This guide, developed by the National Occupational Research Agenda Manufacturing Sector Council’s COVID Workgroup, can help small businesses understand the difference between face coverings and respirators as part of deploying a respiratory protection program. This document explains the differences between surgical masks and N95 respirators, such as their intended use, filtration capabilities, and use limitations. This information may be helpful for businesses in their efforts to mitigate COVID-19 infections in the workplace.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
- NAM statement on the vaccine authorization https://www.nam.org/manufacturers-welcome-covid-19-vaccine-authorization-11411/?stream=policy-legal
- NAM timeline for vaccine rollout https://www.nam.org/the-timeline-for-the-vaccine-rollout-11356/?stream=business-operations
- How Pfizer will deliver its vaccines https://www.nam.org/how-pfizer-will-deliver-its-vaccines-11324/?stream=business-operations
- NAM letter to National Association of Governors http://documents.nam.org/IIHRP/JTLtrVaccineDistribution12152020NGA.pdf
- EEOC’s What You Should Know About COVID-19 and the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and Other EEO Laws,
- Littler’s COVID-19 resource section https://www.littler.com/covid-19.
COVID-19: Lessons from F1 Racing for Workplace Safety
The Bahrain Grand Prix two weeks ago wasn’t the first time a Formula One racing driver has had a miraculous escape from a devastating crash.
It was the morning of Jun 12, 1966. Driving at 165 mph (266 km/h) in heavy rains, British racing driver Jackie Stewart hit standing water on the Belgian Grand Prix racing circuit and his Formula One (F1) car rammed into a woodcutter’s hut, a telegraph pole, over an eight-foot drop, and finally halted beside a farmer’s house well beyond the fence. Two of his fellow racing drivers rushed to rescue him from the crash and pull him out of the rubble. With no doctors and no medical facilities in the near vicinity, it was a nightmare for an injured F1 driver.
This unfortunate event, however, turned Stewart into a crusader for transforming auto racing safety. Thanks to his persistent efforts, the world recognized the dangers that faced F1 drivers. It then took a slew of technology-led fixes and process changes to turn Formula One into a safer sport, including:
- Lowering car weights to 575 kgs
- Reducing race distances to under 200 miles
- Replacing aluminum with carbon fiber for car chassis
- Prior medical tests and submissions for all racers
- Frontal crash tests for all cars
Since that time, F1 Racing managed to continue for almost 12 years without a single fatality. Even from the 80s until today, the world has seen only 11 additional F1 fatalities – a quarter of the deaths from the 1950s to the 1970s. Stewart’s accident was indeed a watershed safety moment for the F1 racing world.
From One Watershed to Another
Fast forward 55 years, and the world is in a somewhat similar situation. The safety issue now is workplace safety, not F1 tracks and drivers. COVID-19 has caused immense damage to life and business globally. As of Nov’20, we have globally recorded1 over a 1.5 million fatalities, and the global GDP growth rate is at the lowest2 since the 2008 crisis. The US monthly employment rate3 shot up to 14.7% in April ’20 from 4.4% in March’20. As businesses reopened, this rate has improved to 6.7% in Nov’20. Yet, there is continuing uncertainty for several industries that continue to perform below par.
In the last two decades, in fact, the world has seen five pandemics. In chronological order these include: the SARS outbreak (2002–04), the swine flu pandemic (2009), the MERS coronavirus outbreak (2012), the Zika virus epidemic (2015–16), and the COVID-19 pandemic.
The rate at which pandemics have broken out in the 21st century is alarming. Epidemics like these not only damage businesses but also put the lives of employees at risk. COVID-19 is a tragic example of the ruthless adversary the world is up against. Drawing parallels with F1, 2020 must now be our watershed moment to transform workplace safety and find sustainable ways of running businesses in pandemics.
Workplace Safety Underpins Return-to-Work
Supply chain shocks, financial constraints, and workplace safety issues are the primary reasons behind the recent shutdowns of plants and workplaces. The Supply chains and economic levers, however, are strategic and need significant interventions that span over a long-time horizon. But workplace safety is an area that organizations can, and should, immediately address to ensure the sustainability of their business operations.
