Like most manufacturing companies Intel needed to take an initiative to figure out how to empower working from home without interrupting production throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

In order for its factories to run safely, it had to look at a variety of challenges.

Understandably, Intel’s manufacturing processes are already highly automated, and it had a proven Manufacturing IT global operation model in place long before the pandemic. “However, pandemic travel restrictions and the mandate that employees should work from home if possible, led us to develop innovative solutions to keep employees safe while still maintaining factory operational excellence,” says Jeff Walsh, the general manager of manufacturing IT at Intel.

“We developed a hardware and software platform, for Remote Operation Center (ROC) technicians to use, to monitor and control factory operations from home. Specifically, we enabled and scaled multiple remote communication and diagnostic capabilities; scaled remote access and IT collaboration capabilities; provisioned a large increase in personal computing laptops; and accelerated upgrades to a more modern collaboration framework to enable better video conferencing quality,” says Walsh.

The key outcome from the ROC is that Intel successfully socially distanced the ROC technicians by having some remain working in the on-site ROC, while others were effectively performing their duties working from home. “The latter demonstrated ROC responsibilities could be successfully achieved remotely,” he says. In addition, Intel increased the number of tool sets into its remote diagnostics capability that its vendors use to help troubleshoot and maintain process tool availability and performance. Moreover, Intel had to make changes to the remote diagnostics capability to achieve more robust performance.

“For several years, we have been exploring use cases for augmented reality (AR) throughout Intel factories. Social distancing and restricted travel rules expedited the AR programs. For instance, we found that pictures and videos, presented in real-time through AR glasses, help provide clarity for technicians when they need to perform a specific sequence of actions required to service a tool,” says Walsh.

AR has also proven to be a highly effective training tool for Intel. Instead of performing over the shoulder training, trainers can now take advantage of AR’s remote assist functionality. The trainer wears a headset and performs the operation, while the trainee observes on his or her laptop and asks questions for clarification.

“Roles can also be reversed, meaning the trainee performs a task while the trainer observes which results in more in-depth training,” he says. “Finally, we found that AR enables remote collaboration with our suppliers, which can help reduce time-to-repair and provide technicians with new skills, while avoiding travel and quarantine issues. To date, we have identified nine manufacturing AR use cases that can deliver significant performance breakthroughs.” 

While the pandemic drove Intel to adopt remote operations more quickly than it might have otherwise, the payoffs will stretch far into the future, explains Walsh. “Having more flexibility and more options to increase agility is beneficial for Intel. We plan to continue investing in these capabilities,” he says. “Looking back over the last year, I’m impressed at how our team came together and embraced creative solutions in the face of a monumental challenge. We’ve had proven success running large-scale, 24/7 manufacturing operations remotely, which is no small feat.”

Looking ahead, it begs the question about how to think differently about global manufacturing centralization, adds Walsh. “Today, each Intel factory site around the world has a dedicated operational model. Now we are looking to see how we can optimize our factory operations infrastructure through more globally centralized means,” he says. “This could potentially lead to significant cost savings. We have some smaller scale experience that has proven to be successful.”

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