Using Data to Safely Reopen Manufacturing Facilities

Balancing safety and profitability is equal parts intimidating and essential.

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As COVID-19 restrictions begin to lift, manufacturers have a challenging task ahead of them. Facilities must resume work to stay afloat and keep workers employed, but they must do so without jeopardizing their employees' health. Balancing the two is equal parts intimidating and essential, so manufacturers must proceed with caution.

According to the United Auto Workers (UAW) union, at least 27 UAW members have died of COVID-19 since March. If manufacturing facilities are going to reopen, they need to ensure that they do so safely. Thankfully, modern data tools can provide the help manufacturers need for safe reopening. Here's a closer look at how manufacturers can use data to restart safely.

Risk Assessment, Modeling and Contact Tracing

Manufacturing is no stranger to using data analytics to assess the efficacy of their processes. Facilities can use the same predictive analytics techniques to determine what COVID-related risks they might encounter. Since every facility is different, each one will have unique needs, and data can reveal what these are.

Manufacturers can gather data on factors like local infection rates and their facility's capacity. They can then assess how safe it is to proceed with reopening, as well as what in-building risks they need to address. Analytics can reveal things like high-contact surfaces or close quarters that may require further attention.

Once manufacturers identify their risks, they can use data to establish new protocols for addressing them. Some companies like Siemens have developed software to simulate working conditions so they can see how to improve. Using a digital twin of the workspace, they can see how different workflows and operations could impact worker safety.

After establishing new systems, facilities can use data to ensure that they work. Data science company Cognize launched an AI-based system that uses multiple sensors to see if workers are complying with new protocols. A network of cameras and biometric sensors senses if workers are social distancing or wearing masks, and alerts managers if they're not.

If an employee contracts the virus, facilities need to do everything in their power to ensure it doesn't spread. Some areas have government contact tracing programs, but manufacturers can use data to do it themselves too. The more data points there are throughout an employee's workday, the more effective contact tracing efforts can be.

Facilities can use technology like RFID-equipped badges to gather data on employees' movements during the shift. This data can show where a worker was throughout the day and who else was in the same proximity at that time. That way, managers can then tell any employees who might've had contact with the carrier to quarantine or get tested.

Profit and Safety

Profit and safety may not always go hand-in-hand, but if a business can't make money, then it can't pay its employees. Consequently, manufacturers need to ensure they maximize gains to support their workers economically. Many facilities already have data-gathering tools that can help reduce waste and increase profits.

Since more than 40 percent of U.S. energy goes toward building operations, facilities need to pay attention to their utilities. IoT sensors in HVAC systems and other areas can ensure that buildings only use the energy they need. By reducing waste through these data tools, businesses can boost their earnings and stay above water.

The prospect of reopening a manufacturing facility amid a pandemic can undoubtedly be an uncomfortable one. Despite the challenges, though, manufacturers don't have to put their employees' health at risk to give them back their jobs. With modern tools like data analytics, they can reopen safely.


Emily covers topics in manufacturing and environmental technology. You can follow her blog, Conservation Folks, or her Twitter to get the latest updates.

 

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