its workers.

For example, if a piece of equipment needs maintenance or reconfiguration that only an expert can provide, Pella needed a way to share the physical environment virtually, in real time, to communicate, exchange information and ultimately resolve the problem.

Their goal was not only to connect physical and virtual environments, but to reduce downtime and impact of quality issues and safety hazards, enhance training and troubleshooting, and reduce travel requirements and costs.

In mid-April, Pella decided to begin trials with two technology platforms:

  • PTC Vuforia Chalk: this remote assistance product uses AR to facilitate collaboration between onsite and offsite workers to maintain and repair products. PTC describes it as a “video call with augmented reality superpowers for industrial settings.”
  • Microsoft Dynamics 365 Remote Assist: this solution unites technicians from multiple locations via video calls from Microsoft HoloLens or iOS or Android devices and allows the documentation of repairs through photos and videos that are sharable.

Lanke said they identified these solutions because they didn’t require a lot of training for employees to learn them – and given the pandemic, the sooner they could start using them, the better. He also noted that the technologies could support a wide range of use cases, which he and his team are currently testing out, including:

  • A coatings development project with a supplier: This project would’ve been halted due to COVID-19 travel challenges, but technology allowed Pella to collaborate virtually, in real time with chemists
  • Robotic programming support: Pella automation engineers that are working remotely can connect to the physical environment, for example, they can draw arrows on screen to indicate where to look for problem areas on a machine
  • Commissioning supplier equipment: Another use case that was initially impacted due to travel challenges and rectified with technology
  • Maintenance projects: With Pella’s planners and schedulers working remotely, technology allows them to see equipment virtually and quickly get images of certain features
  • Machine build team: Technology allowed team leaders to seamlessly work from home and continue working on a physical machine

In terms of challenges, Lanke said that although the technologies were easy and quick to deploy, Wi-Fi connectivity was briefly an issue. He said they moved quickly to increase the strength of the Wi-Fi in one of the physical plants to accommodate the technologies.

Going forward, Lanke and his team are testing out the Microsoft Dynamics 365 Remote Assist solution and exploring how it integrates with Microsoft Teams and Microsoft HoloLens. He believes that the AR, MR and remote assistance technologies will be here to stay, even after the pandemic blows over.

“I 100% believe this is here to stay,” Lanke said. “COVID or no COVID, the ability for technical people and others to interface with one another, to see the situation and annotate back and forth to better understand the problem and get to some options to solve and resolve, it’s always been there, but it’s accelerated now and it’s going to be there after COVID for that very reason.”

He also said he believes these technologies will dramatically reduce travel time and costs as well.

“That’s a business value proposition that stands on its own, long after COVID.”

Learn More from MLC/NAM

For more shared resources to help your manufacturing business in its COVID-19 response efforts, visit the MLC’s online COVID-19 Operations Practices and Shared Resources.

In the meantime, if you have any tips or best practices on how your company is keeping employees safe and/or is acting to minimize business disruption during this time, please share them at [email protected].

Critical Issue: COVID-19: What's Next for Manufacturing?

IPG Rolls Out COVID-19 Response Playbook

In the Manufacturing Leadership Council’s 12th town hall since COVID-19 began, two leaders from leading tape manufacturer, IPG, shared details of their company’s response plan.

Council members tuned in to hear Jai Sundararaman and JK Perumal, both of IPG’s Business Transformation Office, outline their approach to protect employees, assets and customers as regions begin reopening and recovery from the pandemic continues.

Here are the highlights from their presentation.

Coordinating Key Stakeholders and a Response Framework

For IPG, a company with 3,700 employees and 31 locations (including 27 plants), strong cross-functional communication and collaboration is key to following the processes of their COVID-19 Response Playbook.
Sundararaman said key stakeholders meet periodically in five groups to discuss various topics: COVID process implementation, functional leadership alignment, best practice sharing and lessons learned, executive alignment, and sales, operations and corporate town halls.

The company also has its response plan broken down into four key parts:

  1.  Proactive Communication: Microsoft SharePoint portal to get communications out to employees, including the latest company policies and procedures and updates on federal, state, and local guidelines.
  2. Prevention: Cleaning and sanitization processes as well as social distancing and remote working rules.
  3. Response Plan: How to respond to incidents with minimal interruption and activate ‘ready-to-go’ resources like cleaning kits.
  4. Best Practice Sharing and Technology: Quicker knowledge transfer across locations as well as the evaluation of technologies to manage risk and automate processes.

Communication in All Forms

Since IPG has multiple locations with essential employees still on the job, it’s critical that policies are clearly communicated to employees no matter where they are working.

