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Productivity and employee health safety go hand in hand as cos plan to restart

If automation made manufacturers across sectors redraw their assembly lines, the impact of the novel coronavirus outbreak is making them recalibrate the shop floor to meet health and safety protocols and social distancing norms without hampering productivity as they look to restart production after the nationwide lockdown.

Companies such as Maruti Suzuki, Mahindra & Mahindra, Toyota Kirloskar, Tata Steel, Vedanta, Dalmia Cement, Thermax, Panasonic, Lumax, and Shriram Pistons are putting in place various measures such as demarcated work areas on shop floors with plastic screen shields, re-laid assembly lines, automating and digitising various processes to reduce human interaction, working with 50% manpower and more shifts, sanitising tunnel of disinfectant mist of sodium hypochlorite for workers, big trucks and  vehicles, PPE for security staff, continuous monitoring of employee health, and automated sanitiser dispensers.


Most companies are increasing the number of shifts and plan to run 24/7 to reduce average footfall on shop floor at any given time. “There will be no over lapping of shifts with gaps of one hour.


Experts said re-laying and automating assembly lines will involve significant investment. While it is difficult to put a ball mark figure, the amount will vary considering the size of the plant, volumes and how technologically advanced the plant is, they said.To start with, most shop floors will run at lesser capacity with just about 50% manpower, putting off big investments until the demand picks up.


As auto workers start reporting to shop floors, taking temperatures and filling daily health questionnaires will be the new normal.Companies are grappling with the reality that the shop floor has to be redesigned and automated to maintain productivity working at 50% of staff strength at any given time, at least till the Covid-19 scare is significantly mitigated.With social distancing norms, getting the same productivity will be challenging and hence adoption of low cost automation is being fast-tracked. demarcation areas on shop floor with temporary hard plastic screen shields are  put up where only one person can work.Also, tools that workers use such as spanner and welding tool are being coded and identified so that each person has their dedicated set of tools which others will not touch.

Tata Steel plans to conduct its morning tool meetings on the shop floor where workers from previous shift communicate safety instructions, etc. in smaller groups of not more than 10 people in each. “We used to have a lot of maintenance work on the shop floor which we will now do in batches to have smaller groups of people,” said Suresh Tripathi, vice president – HR at Tata Steel. “Most of the systems on the shop floor are mostly automated and controlled from a control room where physical distancing is maintained.”