9 tips for a lean and secure plant after the COVID-19-imposed shutdown

The time has come for many North American manufacturers to get back to work. The situation will obviously not be the same as it was before. Ways of doing things will have to be adjusted. In the coming weeks, plants will be implementing a host of new measures to comply with new government rules, particularly in terms of health and safety. If this is the case for your company, here are nine tips, based on the principles of continuous improvement (lean manufacturing) that will help you prepare for a safe return to work.

 

 

1– Distancing your employees from each other

It’s not always easy to maintain a physical distance of two meters on an assembly line. Employees often work very close to each other and have little room to maneuver.

By using modular aluminum panels or those manufactured by Flexpipe, these new physical constraints can be more easily met. For example, you can add acrylic panels between employees working opposite each other or a tubular panel, with an acrylic interior, for employees working side by side. Acrylic is currently hard to find; you can, therefore, also hang mica canvases with eyelets on your structure or workstation that are attached to a steel or tubular frame.

In the event that you cannot modify your existing workstation, install large panels, either wheeled or fixed, between employees instead. Flexpipe offers several such modular panels. Why should you choose Flexpipe? You can take them down and reuse them to make a cart, for example, when the pandemic subsides.

 

Here are dividing panels for working side by side
Here are dividing panels for working side by side

 

Here are dividing panels for face to face work.
Here are dividing panels for face to face work.

 

Here is a separator panel that will help create a distance between employees.
Here is a separator panel that will help create a distance between employees.

2– Transforming your equipment into mobile units

Are your workstations and equipment on wheels? If they are not, take advantage of the current context to install them. It is an inexpensive investment that helps you increase the mobility of your work environment so that you can more easily comply with the rules of physical distancing. There are also various braking systems, such as foot brakes or total locks, to stabilize workstations.

For example, at Flexpipe, we have relocated part of the staff in our building reserved for assembly to our warehouse. This operation, aimed at reducing contact between employees, was simple to carry out since all our workstations are equipped with four- to six-swivel wheels.

Point of use tooling (POUT) with 4 swivels caster with total lock brake
Point of use tooling (POUT) with four swivels caster with total lock brake

 

Steel Tool cabinet that was put on caster
Steel Tool cabinet that was put on caster

 

3– Strengthening your 5S program

Even though 5S can increase productivity and reduce the risk of accidents, it will also be advantageous when disinfecting work tools.

By using the 5S program, you will clean up your workstations to leave only the tools your workforce uses regularly. For example, at Flexpipe, an employee disinfects work tools, but also door handles and kitchen equipment three times a day. Thanks to the 5S program, our disinfection manager is much more efficient because he does not waste time disinfecting unused tools.

Already have a 5S program in place? Remind your staff about the importance of being rigorous, especially during a pandemic.

 

The 5S system facilitates the disinfection of workstations.
The 5S system facilitates the disinfection of workstations.

See how the facilitators of hygiene measures apply in the medical sector.

4– Reviewing your work procedures and standards

While your plant is reopening, why not take advantage to review your work procedures and standards to avoid, as much as possible, the sharing of tools and equipment? In addition to improving your processes, you will provide a safer environment for your employees.

Over the next few weeks, you may have to operate with limited staff. If you have never done so, don’t hesitate to reassign one of your temporarily laid-off employees to update your work procedures and standards, especially if you are eligible for government assistance for businesses.

5– Using visual cues

Visual cues are quick and easy to set up. Using different colored tape, draw lines on the ground to clearly delineate the corridors and separate work areas in your plant. For example, at Flexpipe, we have created one-way corridors to prevent people from crossing each other.

Don’t hesitate to use vinyl that sticks to the floor to clearly mark the two-meter distance your staff must respect, especially in busy areas such as the cafeteria.

Visual cues are quick and easy to set up
Visual cues are quick and easy to set up

 

6– Managing the flow of materials to work cells

Consider identifying the materials, raw materials, work in process, and finished products within each work cell in your plant to limit contact between your employees and other stakeholders.

For example, use flow racks for your hardware parts. With this system, the inventory handler brings the parts to the back, and the assembler takes them from the front, without any contact between the two.

Apply the same principle to your shipments. Clearly define the area in which the products are to be picked up, at a certain distance from your workspace.

 

7– Limiting unnecessary travel

The pandemic is one of the best reasons to encourage your employees to stay at their workstations. Indeed, unnecessary movement and travel are one of the most important wastes in value-added production because it does not add value.

At Flexpipe, we have put in place a policy to reduce the number of people walking around the plant.

Our assemblers receive their parts from a single employee who goes around the workstations with a trolley. If for any reason (defective part, lost part, etc.), one of our assemblers needs new parts, they must stay at their station and notify their supervisor. To avoid a recurrence, the employee is asked to describe as accurately as possible the problem they just encountered while waiting for the new parts. Once the problem has been described, another employee will take over the task of finding a solution to the problem.

 

8– Setting up POUTs for sanitary facilities

Like most factories, you have probably purchased sanitary equipment (gloves, masks, disinfectants, etc.). To improve efficiency, set up Points of Use Tooling (POUTs), which are small workstations in which sanitary equipment is neatly stored and easily accessible, at strategic points in your plant.

Use this opportunity to post the company’s policies on COVID-19 at each POUT.

 

 

9– Deliver elevated quality standards right from the beginning

Production defects are one of the most common wastes in value-added production. Especially in the context of coronavirus, positively encourage your employees to do quality work right from the beginning.

Why should you do this? Because a poorly assembled part is manipulated by many employees who will try to discover the problem and fix it. In contrast, impeccable work involves fewer people and less travel. You will limit the risks of propagation while increasing your productivity.

julien-depelteau-portrait
Julien Depelteau - Chief Executive Officer

Julien is Flexpipe’s president and co-founder. He came upon lean manufacturing in 2006 and launched Flexpipe in 2010. His mission since then has been to introduce the modular system to new markets by making it affordable and accessible.