Remote working is now the new norm. However, not all jobs can easily accommodate this change. With more than 13 million U.S. workers employed by the manufacturing industry, it’s daunting to implement this significant shift. The established notion is that workers cannot carry out manufacturing jobs remotely – remote work and manufacturing simply don’t fit well when put together.
While operators need to be on-site to keep machines in a factory running, some manufacturing jobs are good candidates for remote work.Working off-site may have its drawbacks, but the benefits can outweigh them in certain situations. In a recent study, 47% of company leaders from different industries are willing to allow their employees to work remotely from now on.
Risks of Remote Work in Manufacturing
Remote work can help employers save around $11,000 per year for every employee who works off-site half of the time. This new norm also helps prevent absenteeism and increases productivity, as well as employee retention.
While the onset of COVID-19 forced manufacturing companies to limit plant access to critical personnel only, it’s not feasible to do so after the pandemic. However, there are jobs, such as those in the engineering team or finance department, which can continue to work remotely going forward.
Knowing the risks involved, and mitigating them as early as possible, can help prevent issues. Below are some factors that can imperil operations and productivity if not addressed properly:
- Low productivity: Employees who are comfortable working in an office environment may find it hard to adjust when at home. Aside from working in a place they use for relaxation, there can be other distractions.
- Data security: Engineers will be taking your company’s schematics and other intellectual property home with them. It poses a risk in security, especially if they’re using an unsecured home network and computer.
- Reduced shared learning: Aside from not having social interactions with colleagues, there are limited shared learning opportunities to keep the team motivated.
Fortunately, technology helps to make these hurdles easy to get through. For example, your IT team can enforce security on laptops that your employees will use at home. They can also set up project management apps to help maintain shared learning.
Challenges in Handling Business Operations
The effects of remote work differ from industry to industry. In manufacturing, collaborating effectively with workers in factories can place a heavy burden on the management team. Manufacturers need to deal with these three significant challenges:
- Monitor machine health and production performance, even when not on-site
- Resolve performance issues and improve throughput, even when there’s minimal staff in the plant
- Provide real-time support to the on-site team and help them become autonomous
Fortunately, a combination of the Internet of Things (IoT), remote collaboration technologies, and artificial intelligence can help overcome these challenges. Digital machine health, for example, allows remote monitoring of machines in a factory. It helps management to observe machinery performance even if they’re not in the plant. Through remote collaboration, team leaders can coordinate troubleshooting and maintenance tasks with the operations team on-site.
Most plants are now using connected control systems, but they can reduce costs even further with the use of IoT solutions. Implementing IoT can help reduce equipment downtime and extend the life of your machines. Some of the main benefits of IoT include:
- Earlier detection and avoidance of issues that may delay production
- Cognitive operations that can increase production quality
- Better allocation of resources, allowing managers to reassign workers to tasks aligned with their expertise
With its capabilities for predictive repairing, remote production control, asset tracking, and more, IoT is one of the tech trends that will stay post-pandemic.
Enabling Remote Work for Managers and Engineering Teams
Remote work, when properly implemented, can streamline the roles of both managers and engineering teams. The new set of tools allows engineers to pinpoint any developing issues quickly. At the same time, managers can react faster to problems impacting OEE and product scheduling.
Effective staff training on remote monitoring solutions can help achieve operational visibility without being physically present in the factory. The success of a remote monitoring plan relies on these four significant factors.
Qualitative data is crucial for successful remote monitoring. You should choose a platform that provides the following:
- Automated data from sensors around process conditions
- Real-time information of machine conditions
- Easy access to historical information
With data available for access anytime, factories can avoid long-lasting issues that can impact their output. Quick access to historical and real-time data can help with process and machine improvement efforts.
Automated sensors remove the need for constant human intervention and eliminate human errors when recording data. With the use of the right tech solutions, data accessed remotely can remain accurate. IoT systems can capture data with precise accuracy, which is crucial in providing reliable remote support.
Manufacturers need to ensure that their large volume of data gets delivered to remote clients via mobile devices and laptops. However, it’s also crucial that the network has strong security to prevent the compromise of proprietary data.
The implementation of security solutions for remote workers is an ongoing process because of increased cyber vulnerabilities. For example, IoT devices to monitor machinery require minimal user interaction, making it hard to detect security breaches quickly. Your IT team should be able to adapt to these changes and implement robust security solutions beforehand.
Aggregation of data from sensors, machines, and floor personnel can help provide relevant context for analysis to ensure smooth operations while members of your team work remotely. Using the latest remote collaboration and IoT technology, your data can be transmitted to a centralized location, where it can help with data visualization and enable remote teams to compare manufacturing performance easily. You can also use aggregated data to improve processes for predictive alerts and optimizing performance.
Remote Work Can Improve Manufacturing Output
Unforeseen conditions are forcing manufacturing companies to adapt to remote work sooner than later. However, technologies are already in place, since the trend was headed in this direction even before the pandemic.
Taking action now in implementing remote work solutions will help to ensure business continuity and make your business future-ready.