Covid-19: Tool makers aid Taiwan’s ranking as 2nd largest mask producer

Covid-19: Tools makers aid Taiwan’s ranking as 2nd largest mask producer

The manufacturing sector globally has been adversely affected as a result of Covid-19, with most factories either pausing work or slowly recovering as governments begin to relax lockdown measures. One country that has seen a near-normal work environment is Taiwan. This can be attributed to the massive increase in mask production capacity, which has upped Taiwan’s ranking as the world’s second largest mask supplier, producing 17 million masks/day in the last couple of weeks.

The capacity expansion was at first estimated to take six months – much too slow compared to the speed at which Covid-19 was spreading. But in the end, only 40 days were required to build up all the 92 sets of automated mask production lines with support from the machine tool industry.

When Covid-19 had begun to spread globally in January this year, the Taiwanese government decided to expand its mask production capacity so that it would be capable of supplying enough masks for domestic demand.

Covid-19: Tools makers aid Taiwan’s ranking as 2nd largest mask producer

“As long as we are provided with the built-up layout, we can assemble it.” “If there’s demand for robotics in combating Covid-19, we will make it our priority to support.” “We can help handle the electrical circuits.”

These were the replies from many Taiwan machine tools manufacturers, that are members of the Taiwan Association of Machinery Industry (TAMI). Over 80 manufacturers immediately volunteered and sent out staff to join in the mask machine assembly.

Given that masks were not a common household necessity as they are now, the lack of manpower made assembly of the 92 sets a hard task. The volunteers filled in for the needed workforce, and they self-produced parts that were lacking for the mask assembly; as well as assisted in troubleshooting during the test runs. Up to 100 workers were volunteering on site during the busiest time, and an average of 60 workers were there every day.

Taiwan was producing 2 million masks/day in January, and it increased fivefold within 40 days to 13 million in March. Now, 17 million masks/day are produced.

Covid-19: Tools makers aid Taiwan’s ranking as 2nd largest mask producer

By sending staff to support mask production, the corresponding travelling and congregation of large groups gathered at the mask production site have created another concern for these 80 machine tool manufacturers. Wearing masks, checking temperature, and sanitising hands are now mandatory rules at every factory’s entrance.

In order to ensure every employee is free from Covid-19, many factories are conducting full sanitisation every couple of days, as well as taking other precautionary measures like staggered seating arrangements or taking lunch in shifts. In addition, the machine tool manufacturers are evolving toward more flexibility at their work by adopting remote monitoring.

It is expected that a new norm scenario will be created post-Covid-19: decentralisation and the adoption of digitalised manufacturing with remote controlling. This can change the current manufacturing method in order to prevent any more manufacturing downtimes, as observed by industry stalwarts.

The IIoT technology adopted on the production platform allows the factory to receive live feed on manufacturing processes and machine status, and the control manager can conduct remote control management (RCM) to assign work programs, either at the control room or simply using their mobile devices. This helps reduce the number of onsite workers required, while solving manufacturing issues.

Several Taiwan machine tool companies like YCM, Goodway and Campro are already seeing some good potential in furthering this manufacturing trend.

Aside from the RCM, other non-contact technologies such as augmented reality (AR) could also be used. During troubleshooting, using visualised communication with customers could allow similar results without the need to send a technician to a clients’ location, and predictive maintenance can be easily conducted that can essentially prevent machine downtime and lower costs for customers.

By realising smart manufacturing, humans are not removed from the production element, but instead they are provided with smart tools and more user-friendly interfaces to further strengthen manufacturing efficiency.

The Covid-19 pandemic may have given a new push to smart manufacturing as another path for future business.


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