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Best practices in manufacturing communication during a pandemic

July 8, 2020

Plant Process Management address the needs of modern operations teams to communicate and collaborate.

By Andreas Eschbach, CEO of Eschbach

COVID-19 has caused a dramatic shift in manufacturers’ operational procedures. To

Eschbach's Andreas Eschbach

meet the challenges of this new normal, the digitization of communication processes is a top priority. When managed correctly, it can provide a basis for building operational-knowledge capital and exploiting new opportunities.

Consider shift-to-shift management, a vulnerable point in 24/7 plant operations that relies on information transfer in written and verbal form and comprises a specific regimen of tasks, often related to regulatory compliance such as product quality, environment, safety and health.

High-quality handover process

In a handover, shift supervisors generally physically meet in order to review the current status of operations. These meetings are usually around a whiteboard listing pressing issues, in front of control-room monitors giving up-to-date process-control data. However, due to social-distancing restrictions, the relief team may not come in contact with the outgoing team. This affects operational continuity.

A good handover needs preparation prior to the ending of the shift, including status of work permits and safety-critical systems (SCS), production status, executed activities, and ongoing priorities. To align all these sources, a plant-specific standard procedure managed by a digital shift-management solution is essential, allowing virtual handovers and providing a formal digital record of plant operations.

Communication is continuously improving your operation

Created accurately, the information shared during the shift handovers represents a valuable foundation. It serves as a running protocol of relevant events and conditions that, together, describe the state of a manufacturing process within a specific time period. This protocol is actionable and accessible for all managers, engineers, and scientists working remotely.

Within manufacturing organizations, there are staff with distinct roles, such as board operators in the control room, outside operators moving throughout production areas, mechanical and chemical process engineers, and the like. All are accountable for specific roles and responsibilities. They are supervised by a senior team comprised of health, safety, and environment experts as well as those focused on operational excellence and continuous improvement. All involved must communicate the routine and the complex challenges to identify root causes and eliminate greater problems with new procedures executed consistently by all teams in a 24/7 environment.

Until now, these activities have been mostly solved with face-to-face communication and office-collaboration tools such as email, spreadsheets and word processors. As you likely already know, this requires significant effort to keep reports updated so that no one relies on old information or that production tasks are not forgotten. 

Plant process management is the solution

Due to COVID, many manufacturing teams recognize that digital communication and collaboration are essential to maintaining safe production of the everyday products our society needs. This, in turn, requires applications that go beyond tools typically used for back-office collaboration (think bespoke Excel apps, emails, etc.). Solutions provided by ERP and MES vendors, likewise, do not fit the bill, since they do not provide the focus and context for front-line operations on the shop floor.

Plant Process Management (PPM) addresses the needs of modern operations teams to communicate and collaborate efficiently. PPM-based solutions enable manufacturing organizations to  uncover knowledge and engage their people to monitor conditions and optimize plant operations and the utilization of production assets. PPM also provides a real-time view of work procedures and tasks, including incidents and outliers to normal operations.

Regardless of the amount of IIoT instrumentation, PPM adds the human context to establish a cohesive unity and prepares everyone for the next stage of machine learning.