The COVID-19 pandemic created a massive shift in how work is done across all industries. As the world paused for a moment, organizations of all types had to revisit their processes and procedures. Particular challenges arose for tasks that needed to be done in-person. This was especially difficult in manufacturing facilities. Workstations are sometimes positioned close together, require multiple people to complete a task and many people operate the same machinery.
As the automotive industry continues to work toward more automated, electrified and software-defined vehicles, Nexteer Automotive is looking at ways to not only innovate in their products, but also in their processes. In some ways, the pandemic has recharged this drive toward new solutions and led to new methods of engineering and production that will carry on after the pandemic.
In one example, the Nexteer team developed a solution called “Remote Machine Approval.” This creative, virtual solution helps manage social distancing protocols and ensures the safety of employees across 27 global manufacturing facilities. The process has created a virtual solution for remote Machine Qualification (MQ) testing—a task that was previously thought to require an in-person presence. This was especially true for debugging, MQ builds, conducting evaluations, design reviews and problem solving, which were identified as potential health risks during the pandemic.
Nexteer’s engineering team solved this challenge by creating a plan that relies on technology and limits the need for a physical presence. The team evaluated critical hardware and software and developed requirements for the technology, including visual and audio support. The system would need a minimum of three cameras and a Bluetooth or Wi-Fi enabled headset. Nexteer’s software for the program includes several programs that were previously standardized, with training materials and a Trace PC added to each package that included a force gauge for ergonomic checks.
The system was first tested by Nexteer’s Columns and Intermediate Shafts Central Mechanical Engineering group and has since been implemented into all product lines. A standardized approach ensured that the global team used the same basic set up and collectively learned and grew together, safely. For future developments, Nexteer is working on enhancing remote runoff by adding the ability to troubleshoot equipment remotely and the use of Augmented Reality.
Nexteer has placed additional emphasis on driving effectiveness and efficiency using virtual engineering tools and processes throughout all phases of product design, development and validation.
Thanks to Nexteer’s commitment to relentless innovation, the engineering team created a solution to manage social distancing protocols during the COVID-19 pandemic—keeping employees safe and healthy, while ensuring equipment was running at maximum efficiency and in top operating conditions.