Using virtual collaboration to remotely inspect, install and maintain manufacturing equipment isn’t some futuristic teleportation fantasy. It’s how Colgate-Palmolive is now doing business. Not just during COVID-19, but as our standard operating procedure going forward.

By Norris McLean, Senior Technology Engineer
December 2020

Using virtual collaboration to remotely inspect, install and maintain manufacturing equipment isn’t some futuristic teleportation fantasy. It’s how Colgate-Palmolive is now doing business. Not just during COVID-19, but as our standard operating procedure going forward.

Think: FaceTime/Zoom/Google Meet for machinery conversations.

Today, a Colgate technician wearing a hands-free headset can inspect a piece of equipment while connected to Subject Matter Experts [SMEs] that see what he sees half a world away. These SMEs provide step-by-step guidance, even drawing on the screen seen by the worker, helping to resolve complex issues with great efficiency.

This kind of virtual collaboration has unleashed huge benefits:

  • Increased availability of best SMEs to participate, yielding better ideas
  • Eliminated SME travel -- saving money, time and productivity (no jetlag!)
  • Completed necessary evaluations without scheduling delays
  • Maintained safety, quality and security of inspections

In the same way that the pre-pandemic shift to Google collaboration tools has been a boon to Colgate office teams now forced to work remotely, the early digital transformation of our supply chain set us up to not just muscle through COVID-19, but thrive in ways we hadn’t anticipated.

Headstart in Headgear

Back in 2018, we decided to invest in Realwear HMT-1 headsets. These rugged, wearable tablet computers allow for hands-free, voice-controlled operation, even in noisy, industrial environments. When configured with Librestream Onsight Connect collaboration software, any worker wearing a headset can be directly, securely connected to experts around the world. No bouncing across the cloud here; these are military-level, 1:1 connections optimized for low-bandwidth situations.

In 2019, we tried these virtual collaboration tools on seven projects, including Factory Acceptance Testing [FATs] of new machinery before it left the vendor’s hands and Experimental Manufacturing Orders [EMOs] of new machinery configurations to accommodate new products and increased production capacity at our plants.

Rapid 2020 Deployment

2020’s travel restrictions and safety concerns put these efforts into high gear.

We began using virtual collaboration for Site Acceptance Testing [SATs] of new equipment installations and Factory Performance Reliability Audits [FRPAs] which take a comprehensive look at an entire facility’s production line. All told, we’ve completed 63 virtual collaborations in 2020, with tremendous cost savings on travel.

For example, our first-ever virtual FRPA recently inspected our plant in My Phuoc, Vietnam. Previously, such an initiative would’ve involved flying in 8 to 10 evaluators from the U.S., France, Malaysia and other transcontinental locations. Though the process would take several days, any one of these experts would be needed for only certain parts of each day, but would have had their entire week consumed by this project, plus all of their travel and recovery time.

Instead, this year, we beamed in the very best brain trust we needed, at the precise moments we required their expertise. Fully focused and ready to go (never stuck awaiting that connecting flight in Bangkok or worrying about burning all that jet fuel).

100% Satisfaction

Skeptics may be asking: Surely something has come up that couldn’t be handled virtually, right?

Wrong. Not once in 2020 did we encounter an issue that couldn’t be successfully addressed via virtual collaboration.

Now, does this mean no one will ever travel to handle these matters in person? Absolutely not. Face-to-face, personal communication will always be an option, and one we expect to enjoy again. But it will be optional, not mandatory.

Looking Ahead

We’re excited to expand upon this new way of working. These virtual collaboration tools are gaining additional utility by the day.

In the not-too-distant future, we can foresee headgear being a normal part of each person’s everyday gear, a way to seamlessly access needed information as you’re immersed in situations requiring it. Instant, hands-free connections with colleagues, be they in Mumbai or Basel. One continuous thread of hatching ideas and solving problems, customized to your role.

Training, cross-organizational projects, consults between global peers, real-time data capture & analysis, mentoring, preventative maintenance checks, the possible use cases go on and on.

The one thing we know for sure: Colgate-Palmolive teams will be eager adopters of what’s next in connected working. 

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