Social Distancing, Efficiency and Security: How IoT Tools Can Help

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As manufacturers reopen their plants and bring furloughed employees back to work, they face two major challenges. Safety and public health now require extra distance between workers, which can mean fewer workers per shift. And the economic climate means manufacturers need to optimize productivity to compete and survive.

These challenges might seem to put companies in a double bind, but it’s possible to make factory floors safer for workers and more efficient by using a network of remote sensors and video cameras. These Internet of Things (IoT) devices can make it easier to implement some of the manufacturing safety recommendations from OSHA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). At the same time, these tools can help reduce downtime, save money on reactive maintenance, and improve site security.

Creating Space and Avoiding Downtime

Because close contact raises the risk of spreading COVID-19, CDC and OSHA guidelines recommend at least six feet of space between workers. In many plants that may mean moving from a couple of large shifts to multiple staggered shifts, to reduce the number of people on-site at any given time.

Some companies are experimenting with wearables like wristbands and smart hard hats that alert workers when they’re too close to each other on the job. Stationery IoT tools can also help to reduce on-site crowding and headcount.

For example, rather than have employees moving around the plant during each shift to log equipment and storage temperatures, remote temperature sensors on each piece of equipment and in each cooler can allow plant managers to monitor conditions from their office on-site or remotely. That reduces the amount of people on the floor, and the amount of movement through the facility.

This kind of monitoring can also alert managers whenever a piece of equipment or a cold-storage unit starts operating outside of its ideal range. By detecting these kinds of changes early, before equipment malfunctions or fails, plant managers can prevent the kind of close contact that occurs when workers need to move in and out of often-cramped equipment areas to make repairs. Instead, managers can act on early alerts to schedule maintenance before there’s a disruption, to limit the number of people nearby and allow for cleaning before and after the repair.

There’s another safety benefit to preventing equipment failures and unplanned downtime. Even if a factory has carefully staggered its shifts to prevent crowding at entrances and exits, a sudden shutdown caused by equipment problems could cause workers to leave all at once, creating too-close contact on the way out. Or workers might cluster in the breakroom or meeting area while the problem is fixed—also creating unsafe conditions. Preventing breakdowns with sensor data can reduce opportunities for unsafe contact inside the plant.

The CDC and OSHA guidance also suggests remote monitoring of production lines to ensure that workers are maintaining the recommended six feet of distance from one another. By adding wireless video cameras to the IoT network, managers or designated employees can keep tabs on worker safety—and correct problems—in real time from any location via their phone, tablet, or computer…

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