Simulation Charts Course to “Next Normal” Manufacturing

Siemens leverages hardware and software portfolio to help manufacturers promote workplace distancing.

Siemens leverages hardware and software portfolio to help manufacturers promote workplace distancing.

Siemens’ SIMATIC RTLS and Xcelerator software portfolio create a workplace distancing solution to minimize employee exposure risks. Image Courtesy of Siemens

Siemens has coupled key pieces of its software and hardware technology to create a new solution designed to help manufacturers balance the need to ramp up production while maintaining employee safety as the economy opens back up in the wake of COVID-19 shutdowns.

The solution pairs Siemens’ SIMATIC Real Time Locating Systems (RTLS) with its Xcelerator portfolio of engineering, operational, IT, IIoT, and cloud solutions to create a workplace distancing solution that helps minimize employee exposure risks while optimizing productivity. In what many are calling the “new normal” or “next normal,” companies are scrambling to figure out how to address physical distancing requirements as the workforce returns to work in the face of the on-going pandemic.

Using Siemens simulation technologies and RTLS, companies can quickly and efficiently model employee interactions as well as where they are situated on the production line. The technologies can also be employed to remodel plant line operations to address on-going safety concerns or to reconfigure workers to bolster productivity, officials said.

“As we started to scratch our heads evaluating the challenges caused by the pandemic, we realized we could combine technologies, that while not used specifically for these applications, fit unbelievably well,” explains Tom Tengan, director of the Digital Enterprise for Siemens Digital Industries Software. “RTLS and manufacturing process simulation capabilities are a great example.”

SIMATIC RTLS transponders are embedded in employee badges, and RTLS receivers placed throughout an operation continuously track and record workforce movement. In this way, manufacturers can continuously measure the distances between workers and provide real-time visual feedback if employees are getting too close during procedures. For example, if two employees come closer than six feet apart, their badges will display a warning that alerts them to the safety risk. The data collected over time can also be used to identify “hot spot” areas where such risk scenarios occur too frequently.

RTLS, when combined with Siemens simulation software like Tecnomatix Process Simulate and Plant Simulation Software, create a digital twin of the plant floor that takes the approach a step further. The software maintains a log of all movements and interactions to facilitate safe distancing, but that same data can be tapped to inform decisions about on-going and long-term factory floor optimization by simulating new manufacturing layouts or workflows to determine which one delivers the desired outcomes.

“While employee safety is the key problem we’re solving, you can also look at the efficiency of the operation, which is especially relevant if you are starting back to work with a scaled back or different workforce [after the global shutdowns],” Tengan says.

The solution can be further buttressed with Siemens’ Trusted Traceability Application on MindSphere, the cloud-based IIoT platform, to aid in contact analysis in the case of a workplace illness. With this technology, plant floor managers can visualize all movement and contact with the affected employee, allowing for rapid notification for all those that came into contact with them as well as to do targeting deep cleaning.

By investing in simulation and digital twins, manufacturers ensure they are well protected to deal with the fall out from COVID-19 as well as future disruptions. “This helps you build up the digital evidence to avoid having to shut down in the future for this reason or reasons that come up later,” he said.

Check out this webinar to learn more about how to leverage Siemens RTLS for workplace distancing on the plant floor.

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Beth Stackpole

Beth Stackpole is a contributing editor to Digital Engineering. Send e-mail about this article to [email protected].

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