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How Automation can Help Social Distancing

Food producers are always key to keeping Britain fed and watered, but their importance has been highlighted over the past couple of months with the Covid-9 pandemic and subsequent lockdown of society. Food factory workers have had to carry on working where many other industries have seen production halted or workers relocated to home working.

While many production lines are now heavily automated there are some areas where automation is not fully utilised for a myriad of reasons. It is in these areas where we see the human operative as a flexible adaptable, multi-function resource. Unfortunately, this often means operators are working close together in cramped conditions. In normal pre-pandemic operation this was not ideal but in the current climate it puts people at risk of picking up infections and spreading them to others. From a personal and business perspective this is not good. At WMH we have been in discussion with several customers looking to reduce the risks to their staff and help with social distancing.

Depending on the situation and the availability of capital to invest in line improvements WMH have three levels of solution.

Physical Barriers

Where space is limited, and operators cannot be spaced out or numbers reduced we have provided safety screens to place between operators. This approach gives each worker a greater degree of protection than PPE alone. It also allows production to continue un-disturbed and is quick to implement and relatively low cost.


Where space permits and factories have a little capital to invest, WMH have talked to many customers about the merits of introducing semi-automated solutions. Semi-automation can include the addition of small pieces of machinery that help collate product reducing the workload of the operatives and therefore their numbers. It can also include modification of workstations to make them more ergonomic and help operative do more, allowing lines to be run with less personnel.

The semi-automated approach provides a cost effective, medium term solution for factories looking to improve operator safety by adhering to social distancing guidelines. This approach can also offer long term cost savings through the resulting labour reductions.

Full Automation

For long term labour reduction where significant capital investment is available the top-level option is fully automated solutions for production lines. From the integration of flexible robotic pick and place systems with vision control technology for both individual product and packaged finished goods to despatch. To special purpose cutting, collation, and handling solutions. The fully automated approach requires time and investment to develop the right solution that will not only deliver labour savings now but long into the future.

We don’t know how long social distancing will continue to be a requirement but for the foreseeable future it is a measure we need to live with and adapt and change the way we operate to protect the health of our staff which are at the heart of every business.

If you are looking for ways to increase the social distancing in your factory please give our sales team a call on 01579 383788 to discuss the most appropriate course of action for your unique situation.


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