Advances in manufacturing technology and processes are having a profound impact on every phase of traditional manufacturing, including design, execution, process control, and safety measures used around the globe. These are positive advances that can produce better products while creating less waste, align the supply chain more closely with demand, and keep employees safer than they have ever been.
Digital Manufacturing Advances
Pure digital manufacturing involves the development of prototypes, the planning, and the customizing of production processes using virtual techniques that are entirely automated, or nearly so. Automated control ensures that production runs generate only the quantity of product desired, without overruns, so the manufacturing process is leaner and more responsive to actual demand. This approach supports a build-to-order production strategy, rather than a build-to-stock strategy.
Product generally travels through this kind of build process at a quicker rate, because unnecessary steps have been designed out, which in turn allows goods to reach the consumer in a more timely fashion. From a safety perspective, automated design methods contribute to a safer work environment through a refinement of the process and greater virtual testing that can be accomplished to check ergonomics, physical requirements as well as other factors that can lead to injury if not properly evaluated.
Global Manufacturing Advances
Global manufacturing is undergoing considerable transformation, which has resulted in significant cutting-edge advances for industry. Advances have occurred in the form of collaborative engineering of automation software, cloud-enabled services on physically remote platforms, and collaborative architectural design. The practical uses of such technology are currently being tested and evaluated in several locations such as RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia.
At RMIT, a global laboratory has been set up to link industrial entities to universities at locations around the world. This connectivity was established to provide a collaborative space for experimental design and testing of physical systems managed by automated means. An initial test was arranged in 2013 to connect remote automated equipment, operators, testers, software developers and researchers to ensure that proper control would be maintained. And, most importantly, this new level of collaboration sought to unlock new ways to approach safety issues – helping to keep our manufacturing work environments as safe as ever!
With the tremendous success of that initial test, the network of partners in the program has been broadened as more companies seek to obtain the benefits of this new manufacturing technology. As this ultra-modern approach rolls out to more large companies, it is anticipated that the “islands” in the manufacturing stream will grow fewer. More inter-connectedness between multiple organizations within and external to companies offers the opportunity for greater sharing of safety best practices. In short, the manufacturing process is becoming much more collaborative and collective.
Impacts on Safety
Each of these activities is having a huge impact on safety and safety training in the advanced workplace of today. With parts of the build process handled by automation, there are fewer actual persons involved on assembly lines and workstations, so many of the safety concerns from assembly are anticipated to be reduced or eliminated.
Another very noticeable impact has been in the creation of an entirely new position in companies that make use of digital and or global manufacturing methods – the safety engineer. This person is charged with having an intimate knowledge of several engineering disciplines, for instance controls, mechanics, and electronics. They must also have a deep understanding of safety requirements and regulations. Responsibilities include the creation of a harmonious connection between cutting edge technology, design requirements, and necessary safety practices.
Safety methods and training for those specific safety methods will now have to take on a greater awareness – of remote locations, and of the operations personnel involved in those remote processes. It will not be enough to practice good safety locally, because the process will no longer be entirely local. This greater awareness should be seen as a very good thing though, because after all, the key to safety in the workplace is having the awareness of good safety practices in the first place.
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