COVID-19 has revolutionised all our lives. The next big challenge that the manufacturing sector faces is getting employees back to work, safely, and kick-starting production. Here George Walker, managing director of industrial automation specialist Novotek, explains the role digitisation can play in getting manufacturers back to pre-pandemic production levels while also keeping their workers safe and complying with the Government’s guidelines for social distancing.
A Deloitte global survey from June 2019 shows that although 94 per cent of executives in industrial companies consider digital transformation a top priority, only 14 per cent believe their factories are ready to make the changes needed.
The events of the last few months, however, could be the catalyst that convinces many to take the plunge and invest in digitisation. As the manufacturing sector begins to operate in what is set to be the new industrial normal, technologies such as the Industrial Internet of Things (IoT), Robotics and Augmented Reality will play a key role in getting productivity back on track and keeping workers safe and well.
Connectivity is the key
A sharp rise in people working at home has created a boom in collaborative online platforms that facilitate remote working, which has been of particular benefit to those working in offices rather than in production facilities. However, implementing a range of technology tools can enable industrial plant managers to remotely operate, monitor and control equipment efficiently, effectively and above all else, safely.
The IIoT allows electronic devices in factories to connect so plant managers and engineers can collect and analyse real-time data on the performance of individual machines. In the 1980s, Novotek revolutionized the automation industry with the introduction of its PC-based supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA).
Built-in cameras and sensors enable the equipment to send signals to the SCADA system through Remote Terminal Units (RTU) and Programmable Logic Controllers (PLC). This data enables the SCADA system to pinpoint anomalies in system functions, alerting the user that action needs to be taken to resolve the problem.
The data can also be used in a predictive way which can help with operational planning for the workforce, which could prove of vitally important for those plants working with a reduced workforce. Regular analysis of the data over a period of time can enable plant operators to predict any anomalies, avoiding people staying in that specific area and comply with social distancing measures.
Working from home has become the new normal even now that the measures are less restricted than during the full lockdown.
With fewer people on site, Novotek UK recommends remote assistance technology with augmented reality like Vuforia Chalk. This can help staff to collaborate from anywhere in the world, maintaining high levels of productivity, reducing costs and avoiding unnecessary trips.
Using Vuforia Chalk, an engineer can quite literally be on the other side of the world and able to fully support technicians in the factory to address an issue. The easy to use app allows experts to draw in augmented reality on the other user’s device, helping guide them through troubleshooting and maintenance among other uses. When the user moves around, the markings move too, allowing teams to solve complex problems despite the physical distance.
Automation, augmented reality, and AI are all technologies that can make the process inside a factory much easier and safer not just during a pandemic. Perhaps one of the most important lesson of COVID-19 is that we can get back to normal and with the right technologies, we can make plants more productive in the long term, without wasting time.