Manufacturing and the Low Touch Economy
07 July 2020
With the 4th July earmarked as the big day England began to step forward into a new version of normal life, the question of workplace safety has been brought to the foreground.
Processes of old cannot simply be reinstated, and many within the manufacturing and engineering sectors are struggling to find ways to bring their workforce back into action safely.
Changing these old “normal” processes will be a difficult, but necessary challenge. Not only will working routines change, but social behaviours within the workplace will need to be amended too.
This new approach has been named the “Low Touch Economy”. Experts have outlined how businesses will need to shift to a low- to no-touch model as lockdown continues to ease in order to both re-establish their businesses and balance safety for their workers. This article will highlight how manufacturing and engineering businesses can embrace the Low Touch Economy.
What the Low Touch Economy is
The idea of the Low Touch Economy was coined by the Board of Innovations as a means to predict the future of all businesses in every sector after lockdown. It is a model by which businesses can plan to secure safe and accessible processes for their workers.
This means that both employees and clients of a business will need to get used to functioning at a distance. For the majority, this will require the implementation of new technology as a way to reduce the amount of physical human contact. This all comes together to emphasise the importance of hygiene awareness. The Low Touch Economy encompasses this “new normal” idea, and anyone who can’t or won’t adapt – manufacturers and engineers included – risks being left behind.
How manufacturers and engineers can prepare
Forward-thinking manufacturers are already well on their way to make the necessary changes ahead of lockdown easing. Google search volume data shows that searches for the phrase “low touch” went up 75% between February and April this year, while “non-contact” rose by 91%. In fact, since last year, “low touch” has increased in search volume by 133%, and “non-contact” has increased 200% year on year. Companies are already taking on advice and research to prepare.
So, how can your manufacturing or engineering business get ready?
Preparation is important. Now more than ever, manufacturing and engineering businesses will need to keep a close eye on the hygiene and cleanliness of their workplaces. While a daily visit from a cleaning team is good, it will no longer be enough – top-up cleaning throughout the day will become essential, especially in a hands-on environment like a manufacturing shop floor. Surfaces that are frequently touched (such as machines, raw materials, stock boxes, door handles and counters) will need regular wiping down. Make sure you have the supplies to do this – keeping spray cleaner and plenty of disposable blue roll around will encourage employees to give everything a quick wipe-down as they go about their shift.
You will need to give your employees appropriate PPE, of course, but be ready to add more to it. Give the option of gloves and face masks if your workplace didn’t already require them before lockdown, and offer the same to any visiting clients or customers.
Hand sanitiser stations should be available to your workers and clients too. Place one at the entrance to the building and another at the entrance to the factory floor and or canteen.
Minimising contact for customers and clients
One area in which manufacturers can reduce their human contact is to embrace digital. What has been touted as a shift from a two-to-five year plan to an eighteen-month scope shows just how important it is for businesses to go digital at last, especially if you’ve been hesitant.
For example, with customers and clients preferring self-service options, switching your sales process to allow for this not only answers your clients’ preferences, but it also helps take a step towards a low-touch to revamp of an old method.
Product catalogues can not only be digitised but woven with smart AI technology that presents the most relevant products to a user first, outdoing and replacing physical booklets and catalogues.
Another shift could be to consider automation within the factory. Robots have been sitting on the sidelines of a workplace overhaul for some time now, but many businesses are already seeing the benefits of the no-touch approach. For example, a delivery service in Milton Keynes utilises around 70 robots in its workforce to deliver groceries and food. Having been active in the last two years, the company has noticed a surge of interest after the lockdown, mainly towards aspects of hygiene and safety perks over the usual proposition potential. Utilising robots in your own business is one way to limit the number of hands a product comes into contact with after all.
Minimising contact for your employees
Depending on the viable space of your manufacturing or engineering firm, you will need to make changes in order to accommodate the advised 1m+ rule of social distancing, as such measures are likely to still be in place when businesses are allowed to reopen.
If you cannot set out your business to accommodate enough space for your workers, it may well be in your best interests to keep the doors closed until other arrangements can be made.
Alternatively, you may be able to stagger shifts so that there are fewer people on the floor at any one time. This is particularly useful for manufacturers as this can help prevent having too many workers on the production line. Forming teams who work alternate weeks is one way to achieve this while keeping everyone on the payroll to some capacity. If you choose to operate shifts instead, be sure to leave a window of time for the shift switchover to allow for the workspace to be cleaned down before the next group comes in.
This is a difficult period of transition for all businesses, but for hands-on sectors like manufacturing and engineering, it can be more trying than others. Preparation will certainly see you through this storm, so start planning change within your business today – your business can convert to the Low Touch Economy model with careful planning.