In recent months, the COVID-19 pandemic has profoundly altered our lifestyles and work routines. Presently, organisations across various sectors are compelled to abandon conventional methods and explore new ways of operating to ensure their continuity, with many turning to technology for viable solutions.
Whether it involves implementing new systems to facilitate remote work, transitioning to online collaboration tools such as Zoom, WebEx, Skype, and Microsoft Teams, or establishing ecommerce platforms to sustain operations, the reliance on technology and connectivity has been pivotal in maintaining momentum.
For those in the manufacturing sector, the option of working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t feasible. However, conducting business as usual in the current environment poses its own set of challenges, especially for those involved in producing essential items like food and beverages, pharmaceuticals, and medical devices, where demand has reached unprecedented levels.
The question arises: How can manufacturers ensure the continuous functioning of their production lines while prioritising the health and safety of their frontline workers? One answer lies in advancing towards the factory of the future, specifically by embracing integration and automation in manufacturing operations.
In this blog, we engage in a conversation with Adem Kulauzovic, Director of Coding Automation at Domino, to explore the relevance of Industry 4.0 in the era of COVID-19. We also highlight various ways in which integrated systems, connected devices, and automated processes can alleviate production challenges during the ongoing pandemic.
Alleviate Employee Stress
To maintain operations amid the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses must ensure the well-being of their workforce, and there has been extensive discussion in recent months about reducing worker stress and promoting good mental health.
As people around the world adapt to new work environments, employers bear the responsibility of ensuring the happiness and health of their personnel.
“Many individuals find working from home stressful due to the adjustment to a new environment and a different way of working,” says Kulauzovic. “The same holds true for workers on the factory floor, where social distancing measures, new shift patterns, and processes add extra stress during already challenging times.”
Production line work is inherently stressful, especially when tasks involve manual code entry or repetitive, small actions. While these tasks are crucial to business, they can be mentally fatiguing and prone to operator errors.
Manufacturers can alleviate stress and reduce the risk of production errors by automating routine, business-critical processes through integration and automation. Employing Industry 4.0 in this manner can also benefit manufacturers facing staff shortages due to illness, quarantine, or self-isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In times of increased staff sickness, the first response is to seek additional help or bring in temporary workers to support the remaining staff,” says Kulauzovic. “Many businesses are doing this now, but they lack the time or capacity to provide the same level of training or assistance as they would in normal circumstances.”
“By automating routine tasks and streamlining processes, manufacturers can facilitate the entry of new personnel and offer support when needed,” he adds. “Providing simplicity can significantly enhance the manageability of ongoing operations during this challenging period.”
Manufacturing Automation Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic
Before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the primary motivations behind Industry 4.0 were centered on gaining a competitive edge through integration, automation, and leveraging big data, leading to reduced costs and heightened productivity.
Presently, the technology and its advantages remain consistent, but the emphasis has shifted towards adaptation. Industry 4.0 revolves around cutting-edge technology, embedded sensors, and, crucially, connectivity among machines, individuals, and locations. The impact of social distancing on the ability of workers to interact on the production floor underscores the potential of connectivity as a powerful tool for manufacturers, enabling them to maintain production flow while ensuring the ongoing safety of their staff.
By employing Industry 4.0 processes and automating systems to operate with minimal operator involvement, manufacturers can decrease the workforce required on the plant floor. Integration of plant machinery and cloud utilization can offer remote visibility and operation, allowing managers to work away from the line while staying informed about all production activities.
“Many of Domino’s customers are exploring ways to leverage automation in manufacturing to reduce the reliance on manual intervention, thereby lowering the number of team members needed on-site at any given time,” says Kulauzovic. “The fewer people present in the plant, the more effectively we can prevent the spread of disease and ensure the safety of workers.”
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, 54% of new production lines in the US were being configured for automation or control by programmable logic controllers. Given the challenges posed by COVID-19, this figure is anticipated to rise. There are even suggestions that the field of electronics manufacturing could experience the equivalent of five years’ worth of development in the next 18 months, all due to production challenges triggered by the pandemic.
Working from home
“Across the globe, individuals capable of working from home are being encouraged to do so,” states Kulauzovic. “If your current job doesn’t permit remote work, there might be a solution involving automation or the cloud that could facilitate this.”
