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NOTE: This is Part 1 of a 2-part series focusing on restarting manufacturing after COVID-19 shutdowns. Check the PINpoint Blog on June 25 to read Part 2.

Of course during a global pandemic, the topic on everyone’s mind is being healthy and taking steps to stay that way. As a manufacturer, that obviously means focusing on the health and safety of your workforce.

You’ve got the “go ahead” from the government to return to work, but the lingering worry of a second wave of COVID-19 is a real possibility, and that could mean another shutdown.

So, in addition to feeling the pressure of effectively resuming manufacturing production (and focusing on quality and efficiency), you’re having to deal with new health and safety standards across the board.

It may feel overwhelming, but there’s a digital, nearly company-wide solution on which you can lean: an MES (manufacturing execution system). Not only is an MES relatively inexpensive and quick to implement but, as you’ll read in this series, the right one can help you solve all of these ramp up challenges.

Establishing The New Normal On the Plant Floor

Health and safety procedures have changed (and will likely continue to change). But, one thing’s for certain: everyone’s got their eyes on them and how they’re implemented. Health and safety is now a top priority, right alongside productivity and quality.

It’s dizzying to consider all the questions an operations manager faces in ramping back up:

  • Do physical workspaces need to change?
  • Are some processes no longer appropriate due to physical distancing requirements?
  • Are new, enhanced hygiene protocols being implemented?
  • Are regular, deep-cleans of high-touch stations needed?
  • Does additional PPE need to be provided?

That’s just a start of the many things you may have to do differently on the plant floor and add to your plant’s standard operating procedures

Many manufacturers are scrambling to redesign stations on their plant floor, acquire more PPE, write protocols to enable physical distancing, and more. At the same time, they’re buried with the process of writing, designing, and sharing these new protocols.

While an MES solution can’t redesign your plant floor or write protocols for you, it can quickly and efficiently share information that needs sharing company-wide. There’s no worry about how to deliver information or knowing it will be read and followed. Moving forward feels much differently with or without an MES solution.

Proving That Health And Safety Is A Priority

There are new rules. And, having them followed is vital to the future of your company. The challenge is knowing that they’re being understood and acted on every day, every shift. What evidence can be shown to stakeholders (management, leadership, board of directors, union officials, regulators, etc.) that new protocols are being adhered to?

From day 1 of using an MES, you can see that there’s adherence to health and safety procedures. How? You build work instructions and new procedures into your process, requiring that workers acknowledge them before any work on your product can begin.

After 30 days of monitoring and reporting, you have reports and compliance data analytics to prove that everyone is complying with new health and safety standards. That’s a comfort you can’t feel any other way.

Operational Ramp Up Challenges

Imagine this work challenge: You need something built, and you have the team to do it; you’re sure of their abilities although they’re likely to be rusty after some time off.

Would you gather them, explain the goal but provide no detailed plan, leave them on their own, and come back weeks later hoping it all worked out? No! You’d stay with them, monitor their actions, observe the metrics (who’s doing well, what’s slowing things down), and help solve struggles.

So, why would the ramp up of your plant after a lengthy COVID-19 shutdown be any different?

Your “rusty” workforce may have forgotten some of your work procedures. You have to expect that. Returning to any task you haven’t done in a while naturally comes with an efficiency curve. The trick is ramping up that curve as quickly as possible.

An MES solution makes that happen. Detailed and updated work instructions remind employees exactly what’s expected. The goal is to enforce the repeatable process that you know and trust.

Also, remember this: Your workforce will likely look different once you return. Certainly not all of your workers will come back. You’ll need to bring on new ones, and how will they perform?

An MES solution provides a real-time, rich data set to monitor any weak spots. You’ll be able to correct and train struggling operators on the fly. Without an MES, you’re really only guessing about what’s happening on your plant floor.

Maintain Your Quality

Just because everything seemed to take a hit during COVID-19, doesn’t mean the quality of your products should be impacted.

You’ll have new operators on the line, and perhaps your skilled workers will be in unfamiliar stations due to demand changes. That endangers your repeatable process. Yet, because your MES solution has been designed with an operator focus — breaking down complex operations into manageable steps and clear instructions — everyone conquers the learning curve quickly.

What about the products you left on the line in various stages of completeness? An MES knows everything that was done to every product, and has data to help you make the right decisions. Operators log in and pick up exactly where they left off!

Restarting manufacturing after a COVID-19 shutdown is unlike anything you’ve done before. It’s smart to rethink what assets you’ll need to do it right.

In Part 2 of this series, we’ll address more topics that challenge manufacturers as they ramp up:

  • Adjusting schedules amidst demand uncertainty
  • Dealing with cash flow and budgetary stress
  • Ensuring productivity
  • Continuing your digital transformation

Please know that it’s not too late to purchase and implement an MES solution. Yes, whatever ramp up you’ve done so far would’ve been much easier, but it’s still a very valuable (and affordable) tool to get your manufacturing where you want it to be long-term.

Plus, who knows when the next emergency may force another shutdown? Be as ready as you can possibly be with an MES solution. To help you achieve quality excellence and manufacturing efficiency, consider PINpoint’s V5 MES solution. Contact us to arrange a demo!

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