Photo by Mier Chen on Unsplash
Safety Goggles

Creating a Safer COVID-Era Workplace with Technology

Oct. 22, 2020
Manufacturers are accelerating their digital roadmaps to reduce risk and maintain production.

Manufacturing leaders have always prioritized workplace safety. It is part of the culture, mindset, and even a driver of the industry’s technological innovations. Recent Capgemini research shows that 59% of manufacturing organizations scaling AI say they have done so specifically to prevent failures, defects, and safety critical events.

But now, it’s a new threat created by the pandemic that has heightened awareness in factories around the world. This threat can’t be stopped by a neon vest or a hard hat – but the same diligence and focus can keep it at bay. Manufacturing leaders have two crucial tasks: they must develop ways to protect employees from spreading the virus, but they must do so without slowing down production – especially production of essential items like medical devices and pharmaceuticals.

To achieve this, manufacturing leaders need to accelerate their digital roadmaps. Connecting the operational technology within the factory to its IT infrastructure can ensure worker safety while also keeping factories running in a way that reduces exposure and risk. Here are three strategies for manufacturing leaders to digitize their tools and technologies in ways that will improve processes and help keep their workers safe:  

Automate Tasks that Put Multiple Workers in a Confined Space

Knowing that limiting close proximity between employees within the factory can drastically reduce the chances of spreading germs and bacteria, operations leaders, of course, will first take an overall look at each of the tasks executed and assess which create scenarios where multiple team members are congregated closely. Once those areas are identified, they will determine the significance of those tasks. Are they mission-critical for production? Most importantly: what technology within the factory can be leveraged to execute portions of these tasks in safer ways? Using technology to automate the actions that create confined-space working conditions can prevent exposure and keep employees safe and healthy, without stalling production.

In addition to these proactive measures, technology can also be used reactively to protect workers. COVID-19 safety apps can identify potential exposure within the workplace when a confirmed case occurs, and rapidly activate an exposure mitigation plan. One of Capgemini’s clients implemented such an app as part of its Risk Assessment process. Within two weeks of rolling out the technology, they had the capability to activate several exposure mitigation phases, including the ability to quickly turn off facility access badges, trace impacted employee contacts, notify triage teams, and deep clean impacted facilities.

Manufacture Products in New Ways

We’ve seen many examples of factories pivoting to create new products like masks, ventilators, and other protective equipment. The training provided to educate workers on new products can also be applied to adjusting the way products are manufactured today. Modifying the steps needed to get from concept to completion will still result in the same end result, but the actions taken along the way could promote worker safety throughout the production lifecycle.

One such company who shifted from manufacturing promotional products to protective equipment did so by quickly creating an advanced digital design. The new design for the protective equipment included new sourcing channels to procure raw material to meet the expected regulatory standards. The company then fed the information into their 3D printing technology and eventually were able to mass-produce the protective equipment in a safe and efficient way.

Leverage AI to Improve Operational Quality and Efficiency While safety always remains the top priority, with this current pandemic, manufacturing leaders have an opportunity to drive connectivity across operational technology and IT. This intelligent industry agenda can bolster production efficiencies, break down silos, and create new areas for innovation. AI is one area in particular where manufacturing should focus its digital roadmap. Our research shows that even amid the pandemic, 48% of manufacturing organizations are progressing or even accelerating their AI initiatives. However, compared to other industry verticals, manufacturing organizations are lagging behind on their AI journeys. Just 6% have successfully deployed AI at scale.

It’s time for manufacturers to combat COVID-19 with the safety-first culture that embodies every day within factories around the world. Accelerating a move toward more digital ways of working could be the key to reducing risk while maintaining production. I’ve been incredibly impressed by our clients as they have adapted to this unprecedented situation, but the transformation has just begun. Manufacturing leaders who take the steps now to protect employees while elevating digital capabilities will see their organizations standing tall at the forefront of the industry in the years to come. 

Eileen Sweeney is executive vice president of manufacturing, automotive, aerospace and life sciences at Capgemini North America.

Popular Sponsored Recommendations

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of IndustryWeek, create an account today!