Factories and other types of manufacturing environments can be dangerous places. From toxic or corrosive chemicals to sharp fragments and splinters, preventing workers from injuries and accidents is paramount—and that’s where personal protective equipment (PPE) comes in.
PPE is a catch-all term that describes a broad range of safety-orientated clothing and accessories; it's also a term that's gotten considerable press recently, with companies across all sectors leveraging PPE to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
The idea of PPE is either to create a physical barrier that prevents the wearer from harm by items and materials they come into contact with on the factory floor, whether that’s hazardous substances or flying debris produced during normal work operations, as well as protection from the impact of a slip or fall.
Of course, the safest thing for workers would be to remove themselves from a dangerous physical situation altogether. This may have seemed an absurd suggestion in the past, but the rise of digital manufacturing technologies is making it possible to create distance between workers and hazards while actually maximizing productivity.
Using digital manufacturing solutions, many facilities are exploring ways to wrap and extend their existing infrastructure with new control capabilities. In other words, they are able to trigger certain actions, or turn machines on or off, remotely. This is particularly useful during emergency shutdowns or even maintenance, when safety and climate control systems may have been cut off or switched off, or when a malfunctioning machine could be dangerous to approach, even with PPE. It also helps address issues where PPE can’t tackle all the hazards to health, for example when a worker needs to enter a very hot production area in order to turn off or adjust equipment.
If you have machinery arms, pulleys, and similar heavy-duty equipment working at height, controlling these remotely allows operators to stay safe, instead of working at a height where they are at an increased risk of injury.
As manufacturing facilities undergo digital transformation, more and more companies edge towards automating tasks, processes, and production lines. Automation doesn’t just improve productivity, consistency, and cost-efficiency; it’s also a key strategy for improving safety on the factory floor.
Deploying digital manufacturing technology means you can continually collect sensor data to monitor equipment performance. This allows you to intervene if any of your machines show any sign of experiencing problems before they become a danger to workers. You can also set up equipment to automatically stop or shut down if a person or object gets too close, or the system otherwise senses danger. The more processes you automate, the more your workforce shifts focus to monitoring and management roles—ultimately reducing exposure to dangerous situations.
There is nothing more important than the safety of your workforce. Distributing the right personal protective equipment is absolutely necessary to prevent accidents. That said, as digital manufacturing technologies become more sophisticated, so do the measures you can take to improve safety. Workforce protection has evolved beyond goggles and hard hats; through digital controls and automation, it’s now possible to reduce exposure to previously dangerous working conditions, ultimately leading to safer factory jobs.