line operator on an automotive assembly line

As factories reopen following COVID-19 shutdowns, the number one thing on everyone’s mind is worker health, and rightfully so. The biggest risk to any organization today is the health and safety of its people.

But once this risk is mitigated, a second risk will assert itself: the measures put in place to protect associate health will utterly destabilize operations. Like so many elements of the COVID-19 era, the disruption to assembly lines will be wholly without precedent. 

The purpose of this article is to help you think ahead to what will happen next — and put solutions in place now that will mitigate these challenges.

Problem No. 1: social distancing will destabilize the lines.

A factory is a highly choreographed operation. It’s a ballet. And the beauty of the operation is how it minimizes waste and optimizes real estate. 

To protect line associates, factories will take a layered approach to health and social distancing. The layers, outlined below, change the calculus of how space is used. 


The result of all of this destabilization will be felt immediately in productivity and quality. Business targets will undoubtedly be at risk.

Problem #2: Social distancing will constrain your ability to regain control.

In normal times, this wouldn’t be an existential crisis: an army of engineers and experts would descend on the line to bring it back under control

But these aren’t normal times. This is the Catch-22 of social distancing:

  • In a time of social distancing, indirect labor needs to stabilize the line.
  • To stabilize the line, they need to visit the line.
  • They can’t visit the line because of social distancing.

In other words, the very measures that are constraining direct labor’s inability to hit business targets will also constrain indirect labor’s ability to solve direct labor’s problems.


The looming quality crisis

This is where, if you look far enough ahead in time, you realize that your reputation for quality is ultimately at risk. Here’s how to think about it: 

The worst part? The true impact of near-term quality issues won’t be felt until your product is in your customers’ hands. And by that time, the damage is done: angry customers, high costs to make things right and irreparable harm to your reputation and brand.

Learn more:

Coming up in part 2: How video traceability and video analytics deflects the quality crisis.