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5 Ways Technology Can Improve Manufacturing Safety

Jan. 26, 2023
A new year offers new possibilities. Here's why now is the perfect time to introduce some new ideas into the manufacturing industry—and how they can improve workplace safety.

Even through uncertainties—and there has been no shortage of them in recent times—innovation in technology is maintaining its relentless pace.

Setbacks in past years have called for unprecedented ways to adapt and improve more conventional practices. As we begin to settle into the new normal, there has never been a better time to push through and explore new ideas within the manufacturing industry.

The old proverb reminds us that necessity is the mother of invention. The saying has never been more relevant than in the shift of global production and safety demands.

2022 saw a lot of promising trends that could define (or redefine) the future of the manufacturing industry. We hope these trends continue to gain traction in the new year. Now is the perfect opportunity to take a step back and assess these ideas, which might not yet be fully embraced and implemented at your organization.

5G and Edge Computing

Edge computing revolutionizes how we think about data, process information and make connections in a globalized world. As its name implies, edge computing takes the analytical power of a computer to the boundary where the physical meets the virtual.

In other words, edge computing brings the power of analytics to the handheld devices we use daily. With the wireless connectivity capabilities of 5G, edge computing enables seamless data transfer and remote control like never before.

The applications are limitless, especially with the capability to gather and analyze comprehensive real-time data. Optimizing production and streamlining supply chain operations—all while promoting a robust safety culture—ensure a boost in an organization’s overall performance.

A facility that reaps the benefits of interconnected devices has the capacity for remote monitoring, control and advanced analysis. Some of the many possible applications for edge computing include: heating and ventilation systems that recommend optimal conditions, safety sensors that pick up on potential concerns, and data backup systems that gather historical information.

Real-time safety reporting allows companies to capture leading indicators while also maintaining the capability to track traditional lagging indicators. Additionally, processes relying on pen-and-paper or spreadsheet monitoring are now able to take a step forward.

The ability to take computing power closer to the front lines eliminates inefficiencies associated with latency. For applications that require immediate actions, such as surveillance and safety detection in hazardous environments, detection urgency is the utmost priority. 5G technologies enable teams to receive data in a heartbeat, while edge computing lowers the dependency on transmission lags to get truly real-time responses.

Digitization and Automation

Emerging technology relies on the premise that data and information come in a form that enables analysis. What is even more appealing is the ability to effortlessly gather data with incredible precision.

In some cases, modern tools have the capacity to accurately monitor conditions without any human intervention whatsoever. For example, imagine having the ability to improve safety procedures while also eliminating the exposure of workers to avoidable hazards.

A smart factory is a concept that describes the operational level a facility can reach through digitization and automation. With the proper infrastructure, physically distant objects can virtually interact through instantaneous data transfer.

Sensing devices, linked through a cloud-based system, enable advanced analytical processes, such as machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI), that allow for further integration into other autonomous systems.

By having a firm grasp on a facility’s operations, companies can get a better idea of the various opportunities for automation. After all, efficiency and safety gains are the result of eliminating hazardous actions, manual work or redundant tasks.

Insights from advanced analytics can help improve maintenance schedules by automating tasks and servicing requirements. High-risk consequences that rely on urgent actions, such as safety shut-off procedures, also stand to benefit from automated responses.

Real-world examples can include varying degrees of digitization and automation, including:

  • manual activities that rely on human intervention,

  • semi-automated tasks that use tools and equipment to reduce manual intervention, and

  • fully-automated processes with more autonomy and self-sufficiency.

The level of automation depends on the requirements and capabilities of a facility as well as its budget. The prioritization of automation is based on evaluating the impacts on production and workplace safety.

Ultimately, automation allows workers to focus their time and effort on more complex, value-adding tasks. Automation also allows workers to tackle situations they might not have been able to address previously.

Robotics and AI

Robotics and AI have been trending for several years and continue to dominate technological research and advancement.

Modern robotic systems are now more precise than ever and do not merely rely on hard-set instructions. Instead, more intelligent platforms incorporate continuous learning and improvement abilities, which optimize their actions and increase overall performance.

A practical use case for industrial robots is to introduce them into hazardous procedures and harsh environments. There are plenty of manufacturing processes that involve extreme temperatures, rough environments, toxic byproducts, or even a combination of intense situations.

If a job includes physically getting into a high-risk condition, robotics and AI systems are a safer, more practical alternative. If a human were involved in such a scenario, additional precautions for PPE and specialized training would be required—a potential problem amid labor shortages and limited resources.

