Focus on sanitation and communication key to restart manufacturing

IPF Webinar focused on challenges before manufacturers as they restart their production plants and also offered probable solutions to mitigate Covid 19 problem
Focus on sanitation and communication key to restart manufacturing

IPF Webinar focused on challenges before manufacturers as they restart their production plants and also offered probable solutions to mitigate Covid 19 problem.


Operations in manufacturing sector in India came to a complete standstill after the lockdown was announced from March 25, 2020. Situation is quite alarming as shown by the latest Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI) numbers - which dropped like a freefall showing lowest figures since it began in 2005. This has given jitters.

Government has also realised the importance of starting industrial activity in the country to keep the wheels of the economy moving. While it has extended the lockdown till May 17, it has allowed industries to function under strict government guidelines. States like Maharashtra has received over 15,000 applications for reopening and nearly 4,000 have begun operations. Government offices have opened countrywide too.

Some companies have mandated that the use of government’s Aarogya Setu app. Companies like Maruti has got their own app. However, challenges like lack of demand, financial liquidity and non-availability of workmen remains before the companies who are planning to restart production.

To find solutions to these challenges, Industrial Products Finder (IPF) hosted a webinar - “Restarting manufacturing process - post lock down”, which was moderated by Pratap Padode, Founder & Editor-in-Chief of IPF magazine.

Panelists for the webinar were Lalit Gabhane, Director General, National Safety Council of India; Prof R Jayaraman, Professor of Operations & SCM, Bhavan's SP Jain Institute of Management and Research; Raj Saxena, CEO and Founder of LogisticsNow; Vijayanand Choudhury, Global Procurement Head, Tata Technologies; and Dr Vinod Nowal, Deputy Managing Director, JSW Steel.

According to Lalit Gabhane, in spite of the challenges, manufacturing has to start, otherwise, the supply of goods will get very badly hampered. Manufacturers will have to take all those precautions like social distancing, sanitisation of the premises, building the trust of the employees who come to work.

“Companies will have to perform the risk assessment starting from the factory gate to various areas within manufacturing unit. Areas with high risk of contamination need to be identified and steps should be taken to mitigate this problem. Companies will have to change their standard operating procedures (SOPs) to maintain the requirement of social distancing, sanitisation and using personal protective equipment. The training will also play very important role as people will have to be trained to follow the revised SOPs,” he added. 

When lockdown was announced from March 25, even steel industry was not in the essential list. Unlike other industries, steel plants need to run continuously round-the-clock, especially in areas like blast furnace. If these operations are stopped, it takes at least three to six months to restart or resume the production. However, later steel plants were allowed to function under stringent standards.

Sharing the experience of JSW Steel, Dr Vinod Nowal said, “Steel plants need a large manpower. When lockdown was announced, we were producing 34,000 tons every day in our Karnataka plant. For us, switching off was a big challenge. Adhering to the government guidelines required for manufacturing during Covid 19 pandemic is not a problem as we are used to following high safety and hygiene standards. Major challenge is how to manage production with a very lean manpower. Another challenge is when people are coming in with the material from throughout India inside the plant. Though we are adhering to strict sanitation and hygiene standards, it is an area of concern for all manufacturing units.”

There are around 5 million truckers on the road involved in transporting goods across destinations in India and who can be potential carriers of coronavirus. Explaining the seriousness of the situation, Raj Saxena said, “As a standard procedure, every plant is doing thermal screening of people (including truck drivers and their helpers) who enter their factory premise. Thermal sensors are ineffective in detecting Covid 19 in asymptomatic phase, which normally lasts for 14 days. In those 14 days, typical long-haul truck driver probably visits at least two to three plants if not more. Hence, thermal screening may not be effective tool to fight Covid 19. Enforcing Covid 19 protocols like social distancing and wearing masks are easier said than done because we are talking about thousands of trucks moving in and out of large plants. We need well thought through process so that the risk of contamination from the drivers/helpers as well as from the cargo is minimised.”

With large scale logistics operations now commencing in our country, companies will need to have right strategy for handling logistics and warehouses. Elaborating more this Prof Jayaraman said, “Warehouses vary in shapes and sizes. First, warehouses must pay attention to hygiene and sanitisation.  They may have divide their warehouse into three or four zones. For example, first zone would be used incoming trucks, which is completely outside the premise to the extent possible. All the tests and sanitisation of incoming materials and trucks is done here. More tools/equipment should be used to implement no-touch policy to minimise the chances of infection spread. Light forklift trucks can be a good option. Warehouses in the vicinity could come together and arrange a medical team which can take care of healthcare emergency.  All warehouses should ensure proper information and communication mechanism is in operation.”

Communication is important not just within warehouse or warehouses complex, but also outside. “National registry of truck drivers can be established by the center which gives information about the movement pattern of the truck across the country. This could also be used to certify health status of the driver which could be shared with companies and warehouses. This will facilitate smooth inward movement of the truck,” said Raj Saxena.

So, what kind of process planning will be needed to introduce a contact free environment in factory premise? Vijayanand Choudhury answered, “We all know to mitigate Covid 19 pandemic, we need to prevent spread of the disease. To prevent spreading, it is very clear that social distancing needs to be maintained. Every plant and work place are unique, hence will require separate SOPs. First, companies will have to map the movement of a person from his work area to other areas to plan for contact free movement. For example, as far as possible, people should avoid touching handles of doors (for this either keep the doors open or implement technology which can enable contactless entry & exit). Similar, sanitizer bottle that can be opened with foot will also be useful. Planning has to be very clean and clear in terms of thinking where the employee is moving. Employees need to be well communicated about the rules and processes which is documented in a manual.”

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