Coping with Covid-19 threats within the manufacturing facility

From the Open IIoT group.

The rapid increase in manufacturers integrating IIoT technologies since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the need to adapt or lag behind in the face of massive disruptions.

However, there was less talk about the possibilities of using IIoT to contain the immediate threat of transmitting Covid-19 in the factory floor. Because social distancing is an essential part of curbing the spread of the virus, manufacturers sometimes require factory workers to use wearable trackers to track the movements and interactions of workers in real time during their shift. Should the worst happen and a Covid-19 outbreak occurs, these records can help with contact tracing.

While this sounds slightly dystopian, wearable trackers can also be used to alert employees if they are within six feet of each other and alert the surveillance system to a possible violation. Since a lot of emphasis is placed on monitoring and real-time visibility of data as an advantage of IIoT integration, this function can also be used to capture employee and time records when handling certain materials. This data can then be compared with the system in order to identify possible cross-contamination between employees during material handling.

Manufacturers can then take IIoT material monitoring one step further by identifying the most frequently used resources on the factory floor such as tools or machines and marking them for additional hygiene processes between uses to reduce the risk of Covid-19 transmission.

Some critics have said that the Covid-19 pandemic has caused a surge in "hygiene theater" – a term used to describe the practice of taking hygiene measures to make people feel more secure without the risk actually lowering a disease. Some doctors say that excessive cleaning and disinfecting of surfaces (which was especially common at the beginning of the pandemic) is unnecessary because the virus is primarily airborne.

Many manufacturers share the view that it is their responsibility to take all possible precautions to ensure the safety of their employees and that it is better to play it safe when it comes to hygiene. Fortunately, IIoT tracking technologies can also be used here to help cleaners identify areas that may not have been disinfected or not adequately disinfected after service cycles.

In conclusion, the real-time monitoring and analysis of health and location data enabled by IIoT integration can help manufacturers identify high risk areas on the factory floor so they can take preventative measures to address those risks.

From ensuring business continuity to enabling better remote monitoring to deploying the technologies to reduce the risks of Covid-19 outbreaks, there are many benefits for manufacturers who choose to include IIoT in their operations during this time of disruption and uncertainty to integrate.

We look forward to seeing the new and innovative ways these technologies can improve both manufacturing processes and the working conditions of the people behind the machines.

Open IIOT is an initiative of some of Australia's best-known automation brands – SMC Corporation ANZ, Beckhoff Automation, NORD DRIVESYSTEMS, Balluff, ZI-Argus and KUKA Robot Automation.

More information is available at openiiot.com.au.

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