AI algorithms can also identify patterns that are too subtle or too complex for the naked eye by gathering enormous amounts of historical and real-time information. Moreover, AI capabilities can alert workers about any detection of workplace or environmental hazards. For example, installed cameras can monitor an area for passing equipment, falling debris, gas leaks and other potentially preventable hazards. Robotic systems can use the same information when assessing the need to cease operations or run an adaptive program that resolves a specific concern.

Green Energy

EHS departments are usually at the top of our minds when talking about occupational safety. Typical projects and discussions can easily leave out environmental aspects—unless a major incident is in question. Recently, however, there’s been a stronger focus on environmental, social and governance (ESG) initiatives and corporate social responsibility (CSR).

And the concern for environmental sustainability is, in fact, a shared responsibility between customers and providers. According to the Future Consumer Index, 38% of global consumers agree that businesses should make their production more responsible. With a more pronounced awareness of green practices, consumer support has been a driver for green energy initiatives in the manufacturing industry.

Green energy is a loose term that describes the conscious effort to incorporate renewable practices into business operations. Non-renewable energy sources still dominate the majority of conventional factories; however, optimistic projections forecast that 27% of total energy resources can come from renewable alternatives by 2030.

Greater computing power, unsurprisingly, comes with massive energy requirements. To put things in perspective, approximately 2% of the total U.S. electricity usage goes into the operation of data centers.

Taking advantage of renewable energy sources allows companies to instead scale operations sustainably. Popular options for cleaner energy continue to include solar and wind power, with technology giants like Google and Microsoft setting an example of deriving energy consumption from such sources.

Sustainable practices in sourcing supplies and production techniques are another focus point for manufacturers. Reducing waste by-products and resource conservation are among the top priorities in the industry.

Buyback programs provide another incentive for consumers to take part in recycling and the reuse of products. On the other hand, advanced technology promotes practices for utility conservation, particularly for water supply systems and heating and ventilation systems.

Digital Twins

Arguably one of the most aptly named concepts today, digital twins refer to a virtual replica of an existing system. A computer program reads and copies data from existing physical systems to create a digital model, which can provide valuable insights for running simulations and test scenarios.

The ability to run virtual tests provides information on production processes and helps identify ways to improve safety practices in manufacturing. Organizations can learn a few things from automotive manufacturers, who have thus far been able to squeeze the most value out of digital twins.

Ford, for instance, develops seven digital twins to narrow down improvement opportunities from several aspects of design and production. Each digital twin represents a set of variables for a specific area, including design, supply, construction and operations. Digital models then assess the manufacturing process and customer experience. Collectively, these data sets allow Ford to understand the evolution of a product from conceptualization to usage.

By performing tests on a virtual replica, companies can evaluate the effectiveness of their programs better without the risk of any real-life incidents. While comprehensive planning can theoretically eliminate safety threats, simulations can uncover any unanticipated interactions of complex systems.

We’ve only scratched the surface when it comes to use cases and applications for digital twins. Such simulated platforms could even help improve safety procedures and protocols in the event of emergencies, including hazardous chemical spills, natural disasters and disease outbreaks.

Why You Should Adopt These Ideas

Technology has empowered us to uplift and streamline our practices. However, reaping its benefits does not stop at acquiring new tools. There needs to be proper care and attention in the execution of such significant changes.

Innovations in recent years continue to revolve around the availability of data and the capacity to perform agile actions. The use cases that can maximize these technologies include critical responses to potential hazards as well as a heightened precision in manufacturing processes. Employing the appropriate tools and strategies also can significantly impact safety and production efficiency.

A good start for companies is to take a step back, find the business critical priorities that will drive value and study the available technologies that can help them succeed in their goals.

The good news is that there is no shortage of tools to explore. If you have the budget for implementing them, you can achieve a massive return on investment (ROI) through:

  • Enhanced operational efficiency attained through data-based strategies;

  • Real-time visibility into processes across the production cycle;

  • Quick decision-making with readily available data;

  • A strong focus on workplace safety through minimizing risks and hazards;

  • A significant improvement in crisis response time for shop floor engineers and plant managers; and

  • Infusing agility and sustainability across functions.


Stepping into uncharted territory can be daunting, even intimidating. The past few years, and all the challenges they have brought, have taught us that inventive work methods can help a facility gain a competitive advantage — and that can trigger a ripple effect across the entire business.

New ideas arise frequently, and a solution that fits your business might be just around the corner. Lean into, or at the very least don’t be afraid, of new technologies and their untapped possibilities.

For over 30 years, Eric Whitley has been a noteworthy leader in the manufacturing space. After an extensive career as a reliability and business improvement consultant, Eric joined L2L, where he currently serves as the Director of Smart Manufacturing. In his role, he helps clients learn and implement L2L’s pragmatic and simple approach to corporate digital transformation and how to create a smart factory.

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