In this COVID era, several incidents have prodded organizations to rethink how to improve workplace safety.
- This pandemic has cost Boeing $1.7 billion in total. $137 million of that comes from a shutdown that happened at one of its South Carolina plants!4
- Ninety-seven employees were infected with COVID-19 in late June ’20 at a US-based aluminum extrusion company. Similarly, a greenhouse in Madison County witnessed 128 workers with COVID-19 infection.5
- Auto manufacturers in the US continue to witness an increase in the number of COVID-19 cases. E.g., 20 cases recorded at a Ford plant.6
- With schools reopening, Los Angeles schools have announced massive COVID-19 testing and tracing initiatives for its students and staff.7
If there was ever a do-or-die time that could help speed up digital adoption for a safer workplace, it’s now. Organizations need use technology to build an effective return-to-work strategy and stay sustainable.
A four-step digital approach – Prevent, Avoid, Detect, and Respond to return-to-work – will help organizations combat the impact of COVID-19.8 Governments in many countries have already drafted return-to-work compliance regulations for many organizations. While these are incredibly detailed and well crafted, companies need to stop treating them as mere checklists or another tick in the box.
Strategies, Not Regulations, Are the Solution
When Jackie Stewart began his crusade for driver safety in the 60s and 70s in F1, some of the racing community felt his tirade detracted from the sport and escalated organizers’ costs.
As Stewart recalled: “I would have been a much more popular World Champion if I had always said what people wanted to hear. I might have been dead, but definitely more popular.”
Today, the novel coronavirus continues to challenge governments and health agencies across the globe. Unknown mutations, a lack of visibility around immunity periods, how the virus continues to spread, the list of concerns is endless. Government agency guidelines are certainly helping organizations address workplace safety, whether they are the OSHA guidelines in the U.S. or the Health Protection (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020 in the U.K. But expecting stringent regulations and compliance measures alone to guide organizations forward is unfair. As part of industry’s broader responsibility, it’s time for companies themselves to forge a way ahead and proactively build safety nets to combat the viral menace.
There will be challenges, both financial and operational, that will discourage companies from adopting new technologies and processes. Even Jackie Stewart faced a lot of resistance and derision as he advocated for driver safety in F1. But organizations must find a way to navigate these challenges to prepare themselves for the long haul. If they don’t act now, they are making themselves vulnerable to future pandemics.
The Clock is Ticking
Scientists and epidemiologists all over the world have a massive task on their hands. Recent vaccine developments have been encouraging, but widespread inoculation is a long-term program that can stretch to years. There’s no quick fix for catastrophes of this scale. Sadly, we are now seeing the second wave erupting in several nations, while some regions still continue to grapple with the first wave’s casualties. Organizations should take this watershed moment very seriously and do all they can to insulate themselves and their workers from both the short term and long-term repercussions of this event.
Unfortunately, the frequency pathogen-led pandemics has surged in the last two decades. However, massive advances in technology and medical sciences are now helping to beat the adversary. Digital technology can also be a true north to build and execute strategies to safeguard people, livelihoods, and workplaces in the years ahead.
In the last decade, no other event or catastrophe has fostered digital adoption as much as this pandemic has done. Organizations, it is estimated, made advances in digital adoption that would previously have taken five years, in just the first two months after the outbreak turned into a pandemic, according to McKinsey.9
- “Tracking coronavirus’ global spread.” https://edition.cnn.com/interactive/2020/health/coronavirus-maps-and-cases/
- “Forecasted global real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth due to the coronavirus (COVID-19), from 2019 to 2021.” https://www.statista.com/statistics/1102889/covid-19-forecasted-global-real-gdp-growth/
- “Trading Economics. United States Unemployment Rate.” https://tradingeconomics.com/united-states/unemployment-rate
- “More layoffs possible as Boeing will reduce production at SC plant.” https://www.thestate.com/news/business/article244567562.html
- “A central New York greenhouse becomes a hot spot for coronavirus.”https://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/politics/albany/2020/05/06/new-york-greenhouse-spike-in-covid-19-cases/5174328002/
- “COVID-19 spreading widely in auto plants as Detroit automakers push for more production.” https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2020/07/23/auto-j23.html
- “L.A. schools announce massive COVID-19 testing, tracing initiative for all students and staff.” https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2020-08-16/l-a-schools-announce-massive-covid-19-testing-tracing-initiative-for-all-students-staff
- “An executive’s guide to building a return-to-work strategy in the COVID era.” https://www.birlasoft.com/articles/an-executives-guide-to-building-a-return-to-work-strategy-in-the-covid-era
- “The COVID-19 recovery will be digital: A plan for the first 90 days.” https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/mckinsey-digital/our-insights/the-covid-19-recovery-will-be-digital-a-plan-for-the-first-90-days
Countering disruption with resilience and agility
COVID-19 has caused unprecedented disruption and pushed organizations to find new ways of staying competitive and relevant. Business leaders have realized the need to build resilience for the long haul as they come to terms with never-seen-before challenges every day. The domino effect has not spared any function within the organization. The focus has rapidly shifted to building business resilience across multiple areas, including employee and workplace safety.
