A Simple Smart Factory Solution to Keep Your Production Running During COVID-19

by Tanja Rauniaho-Mitchell | Aug 10, 2020

Factory manager remote working

COVID-19 made working from home and digital collaboration new norms in enterprises. But, in factories and processing plants, remote working is not as easy to arrange. Because of the pandemic’s lengthened impact, you must hurry up to enable your organization and facilities with new, flexible ways of working to keep your production with a simple, smart factory approach. As  a result, this will minimize your losses.

Why does COVID-19 hit so hard on manufacturing and processing?

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, thousands of suppliers, manufacturers, and their customers have suffered material losses. Productions and shipments slowed down and even stopped.

But, we’ve seen epidemics, pandemics, and other global disruptions several times before. What’s so different this time around?

Earlier global disruptions affected only specific, typically off shored manufacturing parts of the supply chains in Asia. This signaled damages upstream, hit manufacturers and companies elsewhere, eventually stopped productions, and canceled shipments globally.

COVID-19, however, is the first pandemic, which directly and simultaneously has impacted multiple parts of the supply chains globally. The unthinkable has become a reality for many manufacturers and processing companies.  Manufacturers had to close down primary plants, and this impacted the alternative back-up plants and suppliers.

How lock-downs affected factories and plants?

Why did the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic hit industrial companies so hard? It wasn’t just the halted production lines; it was the simultaneous staff lock-downs, measures of social distancing, and other employee safety procedures.

Manufacturing and processing require people to be on-site physically. Operators keep an eye open and run machines, while maintenance staff maintains and repairs them. Many factories are not designed to be managed remotely and therefore lack the digital tools and infrastructure needed to support such activities. Consequently, according to Gartner, up to 50 percent of the production workforce has been unavailable during the pandemic.

For the first time in manufacturing history – demand, supply, and workforce availability are affected simultaneously!

The simple smart factory solution to keep your production running during COVID-19

Here’s a three-step Smart Factory approach to digitalize manufacturing and processes and provide your organization with tools that enable flexible remote working and seamless virtual collaboration.

What is the major hurdle to the success of digitalized manufacturing and processing? Quite simply, it is the obstacle of data silos.  Many manufacturers (including you?) have the first-hand experience of working in a siloed organization. The first step of turning a factory or plant pandemic-proof is to tear down the data silos!

Integrate data to enable end-to-end visibility

There are several stakeholders involved in each industrial organization: from procurement to material planning, production planning, sales, finance, fulfillment, and more. These teams are working in their own silos; they have siloed processes, databases, systems, and dashboards. While these might work individually, the systems do not communicate well across department borders. The production machines generate massive amounts of valuable data, also. However, this data is very difficult to collect due to the various machine-specific formats and interfaces.

This has resulted in leaving all important data in their own, isolated silos. That makes it difficult to correlate, cross-reference, combine, or harmonize data to given an important end-to-end view of the manufacturing process, inventories, and material flows.

Tear down the walls of data silos


Siloed data


Start by gaining access to the data residing in the silos – i.e., production machines, systems, and other departments. This data, which is in different formats needs harmonization, integration and analyzing. Only then it is available for various application use, such as a digital twin, or a performance monitoring platform.

In practice, this involves connecting machines and core systems – such as ERP, MES, PLM, and automation systems via a purpose-built smart factory analytics layer. This handles the continuous stream of data that your machines and systems are generating. It collects, integrates and analyzes all structured and unstructured data from an unlimited number of sources.

By integrating the disparate data points, you can generate valuable insights. The ERP systems tells operators the inventory levels and delivery lead times; MESs tracks and manages manufacturing information in real-time to provide information gems about traceability and performance; and the PLM systems includes all the information, related to a specific product, from concept to production.

Once all data is merged, a manufacturer can then gain a solid foundation for optimal digitalization. This includes production line automation and robotization, allowing management to have full control over the manufacturing processes, even if they are working remotely. This will also allow maintenance needs predictions and better management.

RELATED: Break Down Data Silos to Increase Efficiency

Facilitate virtual collaboration via a factory digital twin

It is clear that the “new normal” will require smarter ways of working, and also a higher degree of digitalization in manufacturing – such as a “virtual shift” – a team of specialists who connect remotely to be available 24/7 to supervise processes, guide and support the reduced personnel present on-site.

But how can the virtual and physical shifts collaborate efficiently?

If the teams can see the production area, lines, and machines on a visual, online 3D digital twin, collaboration becomes easy. The digital twin factory is based on real-time data, and it shows what is happening in the “real” factory, either on a specific line, or a machine at any given moment – so that operators and management can make fact-based decisions.

Real-Time data mapped to 3D object


Enable remote, real-time process monitoring through performance dashboards

Can managers and supervisors keep an eye on the processes when locked-down at home?

They can. It works by working with role-based performance dashboards, which collect data from all data sources and display it on a single intuitive view.

Managers can monitor the production KPIs e.g., net run time, yield, first-pass yield, and DPMO (defects per million opportunities), and compare these against set targets in real-time. Supervisors have end-to-end visibility of the inventories, machines, and processes via performance dashboards, and can continuously optimize material flows.

Digitalization makes manufacturing more resilient against severe disruptions by facilitating flexible ways of working. New manufacturing tools can include digital twins, remote diagnostics, preventive maintenance, predictive analytics, virtual collaboration, and more.

Performance Dashboard


In conclusion

COVID-19 has pointed out hard lessons to manufacturers and processing companies. We now realize that production is highly networked – and components and raw materials are sourced from all over the world. It is no longer feasible to keep factories and plants dependent on staff being physically on-site.

Luckily, Smart Factory solutions exist to kick-off transformation towards more flexible ways of working! Contact Elisa IndustrIQ

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Webinar: How To Optimize Material Flow To Gain Competitive Advantage?


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