When the COVID-19 pandemic closed the American economy, many industries began implementing work-from-home policies. However, the manufacturing industry faced many fundamental hurdles that made it difficult for them to follow suit. Up until now, manufacturing has been viewed as an industry where employees were physically constrained to the factory floor to work alongside stationary machines, where large quantities of raw materials needed to be handled, and where complex, collaborative processes needed to be followed. COVID-19 has turned these outdated ideals on their head and has opened the door to a new business model—home-based manufacturing.
While home-based manufacturing might seem like a radical approach to the production of goods, manufacturers can, in fact, embrace remote work.
COVID-19 has pushed all industries to think outside the box, has forced the acceleration of the digital transformation known as Industry 4.0 and will forever change the way business—particularly manufacturers—operate. This cultural shift forces us to ask: What is manufacturing? And who does manufacturing? Remote work is here to stay and has created new opportunities for those who were previously unable to work outside the home while also helping to mitigate continued COVID-19 risks to manufacturing businesses and their workforces.
This roadmap will outline steps manufacturers can take and important items for consideration for home-based manufacturing to get people back to work safely and smartly. These considerations could also apply to home-based part kitting and the assembly of parts in addition to the manufacturing of goods. By promoting manufacturing at home, we can connect more industries and people with Industry 4.0 technologies that will help American companies and communities recover and grow.
Before implementing a home-based manufacturing operation within your organization’s production process, the environment in which you are setting up your remote workstations must be considered. Home-based manufacturing is possible with well thought-out quality control plans, which would involve the persons responsible to perform the manufacturing. There will be cost considerations that should be evaluated to ensure quality control plans are implemented and inspected prior to the start of manufacturing. A process for inspection and testing of all end products manufactured outside of a manufacturing facility must also be developed to ensure there were no unknown or unexpected failures. Continuous process improvement must be developed to ensure no failure of the implementation plan occurs. Such considerations include ensuring:
In addition, a gap analysis of the home versus facility manufacturing should be performed. Once the analysis is complete, the pricing of all necessary equipment, location adjustments, and personnel training should be assessed. Training should begin immediately, while equipment and location needs should be ordered and provided. Equipment should be installed, inspected, and tested. Quality and safety of the manufacturing location should be assessed to meet quality control plans developed. Also, plan to identify needs early to make necessary budget and/or personnel adjustments to ensure preparedness is anticipated.
Most importantly, manufacturers should act now and support change. Home-based manufacturing will be disruptive, so communication should be a priority by identifying people in the organization and industry who are prepared to work together and share the message of change and why it is so important, especially at this time of rapid disruption now and in the future for manufacturing.
Connecting a factory floor to a home setting means several technology considerations will need to be addressed. While this may seem daunting, with the right technology tools, home-based manufacturing is possible, as was the case for the production on critical personal protective equipment from people’s homes during the height of the COVID-19 outbreak. Today, costs of production are lower, tools are more accessible, space needs are smaller and production runs can be done on-demand.
One benefit of using sensors and analytics in your facility is transparency. This becomes even more important with remote manufacturing. In addition, there will be software that needs to communicate, manufacturing systems to connect and workflows to merge.
Security and remote access will be a factor key for helping with data integrity and communications between the manufacturing facility and the home.
As manufacturers continue to implement Industry 4.0 technologies that enable the collection of real-time data, AI-based insights and a range of communication and collaboration tools, another manufacturing trend is likely to emerge in our COVID-19 new normal beyond the production and assembly of manufacturing goods at home—the virtual shift. Meaning, a team of specialists connected remotely would guide and support onsite manufacturing personnel on the shop floor, reducing the number of employees that need to physically report to the facility.
Crucial technology considerations for home-based manufacturing include:
Capturing data analytics can help home-based manufacturers manage throughput, improve efficiency and track production lots. Systems integration to incorporate include:
Deploying local "edge" computing devices can be a very effective option for capturing and storing data from a machine. It is not always convenient or possible to access an edge device when you are not standing next to it. When you need remote access to your data, use the edge device to store and forward the data onto a cloud-based platform. A single edge device can be connected to multiple machines so that you can store and analyze all of your data from one location.
