electronics assembly line

Most manufacturers now face two critical imperatives: keeping the goods that society relies on flowing out the door, while keeping their workforce safe at the same time.

In the following weeks and months, I expect to see incredible amounts of ingenuity as factories figure out how to achieve both goals. In fact, we’ll likely see a third goal — a greater shift of elements of production to emergency goods like PPE or medical equipment — added to the mix.

In the meantime, below are some of the measures we are seeing factories take to strengthen worker safety in a time of intense pressure. We’re publishing these here to help manufacturers learn from each others’ best practices.

‘Serving your country’: Inside the push to keep Kraft Dinner on the shelves amid coronavirus panic buying

The situation: 

Demand for Kraft Dinner is up 35%, and demand for peanut butter is up 41%. The business wants to increase production from 3 million to 4 million boxes per week, and to accomplish that goal, it’s moving to a 24/7 production schedule.

Measures being put into place:

  • Daily temperature checks for every employee.
  • A primary plan to keep production lines running 24/7 over three shifts, filling about 400 boxes per minute.
  • A secondary plan to train replacements, who work on less essential products, to step in. If necessary, plant managers and supervisors will take over the Kraft Dinner line.

Key quote: 

Walking the floor in Montreal, [Danielle Nguyen, the plant manager] said, something feels different, not panicked, but more like the employees really want to be there, despite all the public health calls to go nowhere but home. ‘It’s a feeling that’s very hard to describe,’ Nguyen said. ‘It feels like you’re serving your country.’”

Key takeaway:

Prepare cross-training plans to cope with unexpected workforce changes throughout the COVID-19 and post-COVID period.

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Detroit automakers, UAW agree on social distancing measures to keep factories running

The situation:

Ford, General Motors and Fiat Chrysler employ 150,000 auto workers at dozens of factories and parts depots across the country. How do you ensure the health of workers on the line while keeping the plants running?

Measures being put into place:

  • It varies by company, but automakers are cutting shifts, idling factories between shifts to allow for extensive cleaning and reducing overtime work.
  • The UAW and automakers are forming a task force to further deal with worker safety. 

At the time of this writing, the plants are scheduled to start reopening in April. As we learn more about the specific measures and changes being put into place, we will publish them here.

Key takeaway: 

Expanding the distance between stations on a line is critical to maintaining the proper distance between line associates. It creates motion waste, so you’ll need to be aware of the impact on takt time.

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How Austin factories are practicing social distancing 

The situation: 

Manufacturers in central Texas have found ways to continue producing at or close to normal levels by turning to creative solutions, and are therefore able to prevent critical gaps in supply chain components.

Measures being put into place:

  • VirTex Enterprises is staggering shifts to enable social distancing. Lunches and breaks are also staggered, and regular hand-washing/work area disinfecting is required. The company is also checking temperatures when people enter the facility.
  • HID Global is ensuring that workers who are able work from home, while those who can’t are taking extra steps like rearranging their workspaces to ensure social distancing and staggering breaks.

The Austin Regional Manufacturers Association, has shared tips on coronavirus preparation.

Key takeaway:

Consult with your local manufacturing association for guidelines, as local regulations are varying and changing often.

I, like many of you, have never felt such appreciation for those on the front lines in hospitals, grocery stores, delivery functions, and, of course, factories. Now more than ever, it’s clear that their work is key to the very foundations of our society. 

We’re focusing on the impact of coronavirus on the people on the factory floor. We’ll be posting news frequently. Follow us on LinkedIn or Twitter for notifications when we publish.