While some industries have figured out ways to continue their operations by activating work-from-home (WFH) programs, for sectors like manufacturing, hospitality, retail, and construction, WFH is not a viable option. 65% of the CXO executives believe that no field employees will be able to WFH indefinitely, reports a recent McKinsey survey1. The same study states that the executives expect 80% of their employees to be back in the office by this month, September.
The long and short of it is that organizations need to go back to the drawing board and work on building and executing safe return-to-work programs. However, any such return-to-work strategy must be based on the following principles at the core:
- Containing the spread: Nations continue to struggle with controlling this contagion; some nations are now seeing a second wave of the spread. While social distancing is becoming the new normal, many field personnel across multiple industries work close to each other, which raises the risk of spread. This is a concern for the environment, health & safety (EHS), and facility managers. What furthers adds to the problem is that 40% of COVID-19 spread happens before a person develops symptoms, according to the U.S. CDC. The threat of proliferation from asymptomatic patients is massive. Hence, manufacturing companies need to continue to activate all programs that help them stop the spread.
- An assurance on safety and revving up employee confidence: As organizations resume their business, they need to assure their stakeholders of the importance of vital safety measures to boost their confidence and morale. This requires them to develop processes and systems that ensure prevention of the spread, building safety protocols for early detection, monitoring and enforcing social distancing, and responding faster and effectively.
- Adhering to regulations and compliance standards: In response to COVID-19, governments are continuing to lay out health & safety laws to define business operations. For instance, the UK government has passed The Health Protection (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020, which mandates concrete measures for employee safety2. In the US, OSHA has issued guidancefor preparing workplaces for COVID-193. All of this must factor into an organization’s compliance and risk management blueprint in the COVID world.
Need for Speed and Digital Adoption
Adopting and adhering to these principles will require organizations to be open and agile and embrace technology with a heightened sense of urgency. The good news is that some have already taken swift actions on building strategic digital programs for resuming operations. Organizations have adopted and executed digital programs at an alarming rate: compressing what would have been a five-year cycle into just eight weeks, says McKinsey.4 That’s the level of paradigm shift the marketplace has witnessed in recent months.
While there are numerous ways in which digital technologies such as image analytics, artificial intelligence, internet of things, etc. are helping enhance the health and safety quotient of a workplace, particularly with regards to COVID-19, a return-to-work plan must cater to the following four tenets and organizations must ensure they are technologically equipped to address each of them:
- Prevent: This is the first line of defense for any organization, and it worked well during the initial phase of the pandemic. The adoption of remote collaboration platforms such as Microsoft Teams helped organizations mitigate potential in-person interactions, as they managed business continuity. While returning to work at some level is now inevitable, organizations should not rush into it. Having fewer people in a space lowers the risk significantly, saysan epidemiologist at the University of California, San Francisco.5 Moreover, office real estate, especially in the subcontinent, are structurally not designed to support social distancing. Therefore, in addition to adopting a staggered approach to opening offices, organizations must accelerate investments in digital workplace infrastructures and smart buildings to balance safety with productivity.
