Running a factory working from home

July 9, 2020
Running a factory working from home
We are all living difficult times right now, no matter where you are based. There is too much uncertainty about work and life in general, and it doesn't seem to change in a short period of time. Everyone is afraid of losing their job, but there are some sectors that keep their operation up and running even when the economy is collapsing.
Factories are one of those strong fields where lack of work might not be a problem - or at least not as much as other sectors. Of course it depends on the products manufactured inside the facilities but, generally speaking, factories are quite robust during the crisis. Flexibility and adaptation capacity play a huge role in their success. This is not only my point of view. Please have a look at this video from CNBC.
For those lucky enough to work in this industry, not being physically in the facilities can be overwhelming. Let's face it, when you’re in a factory, you spend a huge chunk of your time with the workers, or in meetings with other departments, or on the factory floor checking the products. It’s one of those professions where it’s normal not being 100% of the working hours sitting on the chair. As of the date of this writing, many employees are being forced to work from home.
In order to keep the operations running smoothly, all these daily interactions have been replaced by emails, calls and video conferences. However, for those workers still in the factory, communication had to take another channel. Below some ideas that any production manager could implement for improving the factory workflow:
Digital boards are a great resource for production planning. They allow you to track information in real-time of any issue that might appear in the units. The entire production floor can be mapped inside these boards, and you can have control on where the units are located, which worker is on which station, or what material is missing. Every change is recorded in the log and there are a lot of visual alerts whenever a change is made. Information is not lost on a piece of paper any more. This is the closest of having control of production on the palm of your hand.
Online working instructions are another useful tool for manufacturing. In many factories paper is still used for training the workers. This creates a huge waste of paper, ink and time for the person physically delivering the instructions one by one. Instead, work instructions can be embedded in an app, where any change is tracked and updated in real-time. Visual content is very important when creating instructions, so self-explanatory videos can also be added.
Quality sheets can be also replaced by digital forms. Not having any failure in the units is really difficult, but it can be minimized as much as possible using a final quality control. When having this procedure implemented, the quality inspector could take pictures of the accessories in the unit, check the customer requirements and put some notes about last-minute-changes. All this information is sent to the cloud, where data analysis can be performed in order to avoid future problems.
Lastly, any worker would benefit from having everything organized in one place, in an user-friendly environment. bases and visual management can help us boost our productivity. Item number, pictures of the product, location in the warehouse. All this data can be retrieved from one app, so that the workers don’t waste time looking for material. This data would also be useful for the purchase manager, for identifying material needs.
It’s not new that we’re witnessing a complete paradigm shift where everything goes digital, like it or not, and there has never been better time to do so. Factories need to adapt quickly to this new format if they want to survive. Small changes. Big wins.