How manufacturers can handle products safely post-COVID-19
The coronavirus pandemic has meant all businesses have had to rapidly develop new ways of working. As manufacturers begin to resume operations out of lockdown, they are returning to a new world — one where social distancing is the norm and everyone must take care in their interactions with others.
Duncan Brock, group director at the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply (CIPS), said: “Worries over safety for returning staff and repairs to broken supply chains will be uppermost in business minds and are obstacles to be overcome before real recovery can begin.” So how can manufacturers help staff return safely, while getting production back on track?
A change in behaviour
The way manufacturers interact with their colleagues, customers and suppliers is now dramatically different. From the small things like handshakes and greetings, to the decrease in physical and increase in virtual interactions, we are no longer able to build relationships in the same way.
As staff return to the workplace, manufacturers will have to change how they build trust — sales teams, for example, will have to build personal connections, without a physical presence. Many situations that would previously have called for people to meet face-to-face will continue online for months and maybe years to come.
The physical world
Because manufacturing deals with physical products, there are, of course, practical considerations, particularly where there is still a need for a person to attend a manufacturing site. From the installation of new technology, to the delivery of materials and the maintenance of equipment, we still require physical handling for many tasks. In TFC’s case, we supply physical bins to manage and monitor the flow of material — for this to happen, products have to be touched.
In cases where physical handling is unavoidable, all manual tasks now need to be done with the utmost attention to hygiene. This will mean new ways of installing equipment, handling deliveries and performing maintenance, to limit the number of pairs of hands and personal interaction involved.
A driver for flexibility
Manufacturers will therefore require new levels of flexibility from suppliers, who will have to adapt to each site’s rules and each business’ needs. If a third party attends a manufacturing site where rules are not well established, it can take the lead, taking responsibility for performing the work safely.
Working practices are certain to change. We may see a rise in the number of overnight installations of new equipment, as this is a simple but effective way to reduce the number of people crossing paths. For the same reason, we are likely to see a rise in modular construction and pre-assembly, rather than on-site.
Is technology the answer?
Just as technology means we can move our meetings into the digital world, it will be a key enabler for installation and maintenance going forward. Before the pandemic, a report by the Boston Consulting group (BCG) suggested that Britain could use technology to increase industrial efficiency by up to 25 per cent, seeing manufacturing sector growth of up to three per cent per year. Now, there is an even greater need.
There are numerous examples where technology will be a vital bridge between companies when designing and delivering new technology and systems to manufacturers. For example, TFC previously attended the manufacturing facilities of new customers for a site survey, so the team could assess material flow and learn about the needs of the business. The information would be used to design a VMI system, with the team then returning to the site to implement it. A new way of working is to use video technology to be virtually present, so manufacturers could walk us through their sites virtually and outside of typical working hours, without our team stepping through the door.
Virtual reality was already growing in popularity in engineering applications and could be a key tool for manufacturers looking to reduce the number of people on site for design, training, and maintenance purposes. Similarly, augmented reality technology could help manufacturers and technology providers to see how an installation will fit alongside current operations. There is also potential for digital twinning technology, where physical assets are mapped digitally and updated in real time, to give manufacturers more visibility without attending a site.
It would be a logical conclusion to draw that a reduction of human handling could mean an increase in the use of robots. The benefit of robotics in materials handling or processing are well established, but manufacturers typically grapple with return on investment. However, robots have long been used in harsh environments to improve safety — in our new world, robots may be another option to help staff avoid the invisible viral enemy.
While the Latin meaning describes manufacturing’s origins as a completely manual process, it could be technology that helps to overcome our obstacles as we re-enter the workplace after lockdown. However, it is in people, relationships, and trust that our industry will flourish. As manufacturers move many of their interactions from the physical into the virtual world, we should be more, not less, connected.
Timeline: Tesla's Construction of Gigafactories
Tesla's mission to accelerate the world's transition to sustainable energy
Founded in 2003, Tesla was established by a group of engineers with a drive to "prove that people didn’t need to compromise to drive electric – that electric vehicles can be better, quicker and more fun to drive than gasoline cars." Almost 20 years on, Tesla today is not only manufacturing all electric vehicles, but scaleable clean energy generation and storage too.
"Tesla believes the faster the world stops relying on fossil fuels and moves towards a zero-emission future, the better," says Tesla. "Electric cars, batteries, and renewable energy generation and storage already exist independently, but when combined, they become even more powerful – that’s the future we want. "
In order to deliver on its promise of "accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy through increasingly affordable electric vehicles and energy products," Tesla's Gigafactory journey began in 2014 to meet its produciton goals of 500,000 cars per year (a figure which would require the entire worlds supply of lithium-ion batteries at the time).
By ramping up its production and bringing it in-house, the cost of Tesla 's battery cells declined "through economies of scale, innovative manufacturing, reduction of waste, and the simple optimisation of locating most manufacturing processes under one roof." With this reduction in battery cost, "Tesla can make products available to more and more people, allowing us to make the biggest possible impact on transitioning the world to sustainable energy."
2014: Giga Nevada and Giga New York begin construction
Born out of necessity to meet its own supply demand for sustainable energy, Tesla began the construction of its first Gigafactory in June 2014, in Reno, Nevada, followed by its Buffalo, New York facility the same year. "By bringing cell production in-house, Tesla manufactures batteries at the volumes required to meet production goals, while creating thousands of jobs," said Tesla.
2016: Reno, Nevada grand opening
Tesla’s construction of Giga Nevada came to an end in 2016, the first of its Gigafactories to complete its construction project. The factory’s grand opening took place in July 2016, and by mid-2018 reached an annual battery production rate of 20 GWh, which made it the highest-volume battery plant in the world that year.
2017: Giga New York begins production
Two years after Tesla’s second Gigafactory began construction, Giga New York was complete, and started its production operations in 2017.
2019: Giga Shanghai construction to production in record time
In 2019, Tesla selected Shanghai as its third Gigafactory location. The company constructed the factory in record time, taking just 168 working days from gaining permits to finishing the plant's construction.
2019: Giga Berlin begins construction
Announced in November 2019, Tesla began the construction of its first European Gigafactory in Berlin. The Gigafactory is still under construction.
2020: Giga Texas begins construction
The following year in August 2020, Tesla began the construction of its Giga Texas factory. The company’s third Gigafactory in the US is still under construction.
2021: Giga Texas and Giga Berlin expected completion of construction
Looking to the future, Tesla expects to complete the construction of its Giga Texas and Giga Berlin factories in May 2021 and July 2021 respectively.