By Adam Montoya, VP Industrial Solutions, Bright Machines
Last month, the Occupational Safety and Health
Administration (OSHA) released a new report – Guidance
for Preparing Workplaces on COVID-19 –
which outlines a set of guidelines workplaces can follow to keep employees safe
as COVID-19 sweeps the globe at an alarming rate.
Recommendations range from basic infection
prevention measures like frequent handwashing, to flexible work policies and
practices in order to limit physical contact between employees. Echoing a
mandate that much of the world is familiar with as of late, the new OSHA
guidelines recommend maintaining a distance of at least 6 feet between
individuals in the workplace. They’ve also identified categories of risk based
on job type – ranging from low to “very high.” According to the OSHA categories,
jobs that require frequent and/or close contact (within 6 feet) with
individuals are considered “medium exposure risk” jobs.
guidelines bring new challenges to the factory
What about the individuals lined up together
on the factory floor to assemble and inspect our products? These people
commonly sit inches apart, vs. feet. Most jobs – including factory roles
– fall into the “medium exposure” category. But unlike administrative jobs or
other types of roles that can seamlessly shift to a “work from home” reality,
most factory jobs simply can’t be done outside of the factory. For
manufacturers, these new guidelines prove extra challenging not only from a
logistical standpoint but from a business standpoint. In fact, most factories
don’t have an infectious disease emergency plan and are ill equipped to meet
new prevention requirements.
Around the world, manufacturers are doing
their best to meet OSHA guidelines. One major manufacturer of industrial
products added spacing tape on the factory floor to allow for appropriate
distance between stations. A major appliance manufacturer even put up shower
curtains between employees to limit spacing and required temperature screenings
before employees could enter the building.
While these are simple factory “hacks” to
address prevention guidelines in the near-term, manufacturers around the globe
share many key concerns about the broader implications of our post-COVID world
on the industry. Some of these include the following possibilities:
- Shutting down an entire
factory due to the spread of the infection
- Retooling an entire factory
to meet the 6-foot spacing guideline, resulting in larger floor space, and slower
- Increased costs from
protective gear supplies (sanitation, masks, etc.)
- Further disruption to the
overall supply chain
- Adding pressure to produce
high-demand products as part of COVID-19 response
- Simplifying work tasks in
order to provide flexibility of manufacturing operations
Faced with these difficult considerations, manufacturers
are taking a critical look at how to build in resiliency to future-proof their
operations against the next disruption – be it a disease outbreak, natural
disaster, or trade shifts.
Intelligent factory automation is a natural
solution for disruptions of all sizes, as it keeps employees safe without
compromising the speed and quality of production. Also, since it’s
software-driven, the smart automation can accommodate fast product changeovers
and be maintained remotely.
With automated assembly and inspection, manufacturers
become less reliant on human operators so that they are better prepared to
handle any disruption. In reducing the need for manual labor, infection risk associated
with these on-site factory roles is also reduced. In this context, the new OSHA
guidelines, become easier to implement. For example, our configurable robotic
cells, not only naturally allow for the OSHA advised 6 foot spacing, but they
also result in reduced expense on sanitation and floor space.
Simply put, automation future proof’s today’s
factories for manufacturing’s inevitable future where supply chains are
dynamic, production is distributed, and manual processes are limited.
Guidelines Today, requirements Tomorrow?
Around the world, governments are taking
drastic measures to “flatten the curve” and recommendations are becoming more
strictly enforced with each day that passes. In the next 3-6 months, these
workplace recommendations by OSHA may very well turn from guidelines into
rules. Manufacturers won’t just be encouraged but required to make the
adjustments needed in order to ensure the health and protection of their
workforces. Now is the time to think strategically about how to prepare for
emergencies of this magnitude.
For more information about how smart automation
can make your factory more resilient in times of crisis, check out our webinar,
You Need to Know About OSHA’S New Factory Guidelines”. Register
for this free webinar today!
About the Author
Montoya is a manufacturing and engineering expert with two decades of
experience on the world’s factory floors. At Bright Machines he leads a
world-class team devoted to evaluating and implementing automation in today’s
factories, directly addressing customer pain-points and revealing new market
opportunities. He spent 10 years at Flex, leading the Manufacturing Technology
and Automation team and prior to this held several positions at Solectron.