For instance, sharing manufacturing data on the cloud could enable a maintenance manager to work remotely, monitoring machinery and only visiting the site when absolutely necessary to address an issue.
Domino printers, featuring the Domino Cloud Interface, can send performance information to the Domino Cloud. This data can be remotely accessed by customers and Domino Helpdesk staff, allowing for the monitoring of machine functionality and the execution of predictive maintenance tasks as needed to keep printers operational or troubleshoot issues as they arise.
Similarly, automating straightforward yet crucial processes like data entry, information distribution, and product changeovers can reduce the need for manual workers on a production line. Implementing solutions to oversee production from a central location, such as a single computer or home office, permits the reduction of workforce numbers to essential staff required for machinery operation.
By automating systems, overseeing processes, and addressing issues remotely, it becomes possible to maintain a secure environment for frontline workers, consequently supporting continued productivity during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dispelling the Myth of Automation
A prevalent misconception about Industry 4.0 and automation is the belief that it’s an all-or-nothing scenario. In the current circumstances, manufacturers not presently equipped for full automation might feel powerless to enhance their processes, thinking that by not adopting Industry 4.0 practices before the crisis, they’ve missed the opportunity.
“It doesn’t have to be that way,” asserts Kulauzovic. “There are incremental steps you can take, stages of progress that can be beneficial in these challenging times – you don’t need a fully automated solution to enjoy the advantages.”
From a coding and marking standpoint, there are minor processes and concepts that either partially automate or simplify an operator’s tasks while working on a production line with reduced staff or an increased workload.
Linking printers together using coding automation software, like Domino QuickDesign, allows production line staff to populate product labels and manage their distribution across multiple printers. This simple adjustment enables staff to oversee label distribution centrally, thereby reducing the number of workers needed to manage coding processes across a production line.
By applying IoT methodology, this can be extended to coding solutions automatically filling label templates from a central database – eliminating the need for manual data entry on a production line.
“The addition of a barcode scanner can allow an operator to automatically populate a label by scanning a production order barcode,” explains Kulauzovic. “By incorporating these small processes, you may not fully automate the system, but you are streamlining the process and lightening the overall workload for staff on the line.”
Get Ready for What Lies Ahead
In the lead-up to the COVID-19 pandemic, the concept of Industry 4.0 was gaining momentum as a contemporary phenomenon, extending beyond the vision of the future factory to become a system of ideas and processes that manufacturers could employ in the present to stay competitive and optimize their manufacturing operations.
“It’s during times like this that issues in production processes become evident,” notes Kulauzovic. “By sustaining production during a crisis, you can readily identify the areas within a business or a specific production line that need the most improvement and implement small fixes to address these issues at a micro-level.”
“By pinpointing areas with bottlenecks – such as during product changeover, for instance – and introducing straightforward automated solutions to streamline processes, you can quickly begin to realize the benefits of automation,” he continues. “Start with small implementations on a micro-level, and the enhancements will help justify the introduction of additional automation down the line.”
By considering coding automation options today, manufacturers can not only tackle issues on production lines arising from the COVID-19 pandemic but also position themselves well to prepare for potential future crises.
Speak With our Team
As we navigate through these challenging times, it is evident that the usual way of doing business has changed. The COVID-19 pandemic underscores the necessity of contemplating new efficiencies, adopting innovative technology, and embracing novel business approaches to ensure ongoing operation both now and in the future.
Manufacturers who had taken measures to automate their production lines before the COVID-19 outbreak might have found it more straightforward to adjust their processes and maintain production during the current pandemic. Conversely, others may have had to depart from traditional methods to keep their operations running and safeguard the well-being of their staff.
Regardless of where you stand in this journey, there has never been a more opportune moment to incorporate automation to safeguard your workforce, business, and commercial prospects.
If your production lines still rely on traditional manual processes or if you are already exploring automation options and wish to learn more about the advantages of Industry 4.0, please reach out to us.
At Codico, we possess extensive experience in coding automation, and our global experts are ready to assist you in overcoming the challenges posed by the current crisis.
No matter where you are in your journey, Codico is here to provide support. Whether you aim to safeguard your workforce, protect your business, or secure your commercial future, contact our experts today to discover how we can assist you.
 The Economist, “How to reopen factories after covid-19”, accessed 24th June 2020 https://www.economist.com/briefing/2020/04/07/how-to-reopen-factories-after-covid-19