By collecting information from machines, you are able to gather data to help you make decisions and run more effectively, including:
Once you have the data, you need to be able to quickly understand it in a meaningful way. By creating user interfaces, you can display and/or interact with the data that you need in order to make important decisions for your production system. Use the user interface to display real time statuses, warnings and alerts of the production, including:
One major concern can be maintaining quality assurance in a home-based environment. By integrating and utilizing data analytics, you can set up regular quality checks and run reports to make sure that your products are up to your standards. Or, through worthwhile investment in Industry 4.0 technologies, a machine could be shut down the instant before a defect is created, preventing product defects altogether.
It is important in a home-based setting to find a suitable software platform to collect and store the data along with setting up communication between that platform and the hardware that is being analyzed. The first step is to do some online research. A few companies are creating data platforms geared towards data collecting for home-based manufacturing along with training courses to help get things started. It’s also critical to having a relationship with a systems integrator.
Another challenge will be sorting through all of the data to find the information that can actually help you. Go in with a goal of the information that you want to see. If you do not care about cycle time, don’t worry about collecting that data. Add in a user interface. It won’t help if you have data if you can’t use it.
Capital equipment for a home-based manufacturing set up will most likely include a 3D printer and a flexible micro-assembly station which could include flexible and reconfigurable collaborative robotic systems, zero-training wearable augmented reality systems or a light-guided system. Companies will need to consider the ownership model as well as part size, weight considerations and part complexity when it comes to a home-based manufacturing setting.
If a small business has a product that can be outsourced to multiple home-base operations to either assemble pieces and/or manufacture the pieces for another source in the process, the below flowchart could be used with a goal to keep the work as small as possible with quick turns.
Distribution channels will be needed for both parts and workflow. Labeling will be needed for return of finished parts. The home-based system needs to have quality assurance built into it so that when product from many micro plants are aggregated quality issues don't create a downstream problem.
Companies should recognize that home-based manufacturing will be a phased approach. For example, manufacturers might start out by having employees pick up their parts to assemble at home, however in order to scale, manufacturers may need to consider a phase two that includes drones or other delivery methods.
Considerations need to be made for the following:
With the proper training tools in place, nearly anyone can perform home-based manufacturing. With previous skillset requirements low, home-based manufacturing can diversify a company’s workforce, expanding economic opportunity to a wide range of individuals, including people with disabilities who are unable to work outside the home. As a sector, at-home “making” represents a diverse demographic population, including individuals from a range of ethnic and racial backgrounds. According to Etsy, for example, one of the largest platforms for makers, 87% of their sellers are women.
The following are key considerations for training in a home-based manufacturing setting:
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light America’s reliance on off-shore supplies for basic needs. Manufacturers are now seeing the downside of decades of off-shoring production and as COVID-19 continues to disrupt our economy, the home-based manufacturing revolution has emerged as a viable and accessible alternative for on-demand goods in times of need and also to keep manufacturing workers safe.
However, enabling remote work for manufacturing employees is likely to require a change in culture—and attitude—across the entire organization. Virtual work should not be limited to white collar office workers any longer; with the right tools, processes, and best practices, it will become the new reality that will fundamentally change the work environment in manufacturing and help accelerate the use of Industry 4.0 technologies.
By enabling remote work in the manufacturing sector, we can not only reduce the risk of COVID-19, but also improve the productivity and efficiency of employees. New ways of working spark innovation and implementing flexible working environments will empower employees to achieve success in the digital world.
This white paper was produced by the Technology WorkingGroup for the World Economic Forum’s Advanced Manufacturing Hub in Michigan, operated by Automation Alley. Thank you to the following contributors:
Cynthia Hutchison, Automation Alley
Eric LaCoste, Pirtek
Francisco Betti, World Economic Forum
Gary Krus, Hirotech America
Godfrey Nolan, RIIS
Ian Cronin, World Economic Forum
Jeremy Mahrle, Office of Senator Debbie Stabenow
John Kovac, Microsoft
Jonah Myerberg, Desktop Metal
Lisa Lunsford, GS3
Lynn Bishop, Pratt & Miller
Lynn Johnson, Apis
Mark Madsen, Behco
Martin Guay, Stanley Black and Decker
Michael Davis, Verizon
Michael Olmstead, Plug and Play
Nicole Kampe, Automation Alley
Paul Ryznar, OPS Solutions
Pavan Muzumdar, Automation Alley
Prasad Akella, Drishti
Russell Zarras, Fraunhofer USA
Samuel Hoff, Patti Engineering
Scott Hubble, Verizon
Thomas Schuelke, Fraunhofer USA
Tom Kelly, Automation Alley
Tom Luttrell, Shiloh Industries