Finding the new normal

Businesses looking to meet the challenges of the new normal and get more staff safely back into the workplace can now tap into the experience and knowledge of The Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre North West (AMRC NW).

The University of Sheffield’s AMRC NW was established in Lancashire to aid the county’s manufacturers in adopting new technologies.

It is now looking to use the experience it gained from taking part in the UKs ventilator challenge to support a range of businesses as they work towards getting back into full production.

The AMRCs work at its operation in Wales at the height of the coronavirus crisis helped to deliver 10 years of ventilator production in just 10 weeks by creating a Covid compliant workplace.

At the heart of that work, was Discrete Event Simulation (DES). Traditionally used to optimise processes and highlight potential bottlenecks, DES is the ‘go to’ tool to highlight areas of concern for employers when introducing employees back to the new normal.

AMRC has proven expertise in modelling manufacturing facilities or business processes to evaluate system performance, optimise resources and perform what-if scenario testing.

These models can run along physical systems in real time to achieve predictive analyses. And they can be an important tool in getting more workers back onto the shop floor.

AMRC North West can also help businesses explore other measures as they look towards hiking up production

There are five key stages in the creation of an effective model through the use of DES:

Stage 1. Identify the objectives for the simulation. Is it to maintain or enhance productivity? Is it to provide confidence in the safety of returning to work? Government guidelines can be built in to the model.

Stage 2. Define the KPIs. The value of a model is that it can be used to assess and compare any proposed alterations to current KPI’s.

Stage 3. Plan the simulation. The defined KPIs will help establish exactly what needs to be simulated to accurately generate actionable data.

Stage 4. Run the simulation. When the model is populated, the simulation can be modified to include multiple scenarios.

Stage 5. Report results. According to business KPIs, provide a report detailing any issues and/or corrective actions.

AMRC NW commercial director Melissa Conlon says: We are looking to use our experience gained from the ventilator challenge at our factory in Wales to support Lancashire manufacturers in this new normal.

However, some of the things we did would be really useful, not just to manufacturers, but other organisations as they work to get more staff back into the workplace safely.

To that end we are reaching out to businesses across Lancashire and urging them to come and talk to us and to use the experience we have to their advantage.

To help meet the ventilator challenge, AMRC introduced a range of measures at its Welsh research and development facility close to the Airbus wing-manufacturing plant in Broughton, North Wales.

Futuristic headsets programmed to enable skilled aerospace and automotive production line operatives were introduced as the site was turned into a Covid compliant ventilator production operation.

The HoloLens headsets were used to fast track the training of operatives, while allowing them to keep a safe distance from one another in line with Covid-19 guidance.

Rather than putting wearers of the headset in a fully computer-generated world, as virtual reality does, HoloLens allowed users to place 3D digital models in the room alongside them. Users were able to walk around the objects they create and interact with them using gestures, gaze and voice.

Melissa says the logistical problems of creating a new production facility at speed were challenging enough, but became extremely complicated while adhering to strict health and safety guidelines:

She says: “Not only did our AMRC team in Wales have to strip out an R&D facility to install 16 new productions lines from scratch in less than a fortnight, they also needed to create an environment where 88 operators could work simultaneously while maintaining safe social distancing.

So, they made real use of our modelling and simulation capabilities. That included creating a model in Process Simulate to safely control operator movements around the facility to allow us to organise shift breaks and lunch times to suit what we have on the shop floor.”

AMRC NW can also help businesses explore other measures as they look towards hiking up production, including the possible use of collaborative robots, AGVs (Automated Guided Vehicles) and other IN4.0 digital technologies and how automation can play its part in being Covid compliant.

AMRC NWs team can also work with businesses to develop their risk assessment and method statements to encompass Covid measures.

To find out more about how AMRC North West can help your business meet the challenges of the ‘new normal’ contact Nick Hall SME, Engagement Manager, n.hall@amrc.co.uk or 07510409646.

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