- Avoid: Any organization planning to reopen its offices must necessarily invest in technologies to facilitate contactless operations. There are multiple options available to choose from, such as facial recognition, voice sensing, and gesture sensing (some of which even come bundled with advanced thermal screening cameras). Additionally, compliance with the occupancy-levels in facilities and enforcing social distancing norms as per local government regulations is paramount to avoid the risk of spread. Several proximity control technologies can be leveraged to implement these norms and to block access to non-compliant or at-risk personnel.
- Detect: When prevention and avoidance fail, the next best thing to target is early detection. Organizations must, therefore, put processes and systems in place to implement thermal screening across the facility to monitor employees, workers and visitors alike, and track individuals’ temperatures for multiple days to detect any anomalies early. It is equally important to trust the employees and include them in the process by extending to them mediums that can be as simple as a mobile application to allow them to self-declare about their travel history, contacts made with high-risk individuals and/or any symptoms they encountered. These simple measures will help identify early warning signs and leading indicators to reduce the chances of proliferation.
- Respond: We have already seen numerous false starts globally wherein some enterprises reopened their offices, plants, etc. but had to shut them down shortly after as some suspect cases were reported. While such shutdowns led to significant financial losses, they also caused a massive dent on the confidence and morale of the workforce due to the organization’s inability to quickly identify personnel who came in contact with the suspected individuals during their pre-symptomatic stage and/or the premises that needed to be sanitized. As important as detecting the coronavirus symptoms in an individual early, it’s equally helpful to respond fast and surgically to avoid panic. Organizations should explore implementing track & trace technologies to supplement their efforts on prevention, avoidance, and detection.
Digital Drives Faster Recovery
To summarize, this crisis has created several challenges that have pushed organizations to embrace digital. It’s now a matter of sustenance, not just about staying competitive. Digital will be the cornerstone of any business resilience program that an organization executes now. Any return-to-work strategy program must have digital at the core. We are already seeing that the organizations that had invested proactively on digital infrastructure are showing a faster recovery. This pandemic is a tipping point in the evolution cycle of the modern-day workplaces. As we all navigate these tough times, organizations will need to stay open, agile, communicative, and be receptive to embracing digital technologies for some time to come.
- “How US companies are planning for a safe return to the workplace.” https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/pharmaceuticals-and-medical-products/our-insights/how-us-companies-are-planning-for-a-safe-return-to-the-workplace
- “COVID-19: Guidance for Employers in the UK.” https://www.twobirds.com/en/news/articles/2020/uk/covid19-guidance-for-employers-in-the-uk
- “Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19.” https://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3990.pdf
- “The COVID-19 recovery will be digital: A plan for the first 90 days.” https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/mckinsey-digital/our-insights/the-covid-19-recovery-will-be-digital-a-plan-for-the-first-90-days
- “Influenza in workplaces: transmission, workers’ adherence to sick leave advice and European sick leave recommendations.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4884332/#ckw031-B19
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: www.manufacturingleadershipcouncil.com/kbtopic/covid-19-resources/.
It’s been nearly four months since the COVID-19 pandemic initially sent manufacturers into a turmoil they had never experienced. A sudden onslaught in demand for ventilators, PPE, and other medical equipment was unprecedented in its scope and urgency. Supply chains ground nearly to a halt as international operations were forced to shut down to combat the virus. Stay-at-home orders meant sending scores of employees to work at home, putting new strain on IT networks and putting business functions in peril.
But while manufacturers had no way to predict an emergency of this scope, they more than made up for it in agility and innovation. Faced with new production demands, a scattered workforce, and a need to drastically adjust their own operations to protect employee health and safety, many discovered new ways to leverage their technologies, skills, and people to meet these novel challenges.
Several of these stories were highlighted in the June issue of the Manufacturing Leadership Journal, a few of which were featured on a recent Manufacturing Leadership Council virtual meeting. Panelists on this meeting included Dr. Rebecca Teeters, Advance 3M Strategy & Execution Director; Dan Grieshaber, Director of Manufacturing Engineering Integration at GM; and Vicki Holt, President and CEO at Protolabs.
Scaling Up for Product Redistribution at 3M
To keep themselves prepared for the unpreparable, 3M maintains an X-Factor Event Plan, which they define as a significant circumstance, unpredictable by nature, that results in a strong and rapid increase in demand resulting production constraints for their products. COVID-19 is such an event, as are others such as the recent significant wildfires worldwide and dangerous air pollution levels in China. Teeters said that the pandemic has far exceeded any previous X-Factor demand that the company has experienced.
