From empty shop floors due to broken supply chains, to massive reductions in workforce due to social distancing rules, the COVID19 pandemic has thrown manufacturers into uncertainty. While some are struggling to survive, others are overwhelmed with orders they can't fulfill. However, one thing that is critical to know is that the digitalization process doesn't and shouldn't need to stop, but instead should dramatically increase.
It takes two to tango
The fundamental duo to succeed in shop floor digitalization are the solutions and the people. You can have the world's best software and hardware running in a facility but completely fail the implementation and upkeep if people across the company aren't adopting it. Likewise you may have the perfect team tracing, monitoring and controlling production but with a poor solution the efficiency and productivity will be terrible.
Downtime in production gives you the opportunity to dig into these two components carefully. On the software/hardware front, find time to research, trial and deploy solutions that are cost effective or free. Truly understand the pros/cons of different solutions and ensure you find toolsets that are flexible and can adapt to your shop floor operations. Don't pay yet! Find solutions that can be trialed, tested, configured remotely or by just one or two people. The best solutions in both software and hardware don't require an army of people to setup/run. This downtime is the best period to test if vendors can provide truly flexible solutions that are cost effective and scalable, and if it can be done at little to no cost.
When it comes to people and the team, what better time to drive change management when the shop floor has slowed down. Don't let people's time go to waste when they're home. Focus on structuring digital solutions training remotely. Test out solutions at home from IIoT sensors to digitalization tools to go paperless on the production floor. Search for digital checklists, metrics, recording systems or ask folks to start learning how to build their own using free tools (like Arcstone's arc.lite MES!), run exercises and scenarios of how to get folks involved in researching and finding new tools they'll want to use. It's easy to come up with friendly competitions for those engineers, operations, and workers at home to design/find the best productivity, efficiency, quality control tools and announce the winners each month for the best digital toolsets.
Enabling remote management
The light at the end of the tunnel for COVID19 is a tricky one to see and can be shifted/delayed at any time. However, one thing is certain and that is the need for remote monitoring and oversight will be critical. This is not just for one's own shop floor, but also the shop floors of other plants and also just as critical, of the suppliers.
Travel restrictions and social distancing regulations have made it extremely difficult for management teams to properly oversee not just remote shop floors but also their local ones. The need for all data to be digitized and accessible anywhere is critical to catch errors, productivity decreases and utilization issues rapidly. Being able to physically check and inspect products/processes has become very difficult, if not legally impossible in many cases. Without the right digital toolsets, management is essentially blind to what's happening on the shop floor.
This visibility should not be limited to just a company's own facilities. What COVID19 has shown is that even if your shop floor is legally able to run at full capacity, you may not have the parts/raw materials to produce! Having real-time digital data from your suppliers becomes that much more critical in planning, coordinating and managing the shop floor. Extending capabilities to oversee not just your immediate suppliers but also the sub-suppliers down the n-th power is just as important as it only takes a few weak links in the chain to break the whole system down. Ensuring you and your suppliers are fully digital and transparent on your orders is an ever growing necessity to prevent a shop floor full of workers with nothing to do.
Future proof now before it's too late
Regardless of how the "new norm" will look post COVID19, this catastrophic event has shown that digitalization is no longer a nice to have. It has become a necessity when it comes to being able to properly operate in high uncertainty. It's simply not financially nor optimally possible to run efficiently without toolsets that bring transparency and rapid coordination with real-time decision making capabilities. So don't let this downtime go to waste. You might be fighting fires left and right but don't let digitalization fall to the wayside as it will be a differentiating factor in sustainability and profitability sooner than you think.
Therefore, plan for the worst and hope for the best. Maximize this downtime to prepare your digital foundation for whatever may come down the road. In the meantime, stay safe, healthy and digitalize!