The SharePoint portal, which gained 9,300 visits in eight weeks, communicates the latest information to employees and acts as the single source of truth. Sundararaman said the portal includes a ‘hot button’ section where workers can quickly see whether an emergency has occurred and how the company is handling it.

Outside of the portal, employees also receive multiple forms of communication on a regular basis, including emails, virtual town halls, memos, videos and more.

Onsite at their facilities, IPG has posted detailed signage with COVID-19 state and federal requirements as well as the same information that appears in SharePoint.

Cleaning and Sanitization Processes

Across its 27 plants, IPG needs to ensure that thorough cleaning and sanitization processes are followed as employees continue to work onsite.

Sundararaman showed a spreadsheet that tracks 60 items that need to be cleaned on a regular basis throughout the facilities. The company bases its cleaning procedures on CDC recommendations, with one- or two-hour cleaning rotations and new centralized cleaning stations. For example, equipment that needs to be cleaned on a regular basis now includes a red sticker indicating that it’s a shared surface and should be wiped down.

Employees are also given written instructions (with step-by-step photos) on how to clean equipment, as well as the necessary supplies.

Social Distancing Policies

Sundararaman said 95%+ of the common areas in their plants have implemented social distancing. The company keeps track of those areas, how frequent they’re used and their risk factors in a detailed spreadsheet. At facilities, they’ve installed plexiglass barriers, screens and curtains between workstations and floor markings to help employees stay six feet apart or more.

Cutting Edge Technologies

Perumal explained how IPG is continuously evaluating new technologies that can help activate their response plan. Some of the solutions they’re considering include:

  • UV/Ozone disinfection using UVC light and ozone to sanitize areas and objects
  • Camera monitoring to assess social distancing performance
  • Social distancing wearables to alert workers when distance is not maintained
  • Touchless entry and exit
  • Temperature monitoring

Learn More from MLC/NAM

The MLC/NAM is arranging additional calls to discuss how manufacturers are dealing with COVID-19. The next town hall will take place on June 16 at 11 am ET. Details on additional calls will be released as they are available.

In the meantime, if you have any tips or best practices on how your company is keeping employees safe and/or is acting to minimize business disruption during this time, please share them at [email protected].

Ideas & Insights

4 Burning Questions from Manufacturing Leaders Amidst the COVID-19 Recovery

In the 11th town hall meeting since COVID-19 began, members of the Manufacturing Leadership Council discussed the latest strategies and burning questions as states are starting to reopen and companies are facing tough decisions when it comes to facilities, employees and health and safety.

Here are 4 questions that are top of mind for manufacturing leaders right now.

1. How can we safely open our physical offices?

As states and counties start reopening, manufacturing leaders are trying to figure out safe ways to allow employees back into their offices. One member from a food manufacturer said his company is not rushing anything when it comes to bringing employees back to the office and they will probably start small. An aerospace executive echoed this same sentiment, sharing that his company still has 80,000 out of 125,000 employees working at home.

In response, another member said his organization is allowing employees to come back to the office if they want to and developing a staggered schedule so there are fewer people in each physical location at the same time. They are also creating alternative office layout plans and rules, including restrictions on the number people in meetings, touchless fixtures in bathrooms, and additional sanitization procedures.

2. What do we do about foreign and domestic travel restrictions?

Several members shared that they’re grappling with how to handle critical projects that involve workers overseas. One executive from an automotive components maker said as European borders open, employees will be able to travel between countries if they have approval from corporate headquarters showing that their travel is essential to the business. However, whether that happens still depends on the country-by-country restrictions, he said.

The aerospace executive said in the U.S., his organization only allows essential travel, such as picking up equipment from a supplier or solving a customer issue, because state-to-state the rules and regulations differ too much.

The member from the food manufacturer said they have travel restrictions on non-essential travel as well but have been using a company plane to send leaders to various plants and provide support for projects. At each plant, the company requires visitors to fill out a form to declare any possible symptoms and report whether they’ve used public transit recently.

3. How do we handle quarantining before/during/after travel?

Not only are travel restrictions a challenge for manufacturing companies, but members on the call also questioned the quarantining guidelines that come along with different states and countries when employees have to travel.

Another manufacturing leader said his company still has employees traveling internationally, but it can be daunting. For travel to Korea, for example, employees are required to take a test in the U.S. and a test when they arrive overseas – and must see a negative result both times. Once overseas, they will go into a government-sponsored quarantine for 14 days before they check into their hotel and begin any work. After finishing work, the employee would return home and be asked to quarantine for another 14-day period.