3M’s N95 particulate respirator was the focus of many news stories at the dawn of the pandemic as demand for them skyrocketed among the healthcare industry. Prior to that, however, the primary market for the masks were industrial consumers. The traditional market balance for the N95 mask had been 95% industrial and 5% healthcare. After the pandemic, that demand has shifted to the inverse.
This created a perfect opportunity for 3M to leverage is manufacturing capabilities and redirect its product distribution through entirely new channels. The company already had been making efforts for two years to improve end-to-end supply chain visibility and create digital twins, both of which were critical to pivoting operations quickly. The company has also relied on AR/VR technologies for things like installation of new equipment in global facilities.
“Under all circumstances, our three primary objectives are safety and sustainability, customer experience, and efficiency,” Teeters said. “We build capabilities around all of these to improve our response.”
The company has since tripled its production of the N95. Teeters said that the upheaval was an opportunity to reimagine manufacturing operations at 3M and to rely on their technology and analytics capabilities. “We are a heavily integrated company from a materials perspective. If we can then vertically integrate our data, and also make it horizontal, we are much more capable throughout our end-to-end manufacturing response.”
At GM, Project “V” Accelerated by M4.0 Technologies
While GM is known as one of the biggest automakers in the world, they had something much more valuable than vehicles to contribute to the pandemic response: manufacturing know-how. In its headline-making joint project with ventilator maker Ventec Life Systems, the automaker stood up an entirely new ventilator production facility in a components manufacturing facility in Kokomo, Ind. By essentially recreating and scaling Ventec’s Seattle-area manufacturing plant in Kokomo, production went from one ventilator per hour to 20 ventilators per hour, running over a three-shift operation.
GM initially identified the need for increased ventilator production in mid-March, and sent a small team to Seattle to walk through Ventec’s manufacturing operation. It was determined there was no effective way to scale their operations at that location, and the two companies signed an agreement on March 24 that GM would produce ventilators in one of their production facilities. The company settled on Kokomo, and on April 17, the first ventilators were delivered to two Chicago-area hospitals and a FEMA storage facility, under GM’s government contract.
The new ventilator production line was essentially built as it was designed. GM used a photogrammetry provider to scan Ventec’s Seattle facility and then used that data as a basis for recreating it in Kokomo, everything from flooring to worktable density to racking systems for parts. Standard operator tasks and training were also sourced from this initial data set.
While simulation tools were key for bringing production online quickly, the company also relied on 3D printing to make some of the fixtures needed to make the ventilators. But they also began a mask-making operation – Project “M” – and have pivoted other operations to make hand sanitizer, medical gowns, and face shields. GM has produced 5 million masks, initially donated to medical facilities and now used internally by GM employees in adherence to the company’s mandatory mask policy.
Grieshaber said the pandemic broadened employee exposure to the company’s existing M4.0 technologies. “Given the size of our operation, not everyone gets exposure to the M4.0 tools we have in place, and the pandemic has given them much more exposure to these technologies,” he said.
But he also was clear that technology is just one element to solving big manufacturing challenges. “You need good organizational structure, good people skills, and standardized work practices in order to succeed,” he said. “We were glad to step up when the country needed us, and longer term we see significant benefit to our company in regard to what we’ve learned.”
Lessons Learned Become Permanent Changes at Protolabs
Protolabs centers its business model around helping companies move from idea to finished product as quickly as possible. With their ability to prioritize and scale based on demand, the company realized early on that they could help fulfill critical needs for their healthcare customers.
As the company began to see a huge influx of orders for masks, respirators, and other medical equipment, they were able to prioritize those orders ahead of others to make sure they would get out as quickly as possible. To date, the company made more than 8 million expedited custom components using a mix of CNC machining, 3D printing, sheet metal fabrication, and injection molding.
In addition to leveraging their production model, the company’s B2B ecommerce capabilities allowed customers to easily upload their CAD files to a website. Protolabs then used those files to provide quotes and collaborate digitally with the customer to the point of manufacture. Their digital technologies created a good experience for their customers and also for the company’s own designers, engineers, and supply chain.
