If nothing else, COVID-19 is demonstrating manufacturers’ ability to take immediate action and embrace a host of new, temporary, operating standards. Not only are these actions protecting the health and safety of employees, they are also helping manufacturers maintain business continuity. For many, this starts with ensuring compliance with local health and safety requirements such as paying close attention to hygiene practices, social distancing, limiting non-essential personnel onsite and utilizing relevant personal protective equipment.
However, perhaps the biggest change – which could ultimately result in a new norm long after COVID-19 subsides – is the realization that today’s technology makes far more remote work feasible than many manufacturers ever realized. Or wanted to admit. This realization has surfaced as a growing number of manufacturers have adopted secure remote operation solutions to augment any remaining onsite staff, while also working with suppliers to proactively monitor and manage onsite equipment.
With stay-at-home orders translating to increasingly fewer employees working at operating or process locations, Honeywell has deployed new software that enables process operations to be monitored or even executed from remote locations outside of the plant facility. “Remote support staff, working from other facilities or from home, can continue to work even when quarantines of key individuals are also affecting the availability of skilled resources at the site,” Jason Urso, CTO at Honeywell Process Solutions tells IndustryWeek. “These remote options also use the power of Honeywell Forge offerings to proactively detect issues and bring them to the attention of both the customer and Honeywell experts whether through intelligent wearables, video assistance training or access to on-call experts.”
Simply put, remote operations and remote services capabilities are giving workers unprecedented levels of efficiency by enabling them to use their knowledge to apply it across many process plants without being physically present at any of them. “Today, we are providing this out of necessity, but tomorrow, it will be in the name of efficiency. In addition to the distribution of knowledge, there will be an increased use of a technology companion that augments human intelligence,” says Urso. “By capturing our knowledge and best practices, technology can help optimize your operational future, allowing workers to avoid issues that cause lost capacity or unplanned downtime.”
According to Urso, perspective is key. Think of how Google Maps has changed the world by using technology to augment human intelligence of how to travel from point A to point B. Google provides insight to the human on alternate directions to take because it can see traffic before you encounter it giving the driver an opportunity to adjust course,” he says. “This same analogy holds true in process plants by utilizing data analytics and digital twin representations of a process or equipment.”
The inertia to overcome is often the fear of change, explains Urso. “Yet, when faced with a crisis, the motivation to change can be far more compelling than the risk of staying the same. Using insights, we learned during this crisis, we know that we can perform our work differently,” he says. “Technology can play a role in augmenting our human skills and capabilities. We have an opportunity to create another inflection point in manufacturing in terms of performance, reliability, and safety while also enhancing our human effectiveness.”
The overall experience of working with the growing number of evolving remote technologies could lead to a ripple effect that changes the way manufacturer work going forward, explains Magic Leap Chief Product Officer Omar Khan.
“We are using tools far better today and the work from home orders are proving out their effectiveness,” he says. “As companies put these technologies into use, they are naturally challenging the offerings, and leveraging them in new and sometimes unintended environments. As remote and virtual technologies become instrumental tools, the capabilities will continue to advance with much faster improvement cycles.”
As manufacturers challenge today’s remote and virtual technologies, they will realize that it provides them access to better talent with ability to engage and deploy new talent internationally, as well as find interesting ways to solve problems.
“The improved comfort level also results in a thirst for broader applications. For us, it comes down to prioritizing focus and determining what makes sense for the broadest swatches of customers. We are innovating and adding as we can,” says Khan. “It also creates new opportunities for us to work closer with third party developers. When we have the opportunity to commit to building strategic offerings with other developers it benefits the entire ecosystem.”