Many people wouldn’t think of remote working in the manufacturing industry. After all, human operators are still a key component in most manufacturing processes despite the addition of automation. When the Covid-19 pandemic first surprised the world, most workers immediately moved their work online – but this seemed impossible for manufacturing workers who are needed in the production line.
During the pandemic, most companies turned to virtual meetings and working from home to keep their businesses going, but most manufacturing plants simply were shut down. In this, the COVID-19 pandemic tackled a significant pain point between the manufacturing industry and the other industries. It is an industry that needs the presence of human beings -- often in close contact and in confined spaces.
The physical nature of the industry made the switch to remote work a challenge. Manufacturing is about the physical world wherein raw materials are converted by humans and machines into products. While many companies have automated processes, this would still require the physical presence of a human to work. Given this, the manufacturing industry needed to accelerate its digital transformations to give its workers a better way of switching to remote work.
Here are some of the ways remote work is changing the manufacturing industry:
The digital transformation of the manufacturing industry was accelerated because of the pandemic. But even before Covid-19, the manufacturers' vision of the future had been quickly evolving. They saw how smart technology and various data systems can lead to better and more productive work. Because of this, the industry already had plans to invest in new technologies in its production line.
Digitalization introduced new ways in which to work and raised expectations about productivity and innovation. Manufacturers can avoid downtimes on the shop floor, waste materials, and even improve overall work satisfaction. But more importantly, it gave manufacturer's the ability to improve their agility and responsiveness through the changing market. Automated solutions and processes enabled manufacturing companies to maximize the potential of remote work.
Cloud computing utilizes the internet to store software and information. This same technology can increase the productivity and efficiency of the processes within the production line. As long as there is an internet connection, cloud-based marketing, product development, productivity management and more are possible.
To give more context to this, cloud-based solutions like a Manufacturing Execution System (“MES”) can take charge of the production line and present real-time data to manufacturers through the cloud. With a centralized dashboard, companies can be informed of what is happening in their production line as long as they are connected to the internet. This can help them monitor their shop floor even if they are working remotely.
Several industries require complex work processes. New and inexperienced workers must be knowledgeable about the equipment they use. Remote collaboration software makes a better job of training senior technicians and supervisors. If companies want to train new employees, they must use the latest training tools to increase efficiency at all sites. Likewise, the system can divide large groups into smaller team members and provide effective and personal virtual training.
Not every employee of the industry is a "production worker". Those employees who are not doing production work can have remote roles that will help reduce administrative costs and create safer working conditions within production facilities. Using the 4.0 technology, engineers can learn more about the process of a plant and improve its quality of life.
Remote work in manufacturing helped teams have more effective collaboration. With fewer onsite workers, remote work highlights the need for real-time automated communication to ensure that the right people receive the information they need on time. This means having automated notifications and alerts for operators in case of trouble.
This will also highlight the need for autonomy of those onsite. As remote workers conduct their business, onsite workers should be given the highest value tasks to focus on. This helps them be more efficient in their work. With this, remote work is paving the way for a collaborative team that takes care of both works that can be done outside of the plant and work that demands a worker's physical presence.
Remote work wasn't really a priority within the manufacturing industry. It took a global pandemic for the industry to consider how remote work could be done in manufacturing. This meant that even if there were technologies in place to help workers adapt to remote work, it was still a steep learning curve for almost everyone in the industry. However, the response to the Covid-19 pandemic also showed that the manufacturing industry is ready to accommodate the remote work or hybrid work models.
What companies can learn from this is that the digital transformations of their factories were the key to making the most out of the situation. Companies found that there are more efficient systems that can boost their production line's productivity, even in remote work. Cloud-based systems like an MES and other software can help workers monitor their work and get real-time data as long as they are connected to the internet.
While the last few years have been sort of a “test drive” for the manufacturing industry, remote work is sure to improve and be more efficient in the future. As more systems are updated to cater to this sort of work arrangement, more companies are also adopting better technologies to facilitate a seamless transition for workers who want to remain working remotely.