4. How can virtual technologies help us keep the lights on right now?

The member from the food manufacturer shared that, for the first time, a new production line will be virtually commissioned with the help of a Swiss company. This process, he said, involves virtual support from technicians in Germany using AR and VR technologies and will help the company deal with the European travel restrictions.

Another member from a window and door manufacturing company said they’re exploring remote assist technologies to help plants solve problems virtually from corporate headquarters. For example, workers would be able to see the problem via video, speak with the plant worker in a visually guided manner and work back and forth via annotation to solve the issue.

Learn More from MLC/NAM

The MLC/NAM is arranging additional calls to discuss how manufacturers are dealing with COVID-19. The next town hall will take place on June 2 at 11 am ET. Details on additional calls will be released as they are available.

In the meantime, if you have any tips or best practices on how your company is keeping employees safe and/or is acting to minimize business disruption during this time, please share them at [email protected].

Ideas & Insights

Automotive Manufacturers Outline COVID-19 Guidelines

In the 10th town hall meeting since COVID-19 began, the Manufacturing Leadership Council welcomed two of its members from automotive manufacturers to share how they’ve been planning return to work policies and procedures.

Britt Autry, Vice President of Manufacturing at global automotive supplier DENSO’s Maryville, Tennessee’s facility and Dan Grieshaber, Director of Global Manufacturing Integration at General Motors, spoke about the current state of their manufacturing operations and recovery efforts, as well as the internal communication strategies and health and safety procedures that will enable them to safely bring employees back into the workplace.

Here are 3 highlights from their presentations:

1. Vary the types of communication practices

Autry of DENSO’s Maryville, Tennessee operations shared that his company has moved back to around 50% of production capacity since last week. He outlined specific communication practices that DENSO has been following to keep employees informed of the impact of COVID-19 on their operations.

The DENSO leadership team meets daily to discuss the crisis and shares takeaways from their discussions with employees through a mobile app. The app, updated 2-3 times per week, acts as a newsletter for workers to get access to the latest information as company executives learn and digest it.

The company also brings together employees through WebEx town hall meetings. Executives lead the meetings and typically, 600-800 associates will attend to hear industry updates and plans for restarting work. Autry said they do a survey after each meeting to gather feedback and questions from employees.

2. Leverage manufacturing operations to create PPE

Both Autry and Greishaber of GM said their companies have stepped up and started manufacturing personal protective equipment (PPE) both for their employees and as donations for healthcare workers in their areas.
DENSO has produced and donated 60,000 face shields to hospitals and first responders and distributed them to North American employees.

GM is currently making about 2,400 surgical masks per hour (which amounts to about 1.5 million per month), as well as hand sanitizer, face shields and surgical gowns for donation to healthcare organizations in Michigan.

3. Put health and safety resources in the hands of employees

Greishaber of GM said the company is only a few days into restarting its manufacturing operations but has outlined a detailed guide for health and safety for employees, including procedures for entering the facility, keeping objects and people clean, physical distancing and ventilation and handling possible COVID-19 cases. These are some of the key aspects of their playbook:

  • Health and safety go beyond the workplace; GM employees are given guidelines to follow when leaving the office and returning home, including storing face masks in paper bags, disinfecting surfaces at home and avoiding close contact with people in public settings
  • Every GM facility has strict rules for what happens when you enter, including physical distancing, temperature screenings, face masks and signage with safety messaging
  • To ensure people, objects and surfaces remain clean, the company is increasing the frequency of sanitization, providing sanitization stations and promoting handwashing
  • GM is promoting physical distancing and ventilation by recommending that employees remain 6-feet apart whenever possible, keep doors open and use fans increase airflow
  • Office workstations and common areas like break rooms have been redesigned to remove seats, spread out tables and limit the number of people
  • To handle possible COVID-19 cases, GM requires employees to report positive tests immediately (even if they’re working at home) or if they think they might be sick, to take their temperature and speak with their supervisor as soon as possible

MLC/NAM to Hold Additional Calls

The MLC/NAM is arranging additional calls to discuss how manufacturers are dealing with COVID-19. These will be announced as soon as details are available.

In the meantime, if you have any tips or best practices on how your company is keeping employees safe and/or is acting to minimize business disruption during this time, please share them at [email protected].

Ideas & Insights

Manufacturing’s Recovery from COVID-19 Linked to Digital Acumen

As manufacturing leaders continue to grapple with the COVID-19 crisis, the topic of the latest Manufacturing Leadership Council Critical Issues webinar – Digital Acumen: Does Your Leadership Team Have What It Takes? — was especially timely. Three panelists discussed the importance of leadership to recover from the pandemic using the tools of Manufacturing 4.0.

