Will manufacturing shut down? As the threat of the coronavirus rises, there is a lot of confusion surrounding the companies considered as essential. Pharmaceutical and food manufacturing companies instantly spring to mind, but the delimitations aren’t black and white. There is a lot of grey area; while some areas of the electronics industry may sound non-essential, we can’t forget, for instance, about how certain electronic components are used in the manufacturing of much-needed hospital equipment!
No one saw COVID-19 coming and yet, we all did. We’ve all grown up with movies, TV shows and video games that address the topic of the whole world struggling to curb the spread of a virus. On the bright side, it’s nothing like we’ve seen on TV. On the downside, we weren’t prepared to go from freely travelling anywhere we want to social distancing and social isolating in the matter of just a few days. And yet, Bill Gates has been warning us of the next outbreak for a few years already.
The government is doing the best it can, but as VKS is a work instruction software made for manufacturers by manufacturers, we are well-versed in how best to continue production during the coronavirus pandemic. The upcoming months are uncertain and are to be taken day-by-day. But until the world goes back to normal, here are eight major ways that manufacturing companies can try to stop the spread of COVID-19. The bright side to these solutions is that they can be implemented with very little additional resources.
1. Use 5S Floor Markings in Your Factory
Since Toyota’s design of the system, the use of floor markings on the shop floor has been one of the top measures any company can take to create a safe and efficient workplace. In a bid to adapt to the rising guidelines put forth by the government, manufacturing companies are now using tape in more ways than to outline where to walk or identify the intended locations of pallets.
Smart Manufacturing companies are now expanding on the 5S labeling standards to indicate where to walk when entering the building and where to stand to remain a safe distance from other people. Using floor making tape, you can also ensure that auditors and QA inspectors stay within the recommended safe zone and clearly distinguish between “enter only” and “exit only” doors.
2. Install Barriers
Did you notice grocery stores are starting to install barriers between the cashier and the people in front of them? It’s a brilliant idea and frankly, one that should have been implemented ages ago. The same goes for factories. Installing barriers is one of the best ways to try to minimize the spread of infection. In fact, our sister company CMP is already starting to produce these barriers with the help of our work instruction software!
Not only do these barriers protect each worker from the inside, but they also offer an extra layer of protection for the entire factory as a whole in the event that the person within the barrier is infected.
Unfortunately with COVID-19 and some other infectious diseases, the outward signs of infections aren’t always there. As The Guardian points out, studies show that many can be invisible carriers of coronavirus without actually getting sick.
With barriers, you can at least try to keep everything contained as long as you also implement shift changes.
3. Stagger Your Shifts & Lunch Breaks
Can’t send anyone home at the risk of halting production altogether? Then you need to think about every possible way to reduce contact as much as possible. One of the very first on-site changes you need to be looking at is staggering your shifts.
Implement a 30-minute gap between your morning and night shifts. Make sure that your workers have different common areas to go into, which can be delimited using the above-mentioned tape. Bonus points if there are no common areas at all but while this isn’t always possible, at least make it so that workers come right in and start working.
Don’t forget to also think about the sign-in process. Does it involve tapping or swiping a keycard? If possible, find ways to keep track of the start and end of work shirts in a different way that doesn’t involve any contact between employees and objects they don’t necessarily have to touch. While this may seem like too much, it’s important to remember that all it takes is for one person to be infected with the coronavirus to pass it on to multiple other people and shut production down altogether.
Speaking of staggering, you can’t space out shifts without staggering everything else too, so be sure to keep people seperated during the lunch hour too. Widen the space between individuals by at least three feet (one meter) and consider creating different lunch hours for each department.
Needless to say, increasing sanitation and safety measures is imperative during the months of the pandemic. These are also good measures to keep in mind overall even once everything goes back to normal.
Cleaning and sanitizing needs to be performed on a regular schedule, which includes the start and end of the shift. Remind workers that they need to sanitize every single area of their workplace, to wash their hands whenever they enter or leave common areas and practice general cleanliness and mindfulness.
The importance of washing our hands with soap for at least 20 seconds can’t be repeated enough throughout these troubling times and of course, to cough in your elbow. Never discount the obvious and put up as many reminders as possible throughout the entire factory – and don’t forget the bathroom!
5. Use VKS to Communicate with your Workforce
When it comes to the coronavirus and other highly infectious diseases that can easily spread from one person to another, relaying information as fast as possible is one of the best ways to take control of the situation. Using VKS Lite, you can easily relay processes to the shop floor without ever coming into contact with anyone.
You can also use VKS Pro Smart Forms to communicate and capture data from your workforce within minutes. Some examples range from self-audit checklists to screen your employees for COVID-19 symptoms, to automated prompts to remind workers to maintain social distancing, wash hands frequently, etc. Some companies even incorporate a ‘joke of the day’ to share a few smiles!
6. Switch Production
Does your factory fall under the list of non-essential businesses? Then consider switching production if you can. Ford and GM have already switched to making ventilators, but did you know that Givenchy, Christian Dior, and Absolut Vodka have switched production and now make hand sanitizers to help with the pandemic shortages?
While you might be thinking to yourself that these big-name brands have more than enough resources to switch production on a dime, the fact of the matter is that even if their production equipment could be used for an alternate application, their employees on the shop floor will likely not have the knowledge to perform this new task.
That's where work instructions come into the picture. By creating detailed work instructions and SOPs for each process you can easily upskill your workforce to take on a new set of challenges.
7. Implement a Work from Home Policy
In most cases when it comes to manufacturing, this is impossible. But if you can send your workers to work from home in any shape or form, do it before it’s too late. In many parts of the world, such as in the United States and Canada, a list of non-essential services have already been forced to shut down. The sooner you implement some of these measures, the less it will cost your company down the road – and this, especially since the future months are uncertain.
In either case, your first action is to figure out who can work from home. Just because someone works at the office doesn’t mean that they can actually work from home. Sometimes, certain software are only available at the office and it’s these kinds of situations that force us to re-evaluate how to best prepare for the future. Once the pandemic is over, take it as a learning lesson and make sure that anyone who works at a computer can still do their job from home when the need arises. Even General Motors is advising their employees to work from home “if the nature of [their] work allows it”.
You may be wondering: “What about production supervisors who still need access to production facilities?” And you’re absolutely right and that brings us to our next point.
More than anything it’s important to follow guidelines set out by the government and the World Health Organization (WHO), while keeping in mind the above tips. It’s also vital to check the latest measures and recommendations being advocated on a daily basis because these have been changing faster than most companies can keep up with. The sooner you receive the information, the faster you can roll out changes and continue your operations.
One thing is for certain: we’re all in this together and it’s imperative we help each other through these difficult times. It’s for this reason that we’re offering VKS Lite for free throughout the duration of the pandemic.