Manufacturing During the New Normal of COVID-19

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What are ways manufacturing facilities can transform in response to the new normal of COVID-19?

COVID-19 has resulted in the transformation of office environments to facilitate what has been called a “new normal” for workers.

Working during this time features a higher percentage of stay-at-home workers, office-environment signage and traffic-flow products designed to maintain the physical separation of onsite workers.

The elimination of meetings and common areas are typical of most offices, and the continuous and ongoing sanitizing of printers, copiers and other jointly used equipment is all part of the new work reality.

Changes Manufacturing Facilities Must Make to Adjust to the New Normal

A similar transformation is necessary within manufacturing facilities.

Manufacturing is essential to the ongoing existence of most companies, so addressing COVID-19 in this context is critical. However, manufacturing facilities and interpersonal transactions within this space differ considerably from the traditional office environment.

In most cases, the worker has to go “to the work” in order to execute their duties. Even the most automated production lines require workers to physically engage with the production process at specific physical locations.

To achieve the desired effect, modification of the working environment and the working processes themselves must be carefully adjusted to protect workers from infecting one another during their time onsite.

The production facility must be transformed to protect workers and still produce goods necessary for companies that plan to continue the production of products for sale.

Tracy Hansen of offers up an excellent piece on how manufacturers can reset their production processes for the new normal of COVID-19 in this article of May 19, 2020.

As complex and unique as manufacturing operations can be, there are some common points to build a transformation process around.

Basic Steps to Creating a Safer Manufacturing Environment

Examine the Physical Facility

Identify choke points and areas that require attention in terms of the six-foot distancing rule. These areas will require access limitations or monitored and controlled access to ensure that reduced maximum occupancy levels are not exceeded.

Mark Traffic and Separation Requirements Throughout Manufacturing Facilities

Plant personnel have to be able to move about the facility, but their movements need to conform to social-distancing practices.

Use technology to facilitate touchless door opening and closing, and equip areas with sanitation products and protective gear (gloves, masks and face shields).

Safety companies are producing and offering specific signage designed to mark traffic flows and distance intervals between individual workers.

Examine Processes and Interface Points

Review processes and points where humans interface with one another in addition to the manufacturing process itself.

Modify processes that require multiple people to simultaneously occupy spaces in close proximity to each other (below the six-foot minimum). Serial human intervention should replace simultaneous human intervention wherever possible.

Modify Production Plans

Mitigation changes will obviously impact all aspects of the production process. Supply scheduling, inventory levels, job scheduling, anticipated volume of units produced and even specific models will be required.

Communicate with Employees

New processes and plant procedures along with production goals and performance standards will be modified. Employees need to be kept in the loop in terms of all aspects of the new normal within the plant.

Establish daily updates and appoint people to provide information or expedite the answers of questions from the shop floor. Rumors can be highly destructive, and the goal should be to eliminate the rumor mill before it has the chance to affect morale.

Establish Hygiene Practices

Shorten shifts with thorough disinfection processes implemented between shifts. Provide frequent thermal screening, sanitation education and easy access to protective equipment including gloves, masks and face screens.

Eliminate Common Areas and Facilities

Kitchenettes, coffee services, recreation areas, etc. are all infection sharing points that need to be shut down during the new normal.

Any area where employees collect or gather, either for recreation or work, should be either shut down or feature limited access.

Eliminate Physical Meetings

Virtual technology should be used for employee meetings. If we have learned anything over the past several months, it is certain that we can handle many working functions virtually.

Even if the person has to be present, they can be protected and distanced from others. Meeting areas should be in open areas, with adequate space for attendees to remain safely separated.

Educate and Train Employees

Everyone must complete specific training sessions prior to returning to the world space. This training should be reinforced via signage, videos and other reminders. Stress the idea that masks and limited access are not infringements by protective measures.

No right-thinking individual would resent a no-smoking policy within a fireworks or petroleum facility. Putting on a mask protects them and those around them.

Limit High-Risk Employees

Access to the workplace should be limited to lower-risk employees as much as possible. Employees with pre-existing conditions should acquire some medical clearance prior to returning to the facility.

Manufacturing Facilities Can Adjust to the New Normal

As we have suggested in our “new normal” posts related to office environments, the shop floor is another area that will be different as we move through this COVID-19 emergency.

Product Configuration Cincom Blog