A blueprint for safe, productive working by manufacturers during Covid-19 will give the food industry in Wales the confidence to adjust to the ‘new normal’ way of working as we begin to emerge from the pandemic and set it on the road to big improvements in productivity and innovation.
The blueprint – drawn up by the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) and Welsh Government - builds on the experience of turning AMRC Cymru into a production facility for life-saving medical ventilators by the industrial consortium Ventilator Challenge UK. In fewer than two weeks, the state-of-the-art research institute was stripped out to allow 88 operators to work simultaneously while maintaining safe social distancing and allowing shift breaks and lunch times.
It builds on the Welsh Government’s recently published Workplace guidance which is designed to help all businesses ensure they are working safely and managing the challenges presented by Covid-19.
“We know food manufacturing companies are being forced to revisit working protocols, manage employees’ safety and are exploring innovative opportunities to continue working productively. We want to help manufacturers on that journey,” said Welsh Government Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths MS.
AMRC Cymru’s Operations Director, Jason Murphy, added: “The challenges posed in our ventilator work meant we made real use of our modelling, simulation and automation capabilities. What we now want to do is help food manufacturers facing many of the same issues and challenges so they can successfully transition their business to the ‘new normal’.
“We want manufacturers to be productive but safe during this difficult period and I think this document will help them do that. Moreover, it could be the first step to creating a more digitally enabled, robust and agile operation.”
Engineers at AMRC Cymru in Broughton, North Wales, have partnered with Food and Drink Wales to produce the guide which contains lots of helpful advice on things such as factory flow, adapting workstations, adjusting break times, redesigning toilet facilities, parking arrangements and how to safely organise deliveries.
In addition, the comprehensive document, called The New Normal, highlights some of the many possibilities and opportunities of implementing new technologies to tackle the current situation and to create a more resilient operation. The guide is initially being sent to food, drink and packaging companies in Wales, but has the potential to form the basis of guidance for businesses in the across the UK.
Bobby Manesh, AMRC Cymru’s Food and Drink Technical Lead, said: “This document will hopefully provide clear guidance for management and staff to safely return to food manufacturing work while adhering to strict government guidelines; but we also want to open people’s minds to the technological opportunities available right now.
“Before going into the production of two key sub-assemblies for the ventilators, we ran Discrete Event Simulation (DES) modelling software which led us to use staggered lunch breaks and reduce production line downtimes. At other sites, Autonomous Guided Vehicles (AGVs) and Microsoft HoloLens Augmented Reality (AR) headsets have proved invaluable in the production process of these life-saving devices.
“Everything we used to help in the manufacture of the ventilators is detailed in The New Normal document and, crucially, can be implemented by any business.
AMRC Cymru was opened in November 2019, backed by a £20m investment from Welsh Government, and is the first High Value Manufacturing (HVM) Catapult centre in Wales. AMRC Cymru operates a 2,000 square metre open access research area with Airbus the first major tenant with a platform to develop their next generation wing technologies aligned to its ‘Wing of Tomorrow’ programme.
Minister for Economy, Transport and North Wales, Ken Skates said: Although AMRC Cymru is not being used as we first imagined when it opened last year, we’re incredibly proud of how this facility is part of the national effort to beat Covid-19.
“What we now need to do is learn lessons from that fantastic work, safely return to shop floors when restrictions allow and use this as a springboard to explore new opportunities.”
The Welsh Government will be publishing more workplace guidance for specific settings including retail, laboratories and research facilities, and construction and outdoor working in the coming days and weeks.