UPDATE 11/05/2021: It has been eighteen months since we covered the automakers’ resumption of production in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic as we previously wrote about on June 2nd, 2020. The emergence and availability of the COVID-19 vaccine in December 2020 is the most notable change. 

The impact from the vaccine and its ready availability has been profound. Recently, the federal government has moved on its plans to enact a “vaccination mandate” on all businesses with more than 100 employees. Per the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), such businesses must show all workers are fully vaccinated by January 4, 2022. Workers who do not get vaccinated will be required to be tested weekly for the virus and wear masks in the workplace. 

Automakers and other industries have been working with the government and were aware of the upcoming mandate. This explains why Ford, GM, and Stellantis were able to mandate workers in their Canadian facilities to get the vaccine. Same with German-automaker Mercedes-Benz, which recently announced it is requiring its US employees to provide proof of vaccination as a condition of employment starting on the 4th.The United Auto Workers (UAW), though, has consistently opposed any mandated COVID-19 vaccinations, and states it will not track who is or is not vaccinated among union members. Thus, Ford, GM, and Stellantis had only “encouraged” US auto workers to get vaccinated. The OSHA declaration now puts the three on a tight-rope on how to respond in the coming weeks.

06/02/2020: It’s taken time, but some industries are beginning to see a return to some semblance of normalcy as they begin to resume production. Of course, we say “semblance” with good reason. Despite efforts being made across many industries to improve resiliency against infection, thorough disinfection of industrial computers and remote work policies being two strong examples, COVID has hardly been bested. In fact, it’s very likely a Coronavirus second wave is on its way. 

The automotive industry is one such sector that is beginning to see their doors slowly re-open in the face of this pandemic and predicted second wave. According to the Alameda County Public Health Department, the Fremont, California Tesla plant is only one of many factories beginning to resume production. All things considered, the industry has quite a few things to consider since opening back up will hardly mean returning to the old way of doing things. 

So, then, how is this industry, one that’s responsible for a lion’s share of economic performance and available jobs, planning to resume production while maintaining minimal risk to their employees, partners, consumers, and performance?    

Updated Safety Policies

Manufacturing employee safety is going to be one of the initiatives most intensely targeted for improvement for years to come and the automotive industry has wasted no time in following suit with their resuming of production underway. Workers are naturally being equipped with more PPE than ever before and having all of their protective equipment provided by their employers. 

Of course, with this new focus on PPE articles that will very likely carry on now and well into the future, several manufacturers are also emphasizing training/education programs on how and when to effectively use and disinfect these protective garments.

The thermal scanning of employees has also become a common, daily procedure across many factory floors. Whether this be done manually by a person or automatically by a machine, several businesses are beginning to realize the importance of repeated temperature checks that allow suspect employees to be immediately sent home the moment they are deemed a risk to themselves and others. 

Social distancing policies in particular are also being adopted en-masse and for good reason, as it’s been the one proven and effective method of mitigating infection risks in enclosed spaces. GM, Ford, and FCA, for example, recently reopened production, emphasizing their newfound focus on maintaining safe distance between workers. In many cases, this required several workstations to be redesigned altogether in order to better promote following these new distancing protocols. FCA, for instance, analyzed all 17,000 of their workstations and realized that 4,700 of them needed to be redesigned or modified to keep their employees safe.  

Infection-Conscious Workstations

Medical facilities have workstations that are optimized for infection control. This has been the case since well before the spread of COVID-19. Industrial manufacturers are now looking to those healthcare workstations for inspiration and the automotive manufacturers like FCA are no exception. Fortunately, a lot of industrial hardware and workstation technology built for the automotive sector can actually meet many of the infection-fighting requirements seen in a hospital setting.

A Rugged PC that’s built with a fanless design, for example, does more than protect against debris and moisture, it defends against the circulation of harmful bacteria. It doesn’t matter if people are social distancing, if someone sneezes and those droplets are sucked in by a computer fan that then shoots those bacteria out into other parts of the workspace, it’s effectively nullifying those social distancing policies. Automotive plant owners looking to resume production by bolstering their infection protection are going to be investing in hardware that nullifies this risk by resorting to heat sinks to disperse heat as opposed to risky fans (that just have a higher chance of breaking down anyway).

When building these new infection-conscious workstations, factory owners are also beginning to pay much more attention to hardware certifications. Ingress Protection ratings are more essential now than ever. Instead of simply protecting against moisture and dust, a device like an industrial panel PC that’s IP65 certified also protects against liquid ingress from sanitary products, which allows manufacturers to regularly sanitize workstations without worrying about damaging the internals and slowing down the production line.

Resume Production in Phases

Manufacturers know better than to simply return completely to normal at the first sign of restrictions being lifted. Businesses are starting to return their entire operations to work in “phases”. Ford, for example, resumed operations in its North American plants on May 18 but hasn’t committed to bringing everyone back on-site. Employees who have been recognized as being able to perform their functions effectively at home are being allowed to continue working remotely until such a later “phase” where they too can safely be brought back. A philosophy such as this can help open up more space for more effective social distancing while also limiting risk of infection by keeping less people out of an enclosed space. 

Not only does this allow companies like Ford to keep their employees sage, it also gives them the opportunity to slowly transition back to a more “normal” mode of operation without over-committing. If a COVID case were to be spotted or a company were to realize having everyone back to work simply isn’t feasible, they can quickly adjust since they didn’t commit to opening up every factory and bringing in every employee. 

Supply Chain and Public Visibility

Even though supply chains are much easier to track now that everyone is turning their supply partnerships inward, supply chain visibility is still incredibly important. In making the decision to resume production, automotive manufacturers are playing a very meticulous balancing act between consumer demand, public health, and supply chain preparedness. At any point, one or all of these variables can determine whether a business needs to close down again or can open their doors a little wider. 

Tools such as supply chain portals can allow decision-makers in automotive plants to closely monitor KPIs of partners in their supply chain and gauge whether or not more or less workers need to be brought into the plant. Beyond that, they can also help managers measure consumer demand for their product. All of the insights these tools provide allow plant owners to understand whether or not it’s financially and morally well-advised to open certain branches and plants or even scale back their reopening plans.  

To Resume Production the Status Quo Needs to Change

It’s likely the status quo as we know it is done. Eventually, this virus will come under some kind of control, but the way we perform business, socialize, and sell products to consumers will change invariably and for years to come. The automotive industry has shown us a preview of what many other businesses will have to do when time allows for them to open their doors as well. For more information on how your business or manufacturing plant can prepare to resume production with the right hardware, contact an expert from Cybernet today.