COVID-19 and the Cloud

Well, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this COVID-19 business has scrambled everything up, including the manufacturing industry. While all this is going on, companies need to be able to continue to manufacture quality products—consistently and with a sustainable profit margin.
 
Today I’d like to look at how the cloud can help you overcome the biggest challenges facing manufacturing organizations today—remote workers and their effectiveness—and how we can look ahead to when this health crisis abates (whenever that might be) and move forward with greater resiliency into the “new normal.”
 
InfinityQS offers statistical process control (SPC) quality solutions from the cloud, Enact® and ProFicient on Demand (PoD), which can bring the plant floor home—with power and flexibility—to remote workers.
InfinityQS Quality Intelligence on the Plant Floor

Enact and ProFicient on Demand

Enact is our award-winning, built-for-the-enterprise quality intelligence platform. This cloud-native SPC quality solution was designed for companies to gain easy access to real-time operational and quality data on any device, at any time, and from any location. Utilizing that data, Enact enables manufacturers to quickly and easily reduce costs, increase profitability, and enhance brand reputation—at an affordable price.
 
ProFicient on Demand (PoD) is a great way to quickly deploy to the cloud. PoD  provides data acquisition, centralized data storage and management, real-time statistical charts and dashboards, sophisticated analytics and reporting, and powerful workflow capabilities that facilitate data-driven decision-making.
 
Both of these InfinityQS cloud offerings deliver real-time visibility across all operations, enabling your organization—regardless of size or industry—to centralize and analyze operational data all together, regardless of site-to-site differences. And, perhaps most importantly at this time, each of these robust tools enables your workers to effectively work remotely.
Working Remote with Enact and PoD

Distance Manufacturing?

Manufacturers are following the guidelines for the health and well-being of both their customers and their workforce. That means manufacturers must adhere to social distancing guidelines and minimize contact between workers. One obvious and sure way to do that is by limiting the number of employees allowed on the plant floor.
 
While this undoubtedly makes things safer for employees, it adds a burden to production. Plant floor employees must continue to manufacture your products in adequate numbers, but with a smaller workforce. But—and here is the rub—in many cases, workers who are no longer on the shop floor need to remain connected to what is going on from a distance. Otherwise, how can they continue to effectively fulfill their roles and duties?
 

Can You Go Remote?

Anyone considered “non-essential” personnel, as well as employees with underlying health conditions, are working from home these days. So, where does that leave your operational and quality staff? How can they be effective working from home?
 
Many manufacturers do not have remote access to operational data (especially real-time data) from the production process or from the quality team. And data that is written down on paper checklists is definitely not accessible remotely—unless it’s transcribed to a spreadsheet or otherwise electronically transferred to a quality manager. InfinityQS cloud quality solutions can lighten that load and make that data accessible anytime, anywhere.
Access Data Anytime & Anywhere

Collaboration is Key

Everyone is conducting online meetings with one tool or another—thank you Zoom and Teams and the like. Collaborating on video conferencing applications is great, but for manufacturers this doesn’t solve the underlying problem: remote access to the plant floor data.
 

Collaborating on SPC Data

Can all your employees—remote and on-site—have access to, and discuss, the data coming from your plant floors? And can they analyze that data?  Can they visualize the data in meaningful ways? And can they do that with real-time data, without waiting for offline reports to be sent and emailed around?  Sure, you can still collaborate, sort of, but if you don’t all have access to the data you wish to discuss at your fingertips, then you’re certainly not collaborating on it.
 
That kind of remote working is unproductive time. What you need is a cloud solution in place that is designed for you to be productive from a remote location. And, remember, remote means anywhere away from the plant floor (not just home).
 
Our cloud solutions’ capabilities can bring you from your office or your home right to the plant floor, via the real-time data that you can access (and analyze and collaborate on).
 

Remote Notifications

The same can be said for notification and alerts. If you are “remote,” how can you be promptly made aware when quality or production problems are occurring? Do you have to wait for someone on the shop floor to call you? 
 
In many factory environments, manufacturers rely on lights or alarms to alert the appropriate people when something goes awry. But these are useless to anyone not on the plant floor. With InfinityQS cloud solutions, you are alerted to a quality event (for instance, out-of-spec product has been produced), or a missed quality check, or even when a trend in the data occurs that could lead to a problem if remedial action is not quickly taken.
 
When notifications can be issued automatically and remotely, then you can operate with peace of mind.
Remote Notifications Bring Peace of Mind

The Cloud is the Key

The level of remote access to real-time operational data that InfinityQS cloud solutions now offer was almost inconceivable in the past. Manufacturers now have access to the power of cloud-based solutions, in which data is captured and centrally stored in a secure repository. That information and data then becomes available anytime, anywhere, on any device. All you need is a browser and an internet connection.
 
[For an in-depth look at what switching to the cloud can mean to a manufacturing organization, read what colleague Britt Reid, InfinityQS Product Communications Manager, said about it in his blog.]
 

The Importance of a Centralized Data Repository

Bringing all your data together into a single, secure, unified data repository means that now everyone—whether they’re on the plant floor, upstairs in their office, or at home—can access the real-time data you collect. They can access data from individual production lines or manufacturing sites, with the ability to analyze the data from across the entire enterprise.
 
With that data at your fingertips, you now have the ability to identify areas where improvements to quality, yield, efficiency, productivity, and more can be optimized.
 