Holt said that going forward it will be a part of the company’s culture to know that with clarity of purpose and prioritization, they can move very fast. Additionally, communication will be better aligned throughout the organization to build awareness and allow for rapid execution, and there will be an emphasis on the need to be agile and adaptive to change.
Upcoming Virtual Meetings on What’s Next for Manufacturing?
The Manufacturing Leadership Council will be hosting a virtual meeting every Tuesday in July at 11 am ET to look at the different aspects of the post-COVID world for manufacturing and recordings will be available to members in the content library. Contact [email protected] for an invitation.
Whether your manufacturing activity ramped up for relief and recovery efforts, completely shut down, or remained open in limited capacity, the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped the way many manufacturing organizations will function moving forward.
Beyond physical cleaning, manufacturers now have to consider the dynamics of shared manufacturing equipment, assembly line spacing, staggered shifts and necessary business travel, among other unique factors. Protecting the health of employees and mitigating risk to the business becomes a new top priority as our sights turn to reopening.
The challenge is that this is all uncharted territory. Manufacturers haven’t previously managed risks like these. How then to facilitate reopening? While every operation is unique, new technologies are offering signs of hope using critical data to issue alerts when risks are elevated.
Solving for the Data Conundrum
How can manufacturers reduce the risk of employee virus exposure when complete isolation isn’t an option? To return to business, there must be an effort where the infrastructure of work finds ways to make the risk more manageable and therefore improve safety.
Mobile apps, for example, allow employees to self-monitor for symptoms, record temperatures and track general wellbeing. They also offer the ability to track interactions with others in the event they come in close contact with someone who later tests positive or indicates COVID symptoms. Technologies like Bluetooth and radio frequency also lend themselves to proximity tracing using smartphones.
The beauty of this data is that, when aggregated, it begins to tell its own story. It establishes a baseline, highlights trends, and helps identify when risks are elevated.
The challenge with this data is collecting and analyzing significant volumes of it in a way that is wholly useful. Another is being able to leverage it while maintaining complete privacy of data.
Leaning In to Tech
As necessity drives innovation, some technology solutions aim to solve these challenges — data collection, privacy, ongoing risk management, etc. — with artificial intelligence and machine learning. Emerging enterprise SaaS platforms provide proximity monitoring, contact tracing and risk notifications. When paired with complementary apps, these kinds of platforms truly offer full-enterprise risk management.
Features like risk assessment dashboards can offer at-a-glance, real-time data for oversight. These should be designed leveraging anonymized, secured contact tracing data, and that data should never be stored in a centralized database. Instead, it should remain with the individual employee’s device and shared only at their discretion — efficiently collecting critical data while protecting employee privacy.
If risk factors suggest there is reason for concern, the employee can share their data with the employer. Upon doing so, the employer should be prompted with explicit and clear instructions on what to do next, like initiate sanitization protocols and notify other employees of increased exposure risks. The most effective platforms can accomplish this without divulging the identity of any at-risk or positive case to employees outside HR roles.
Implications Beyond Health
Employee health and risk reduction strategies go hand in hand, and they are rightfully the primary discussion about reopening. But there are other benefits to incorporating such technologies as they become available, including reduced liability. But such benefits can only be reaped if an organization is prepared for implementation of this kind of platform.
Training and education become paramount. Employees must not only understand that the technology is in place to facilitate safety for everyone, but they must also understand how to use it properly. Not only that, there will be concerns to quell. Proximity identifiers and Bluetooth trackers have the ability to sound nefarious when not accompanied by transparency and comprehensive plans for privacy.
Having a dedicated leader to oversee the training, education, deployment and management will also help drive success. Often, these risk monitoring platforms are integrated into existing enterprise systems, raising the stakes even more. Having a captain at the helm will guide the initiative on its best course.
Bottom line: Emerging risk management platforms deliver full-enterprise technology solutions for a uniquely “people” problem. But the keys to success are ensuring the platform has clear safeguards in place for personal privacy, and that the organization is dedicated to properly managing the platform.
This is sponsored content from EPSoft.
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].