In his opening remarks, MLC co-founder David R. Brousell said that manufacturers that had already begun to implement M4.0 were more prepared to succeed throughout the crisis than those that hadn’t.

“It has become clear that manufacturers that had embraced the digital model prior to the pandemic were in a far better position to adapt to rapidly changing market conditions and in some cases swiftly pivot production to equipment and products needed to fight the pandemic than those companies that had not embraced the model or had not embraced it strongly enough,” he said.

He also cited findings from an MLC survey, where 70% of manufacturing leaders said previous levels of digitization were important to their ability to respond rapidly to the crisis and 46% termed that importance essential. Full results of the survey will be published next month.

Read on for the top 3 highlights from this webinar.

1. Societal impact is a driver of Industry 4.0 and COVID-19 recovery

Even before COVID-19 impacted nearly every aspect of economic and societal activities, many organizations already considered societal impact a key indicator of success.

One of the panelists, Tim Hanley, interim James H. Keyes Dean of the College of Business Administration at Marquette University, cited The Deloitte Industry 4.0 Readiness Survey, which asked executives how they’re enabling their companies to succeed in the age of Industry 4.0. Conducted before COVID-19, the survey is even more relevant now that leaders have relied more heavily on digital strategies to ensure their companies’ survival throughout the pandemic.

The survey found that 34% of executives ranked societal impact as the most important factor to measure success across their companies, higher than any other category, including employee and customer satisfaction. Furthermore, 73% of CXOs reported having changed or developed products or services to generate positive societal impact.

“We see four drivers to success in the world of Industry 4.0,” said Hanley, who is a former Vice Chairman and leader of Deloitte’s industrial products practice. “The first is a real focus on making a societal impact while also creating new revenue streams. Now, in this world of COVID-19…the creation of new revenue streams is increasingly important.”

2. Digital, data and decision making will accelerate business continuity

Companies’ ability to embrace digital technologies and leverage them for better decision making will help to accelerate their recovery from the impact of COVID-19.

Another panelist, Kevin Prouty, group vice president of energy and manufacturing insights at IDC Manufacturing Insights, showed a graph demonstrating how companies will move through the various stages of the crisis from the beginning, to the slow down and recession, to targeted investments and, finally, recovery.

“Companies that are digitally capable are going to move across this [curve] much more quickly,” Prouty said.
Prouty said embracing digital opportunities to facilitate recovery from the pandemic comes down to leadership and sound decision making.

“This is all about what we call resilient decision making,” he said. “That is, the ability to make decisions for your operation that are more tightly linked to your market, but to be able to do it more quickly and more efficiently. And there’s a huge digital component to that.”

He said leaders have two key action items to recover from the crisis and promote digitization across their companies: 1) unite IT and OT to manage the data and support systems that will facilitate better (and faster) decision making; 2) understand where the data is, how you’re managing it, how your organization is using the data.

3. Embracing digital and managing through the crisis require special leadership qualities

The final panelist, Tony Rogers, Ph.D., senior consultant and executive coach, talent solutions at Manpower, outlined how leadership can propel companies to where they want to be in their Industry 4.0 journey, as well as speed up their ability to bounce back from COVID-19.

“The pandemic has accelerated this question for us: how can our leadership shape a culture that is willing and able to adopt new technologies that we need for future manufacturing?” Rogers said.

He outlined four key leadership qualities that executives must learn, embrace, and practice right now:  authority, transparency, empathy, and curiosity.

  • Authority: use authority to provide clear direction on collaboration between both teams and individuals, mobilize everyone to generate solutions, and reward experimenters.
  • Transparency: be transparent about your excitement for the future, what you know (and don’t know) about your companies strategies to adapt, communicate personal areas where you need to grow and change (“I think we’ve seen right now that the leaders who are showing up well and dealing with COVID-19 are being open,” he said.)
  • Empathy: explore others’ views, anticipate, and acknowledge feelings, provide empowerment (It’s so important that right now you dig deep and acknowledge and normalize the hope and dread that people are feeling,” he said. “A crisis is when it’s most important to really uphold this vital aspect of your role as leaders and make a positive difference in peoples’ lives.”)
  • Curiosity: pivot to new opportunities as new information emerges, adapt people’s skills and styles, leverage diverse ways of thinking about products and services, and partner with HR to upskill and hire for learnability.

Rogers concluded by asking attendees to think about one question: What action will you take now to inspire whom, more deeply, efficiently, and authentically?

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