A Word About Analysis

When you use a cloud-based quality system, you can attack your data head on. You can interrogate the data—slice it, dice it, look across lines, sites, or across the entire enterprise—and determine where you need to focus, improve, and use your precious resources. Our COO here at InfinityQS, Doug Fair, talks in detail in a recent blog about interrogating your data, and why it’s so important and powerful.
 

June SurveyPreparing for Post-Pandemic Manufacturing

One side effect of this pandemic is that operational challenges—including supply chain interruptions—have served to shine a light on existing process weaknesses and technology limitations that have been a thorn in the foot of manufacturing for a long time.
 
As the world returns to normalcy (whenever and whatever that may be), manufacturers shouldn’t expect to return to “business as usual”—not if they want to succeed.

Instead, consider this: changes you make now will pave the way for your manufacturing efforts in the post-COVID-19 world. It’s a journey that we at InfinityQS, for simplicity’s sake, have split into three phases: survive, recover, and thrive.
 

Survival Requires Flexibility

As mentioned earlier, manufacturing during a health crisis puts organizations under immense pressure to maintain operational efficiency and uphold product quality and safety. Many organizations have had to reduce the number of employees working per shift, making social distancing easier but reducing production capacity. Others have allocated “non-essential to plant-floor operations” staff—such as quality professionals and plant managers—to work from home.
 
If you’re a manufacturer who relies heavily on paper-based processes or on-premises software for quality management, this undoubtedly presents a challenge in providing remote employees access to critical quality and process data.
Time to Lose the Paper! 
Those organizations struggling with reduced plant-floor staff and remote teams can look to the cloud for solutions to their most pressing issues:
  • Plant-floor operators who may be stretched thin due to current circumstances – cloud solutions can automate routine activities like data collection, process monitoring, and reporting to help keep pace with critical quality and safety checks.
  • Remote Quality teams – can receive automated alerts to plant-floor problems and even keep an eye on performance trends to ensure corrective actions are taken to prevent larger issues.
  • Company leaders – when standardized across multiple lines and sites, these solutions can also help you run cross-plant analyses to identify opportunities for improvement and ways to align best practices across the entire enterprise, all safely from home.
Real-time access to quality data and the ability to analyze and respond to that data can help your organization get through the current “situation” and optimize your operations—and this is just “dipping your toe” in the pool of broader digital transformations you can make happen for your organization in the future. Colleague Jason Chester, InfinityQS Director of Global Channel Programs, does a deep-dive into the digital transformation possibilities that await you in his blog series.
 

Recovery Requires Thinking Beyond “Firefighting”

“Recovery” doesn’t mean a return to the way things were before the pandemic. That’s wishful thinking. The truth is that the impact of this health crisis will be felt long after the masks and gloves come off. Some employees will be working from home indefinitely. Some sites may continue to run with reduced staff. It all means that manufacturers need to start planning ahead for the long-term changes to their operations and adapt to the “new normal” emerging from these times, rather than just feeling satisfied to deploy temporary solutions and then go back to the way things were.
 
First, organizations must move beyond the current reactive approach to a more strategic response. Companies have always used a “firefighting” method for quality control (and, in fact, for manufacturing overall)—wherein issues arise and teams rush to respond with a quick fix—only to have the same problems come up time and time again. Firefighting is both time-consuming and exhausting…but it’s also neither strategic nor sustainable.
 
Manufacturers must learn from this crisis and proactively identify challenges across their operations: challenges like decision-making methods/capabilities and access to data. From truly understanding your operations, it’s possible for your organization to work through sustainable, tactical improvements to eliminate problem areas—including through the effective use of modern technologies. Some things for you to consider:
  • Do you have the tools necessary for employees to work remotely?
  • How are your technology limitations impacting productivity?
  • Where are there gaps in your data and understanding of process performance?
  • Where do you have operational blind spots within individual plants? Or across the enterprise?
Out of the answers to these questions come possibilities for transformation for your organization. Then, with a list of short- and long-term possibilities in hand, you can begin to create a path from recovery to thriving in the post-pandemic world.
Transform Your Operations in the New Normal

Thriving Requires Digital Transformation

Always a low priority on most companies’ budgets and agendas, digital transformation has suddenly been pushed to the forefront of investment. Manufacturers who found that deficiencies in their technology and infrastructure impaired their ability to respond and pivot their operations when the outbreak began are finding that looking to the future means looking toward new technologies.
 

Data is King

More manufacturers than ever now want to create nimble, flexible, and proactive manufacturing environments that are driven by data. This indicates a shift from the investments in improving efficiency and productivity via electro-mechanical automation that we have witnessed repeatedly in the recent past.
 
We now can do more than simply automate manufacturing. By utilizing the power of the cloud, we can optimize processes, giving us an intelligent means of understanding what’s really happening on the plant floor. With understanding comes insight, with which we can make informed decisions that drive enhancements and help us adjust operations accordingly. The results are exactly what we’re all aiming for: agility and resilience. And those are precisely the attributes we need to thrive now and long into the future.
 
 
Take advantage of the technology at your fingertips today: contact one of our account managers (1.800.772.7978 or via our website) to learn more about either of our cloud solutions, ProFicient on Demand or Enact.
 
 
Sign up now to begin three free months of Enact software.
 
 
Kirk Hughes
By Kirk Hughes
Account Manager
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