The COVID-19 epidemic has brought many things to the forefront. Among them are the need for smart buildings that can monitor occupants, trace contacts, and support the safety of workers and visitors alike.
We talk a lot about smart offices and smart homes, but less about the smart factory and what it can bring to a company. Smart factories use location tracking to monitor employees, track products through the manufacturing process, keep track of movable equipment, etc. If you haven't introduced indoor IoT location services in your factory, here are some reasons why you need to take a closer look at what it can do for you.
COVID-19 is the worst pandemic of our lifetimes, but there's no guarantee it will be the last. Although we can hope future epidemics and pandemics will be less serious in scale and scope, the fact is that we have had a significant outbreak every few years. Local outbreaks can be just as much of a problem for a facility's direct logistics as global ones. Contact tracing is key to controlling outbreaks of directly contagious diseases such as COVID or influenza.
Indoor location technology tracks both visitors and employees by using smart Bluetooth badges. This allows the system to monitor who was in contact with or close proximity (less than six feet away) to someone who has been diagnosed with a contagious disease and apply the appropriate measures so that close contacts can be notified. Factory workers are generally less at risk of occupational exposure than most, due to the more open space on the floor, but new infectious diseases emerge all the time.
Contact tracing can help reduce downtime by avoiding the need to send all employees home, decrease employee and visitor anxiety and reduce the cost of testing. Without proper contact tracing, you may need to test everyone who was in the building, even people who were never on the same floor as the infected person.
If you have a fire, explosion, or leak of toxic chemicals, evacuating the building is likely to become necessary. A historical problem is ensuring that everyone gets out.
With employee and visitor tracking, you can quickly check to make sure that nobody is still in the building; furthermore, you can even tell where in the building a "missing" person might be. This allows you to send help to get the person out or provide their location to emergency services for needed rescue. During drills, you can identify people who are slow to get out of the building and then determine why – did they fail to hear the alarm? Was the fastest evacuation route blocked? You can use this information to improve evacuation speed and safety.
Kontakt.io has indoor location services that give the location of everyone in a facility and allow a one-touch check on entire groups. You can also use them to track employees and visitors in real time throughout an evacuation, and trackers can even be given to first responders so that their location can be monitored and they can be given even better information to find a missing, and potentially injured person.
You can also set up real-time emergency alerts that ensure that everyone in the building is notified of the emergency through their phones or other means. The system uses a map to show the locations of personnel, making it easy to show first responders both the location and aspects of building layout they may be unfamiliar with. Overall, real-time tracking reduces the time needed to evacuate, reduces the number of people left behind, and helps first responders find trapped or injured personnel.
Lightweight Bluetooth tags can be used to track raw materials, completed orders, and movable equipment. Because individual parts can be tracked, the system helps ensure that you neither run out of nor over-order materials, reducing waste. It assists with loss control by ensuring parts and components do not "wander" out of the warehouse. Time spent picking items out of the warehouse can also be reduced, with the AI giving the employee the most efficient route to collect any items needed.
The tracking system can also track movable equipment such as forklifts and tool kits. Employees can use the system to find the closest piece of equipment even if the last worker failed to put it back where it belongs, saving time which might otherwise be wasted searching. Alarms can be set up if a piece of equipment is taken out of its designated area, preventing both theft and simple errors.
Tracking the movement of assets and employees also allows you to analyze efficiencies on the shop floor and improve processes. Employee buy-in is important, however, and it's important to phrase tracking as a way of improving protocols rather than looking for problems with individuals.
Asset tracking can also be used to improve the manufacturing process itself. Each individual product can be tracked through the manufacturing process and the aggregate information can be used to monitor the speed at which a product moves through the system. Although some parts of your process will inevitably be slower than others, the information allows you to identify bottlenecks which can then be targeted for efficiency improvement.
The system can also monitor orders to provide flow management. As manufacturing becomes more complex, order flow management has become even more critical. The system gives real-time visibility to track inventory levels and progress and match them to order volume. This is vital for both small operations that may be making items to order and large factories churning out a high volume of product.
This improves on-time delivery, allows you to make better decisions, and provides a constant flow of data. One advantage of Bluetooth tags is that the readers are so cheap that they can be integrated into the process, rather than having products scanned at specified checkpoints. This saves employee time and effort. There is no manual entry of data, reducing errors and eliminating wasteful paperwork.
Accidents can happen when employees – or less experienced visitors – go out onto the factory floor. Systems can be set up to alert people if they are about to step inside a safety line, if there is a forklift out of their line of site, or about other hazards. Visitors can be monitored to ensure that they stay in safe areas or close to an escort.
Data can be used to establish if individuals are following safe distance requirements so that careless employees can be targeted for reminders or training. During the current situation, alerts can even be provided if people get within six feet of each other, ensuring that social distancing guidelines are followed. Moving forward, sensors can warn if an area is becoming overcrowded, if too many people try to crowd into an elevator, etc.
Alerts can be sent out if somebody enters a potentially hazardous area. Finally, employee and visitor badges can also be fitted with panic buttons, which allow people to quickly call others in the event of an accident. An injured employee has a greater chance of being able to hit a panic button than finding their phone, and somebody who witnesses an accident can hit a button and then immediately move to assist the injured person. This can greatly increase the speed at which assistance, including first responders, arrive and result in better outcomes. Panic buttons can also be used during a security breach.
Developing a smart factory takes time, but immediately implementing real time tracking of assets, employees, and visitors can show benefits right away. The current crisis has brought attention to contact tracing, but most of these benefits are not going to go away when the pandemic is over. Instead, companies will continue to move forward to improve safety, security, and overall processes. Improved employee training and awareness, greater visitor safety and increased security will all benefit companies and employees moving forward.
At Kontakt.io, we offer indoor location services that help improve safety and security while reducing costs. Schedule a demo today to find out how our Bluetooth Low Energy tracking systems and Kontkt.io solutions can help your facility gain a competitive edge.