Making COVID-safe Manufacturing Work
Back in late March, the Prime Minister’s announcement that manufacturing workers were considered key operatives and would be allowed to return to work on-site while maintaining social distancing, threw this multi-billion-pound industry a critical lifeline.
In fact, UK manufacturing output expanded at the fastest rate for more than six years in August, as companies restarted operations following the pandemic, according to the IHS Markit/CIPS manufacturing purchasing managers’ index (PMI). It recorded a score of 55.2 in August, from 53.3 in July. Anything above 50 is considered an expansion.
However, this optimism does not reflect the continued job cuts and poor performance of some key sectors such as UK car production, which declined 44.6% in August with just 51,039 units rolling off factory lines. With UK manufacturing employing some 2.7 million people and accounting for around 45% of total exports, according to Make UK, keeping the wheels of manufacturing turning is critical to the UK’s recovery.
With staff in other sectors being told to work from home where possible in the current second lockdown, manufacturing companies are exploring new ways to keep people on-site and safe, especially as we head deep into winter.
Social distancing and geozones
Technology has an important role to play in delivering a safe work environment, but the introduction of the national track and trace app has not gone smoothly and it does not address all the challenges of running a manufacturing site. That’s where new mobile mesh technology could offer a solution to help ensure social distancing and provide better location-aware alerts and safety information, while making it possible to create virtual geozones for managing access to sites, zones, buildings, warehouses and depots, for example.
A mobile mesh harnesses the power of peoples’ mobile devices by connecting smartphones directly to other smartphones and other internet connected devices without the need for cellular 4G/5G or Wi-Fi. Data simply finds the quickest and easiest route by hopping between phones, powered by existing or new manufacturing company branded mobile apps, which all site workers, contractors and visitors would be required to download. This is particularly useful in remote locations, underground or other sites where there are connectivity challenges.
Each smartphone can connect with up to six other devices within range and each of those six other devices can connect to up to another six devices, and so on, creating a mass expansive, robust and self-healing resilient mesh network through multi-hop routing. This means that site managers can send real-time messages and notifications to all people on site to provide up-to-date advice and guidance, to remind people to wear face masks as well as safety clothing, eye protection, ear defenders or hard hats, for example.
One of the other key innovations around mobile mesh technology is the ability to create virtual geozones around complete factory sites or buildings as well as more physically dangerous or restricted areas. And by creating personal one or two metre geozones around individual staff, contractors or site visitors – or more specifically their smartphones – this opens up a wide range of applications, previously not possible.
For example, the mesh network can provide digital access management, while the analysis of data and the use of graphical ‘heat maps’ to provide visualisation of patterns of movement on-site, can also be used to make informed decisions on routing, work practices and social distancing to avoid unintentional close contact. And by integrating a mesh network of smartphones and connected devices, administrators can better manage and understand the effectiveness of practical measures such as hand washing and hand sanitising.
Individuals can get automatic alerts if they are breaking social distancing rules. And critically, dependent on a firm’s policy and privacy laws, if anyone develops COVID-19 symptoms or is tested positive, the system can be used to notify those who have been in close contact so they can self-isolate or get tested.
Data security and privacy are paramount, so importantly, all data is fully anonymised and only smartphones with the app installed that are inside the geozone are meshed together. As the smartphone leaves the geozone, it is automatically disconnected.
As well as providing a valuable solution to safe on-site operations, the new mesh technology can also help to improve site efficiency, productivity and traceability. The mesh technology was originally designed for applications such as major sporting events, music festivals, retail centres and transport hubs for the purpose of sharing personalised, location-aware information. But when the pandemic hit, it quickly became clear that the technology could also play a vital role in helping get sections of the economy get back to work.
Canoo Awards Manufacturing Contract to VDL Nedcar
Canoo, a trailblazing company in the electric vehicle (EVs) manufacturing industry, has officially announced owned and contract manufacturing plans that will ensure the company manages to deliver on its promise to consumers of production and delivery of vehicles in Q4, 2022.
During the company’s first Investor Relations Day, Chairman & CEO of Canoo, Tony Aquila, named VDL Nedcar as its contract manufacturing partner. VDL Nedcar, which I’m sure many of you will already have heard of, is the only independent Vehicle Contract Manufacturer in the Netherlands and has enjoyed fifty years of growth under owners, including Mitsubishi Motors and Volvo cars. According to the report, Nedcar will manufacture the Lifestyle Vehicle for the United States and European Union markets, while Canoo builds a US-based mega micro-factory.
"We conducted an exhaustive search, invested significant amounts of time and resources that span the globe, in our search for our Phase 1 contract manufacturer. VDL Nedcar is the right partner," said Tony Aquila, Investor, Chairman and CEO of Canoo, Inc. "They are the top trusted European manufacturer building high-quality products for leading OEMs, and they significantly outcompeted the other contenders. VDL is also independently owned by the van der Leegte family of entrepreneurs - which aligns with our commitment to support businesses that form the backbone of communities. This strategic partnership will enable us to deliver vehicles to market while we build our Phase 2 factory in Oklahoma. It also strongly positions us for geographic expansion in Europe and builds a lasting relationship with VDL Groep of companies. Our investment will help us scale quickly and fulfil our mission to bring affordable, purpose-built EVs to Everyone."
Canoo and VDL have already gotten to work on vehicle manufacturability and production planning so that Canoo can successfully lay the groundwork for its upcoming US manufacturing operations expansion, which will be completed in Oklahoma in 2022. The Nedcar facility currently expected to produce around 1000 units for both the US and European markets in 2022, with an additional 15000 targeted for the following year.
"Canoo's bold approach to designing and building electric vehicles makes them an ideal partner as we work together to shape the future of mobility," said John van Soerland, CEO of VDL Nedcar. "This partnership advances our strategic vision to provide a contract manufacturing solution and expand our expertise in the EV arena."
Currently, Canoo is entering its GAMMA phase of development and is on track to start production soon. The company intends and expects to launch its Lifestyle Vehicle in Q4 2022, closely followed by the Multi-Purpose Delivery Vehicle and Pickup Truck.
Watch this space.