Social distancing round up – how we’re seeing factories manage Covid-19

UK Manufacturing guidelines, sharing best practise with the community

During this unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic there have been wide ranging impacts to the different sectors of manufacturing; from diversifying products to serve new markets, to closing down production, to managing surges in demand. With new government guidelines on maintaining social distance to factor in as well, the team at Simsol are sharing practical considerations to help the manufacturing community share ideas and operate responsibly during Covid-19.

This round up is based on insights from Simsol’s clients across industries, manufacturing news and official government guidance from the time of publishing (16/4/20). The intention is to update this guide as and when guidelines are updated to provide a helpful resource, whether you are:

  • Looking at how to optimally continue operations in line with guidance, or
  • Planning how to get operations up and running again after a shut down.

Any further innovations or suggestions around social distancing can be incorporated into this resource to keep building awareness around tackling the new challenges for manufacturing operations. As you’ll see, simple actions make the difference, so please feel free to share any tips from your operations in the comments to help other practitioners in the manufacturing community.

Social distancing guidelines for manufacturers during Covid-19

At the time of publishing (16/4/20) UK government guidelines acknowledge that manufacturing ‘can be done in accordance with the social distancing guidelines wherever possible’ with workers ‘staying 2 meters apart as much as possible’. There hasn’t been an indication of how long this guidance will be in place for, but the consensus gathered from planners seemed to be that teams are working on the assumption of taking this approach for the rest of the year at least.

Unite, Britain and Irelands largest worker union, has called for more rigorous measures from the UK government in making the 2 meter distancing a rule, as the Welsh government have already implemented. This follows a walk out of 1,000 workers at Moy Park, a major poultry plant in Northern Ireland, reported by Unite about concerns for health and safety.

So as the manufacturing adapts, this round up shares operational considerations to help protect workers and meet social distancing guidelines.

Managing skeleton teams of operatives with social distancing

The first approach is to reduce teams down to the minimum number of workers required for production. We are seeing many operations managing with skeleton teams during this period of uncertainty, although appreciate it is not always possible to reduce staff in industries facing high demands at this time, such as food and beverages. Another approach can be to review the use of any automation in the factory to see if this may be repurposed to deliver more value under the adjusted working conditions. If you’re looking for production data to validate the most efficient use of your automation, Simsol can provide specialist support using Process Simulate simulation software from Siemens Digital Industries.

Other practical actions to maintain safety in skeleton teams include:

  • Keeping skeleton staff in separate staffing teams (cohorting) to limit interaction,
  • Review timings of breaks and shifts, stagger to avoid gatherings,
  • Where required to work in spaces nearby one another, face to face layouts should be revisited to instead work side by side or back to back where possible,
  • Increasing cleaning by encouraging workers to wash hands often, as well as revising the schedule for equipment and site cleaning.

Members of staff working between two-metre wide designated work stations on a car assembly line at the Vauxhall car factory during preparedness tests and redesign ahead of re-opening. Image shared from Coronavirus UK Live, The Guardian.

Reviewing flow of workers throughout the factory layout

Manufacturers are under pressure to look at how workers move through the factory enables management to prioritise areas where key activities take place and implement measures to avoid gathering. Whilst this can be extra work for management at an already under pressure time, by communicating clearly with workers, making health and safety information clear throughout the site, organisations can build trust with teams. Simsol help manufacturers create and test an overview of all factory processes visually using Plant Simulation, testing planning and scheduling scenarios with OPCenter APS (formerly Preactor). Some of the actions we are seeing getting trialled during Covid-19 include:

  • Making factory zones extra clear – using colour coding which is already commonplace in some industries, communicating the importance of avoiding operatives or equipment moving between different areas,
  • Using screens to separate walkways and work areas, as well as floor markings to direct flow have been quick wins for determining routes across site whilst visually reminding of social distance,
  • Utilising extra entrances and exits, both in and out, as well as between zones of the factory, this ties in with measures to distance the different teams onsite.
  • Restructuring canteen and break areas, rearranging tables with 2 meters distance and limiting one person per table. Temporary tables can also be added.

Gathering production data to validate safety, compliance and effectiveness on the factory floor

Being able to quantify process changes, their compliance and efficiency can be timely and complex under normal circumstances. The implications of Covid-19 makes it even harder to measure and quantify these changes with fewer staff and many working remotely from the factory. The top questions we have been helping customers with during Covid-19 are:

  • How will social distancing impact processes?
  • How can tasks on a line be redesigned in order to comply with social distancing or removing people from certain situations?
  • How does that impact on overall flow and how does changing the way people move around a facility impact throughput, such as one way systems, waiting to enter an area, etc?
  • How to make best use of the workforce available with the most efficient schedule?

A digital twin, an exact replica of your operation in the virtual world, gives you the power to assess these changes before they are implemented, set key performance indicators to monitor in the real world and to refine the solution away from the factory. As smart expert partners of Siemens digital industries, Simsol helps manufacturers create and run digital twins of their operations, enabling the testing of unlimited variations in an environment with no risk and creating dynamic data sources to answer questions like those above and more.

Did we miss anything? Share your social distancing manufacturing tips

To support the manufacturing engineering community, the team at Simsol are keen to share practises to help with problem solving during social distancing times. Please do share any tips to keep the improvements coming and sharing learnings. As the Simsol team continue to be fully operational in supporting manufacturers adapting production and finding new ways to meet changing demands, we are always happy to chat about problem solving and share insights to improve processes. If you’d like to talk about your challenges during Covid-19, fill in your details below and a member of the team will get in touch.

If you'd like to chat about adapting manufacturing processes, get in touch