Covid-19, first epidemic then pandemic, changed all the cards on the table for IMA Group.
The race to find solutions to give employees all the necessary support and at the same time restrict the spread of the virus could not have been more challenging.
To cope with this emergency, the Group established the Crisis Management Team: a group of different figures with the task of solving the critical issues related to the employees’ working environment. The main goal set by the committee is to follow a track that allows employees to stay safe within the working environment and during business trips inside and outside the country.
The crisis team constantly redefines and updates company entry protocols in agreement with trade unions and according to local and regional decrees, monitors confirmed cases as well as any dangerous or potentially dangerous situations.
The committee has guaranteed all employees choices that so far have been shared in terms of safety measures and the organisation of safe work, setting an example for the rest of the community.
Finding a way to guarantee safety within the corporate walls and to give explicit sign of this responsibility was urgent in the company’s mindset.
A way to control the spread of infection at least within the corporate environment was to be implemented as quickly as possible.
Over 3 consecutive days, IMA – which has always been attentive to the health and safety of its employees – gave every employee working at any of the Italian plants the option of a voluntary swab. This provided a complete picture of the company’s population which was extremely useful in monitoring the risk of contagion.
The 3,800 Italian employees of the Group and 700 workers in the local supply chain could have a swab, on a voluntary basis, over 3 days, for a timely diagnosis of any contact with the virus. IMA launched this kind of initiative as it considers the health and the protection of its employees to be of fundamental importance.
For a company like IMA, visiting the customer’s plant is vitally important for many aspects of the process, and it plays a key role in guaranteeing the best possible services.
The pandemic has limited and still limits business trips, but for some internal business processes, the Company had no other option than to have its employees strictly follow the safety measures and allow them to travel to the customer’s site. IMA has adopted an App developed by Omega Travel Security, a company specialised in the management of employees during business trips.
Thanks to this app, the trip can be planned in every aspect: from the training of personnel before their departure, real-time assistance 24/7 for employees while they are abroad, and finally the safety
procedures that needed to be followed once the personnel was back home. Thanks to these services, the HR department has been able to keep all travelling employees safe and, most importantly, protect the corporate community from any risk
A much-talked-about and widespread tool: Remote Working.
Remote Working is the option for professionals of working outside the traditional office environment.
It allows them to combine personal life and work and, promotes employee’s productivity at the same time. During the first pandemic phase, the Group suddenly needed to find a new strategy to ensure the safety of its workers and its contractors, while at the same time guaranteeing a fully productive Company that never stopped working and achieving results. So during the first months of the Covid-19 emergency, all employees that could perform their duties from a distance were working from home in a remote-working mode.
The working from a distance experience during the lockdown period opened up perspectives that allowed the practice to spread throughout Italy.
Today, the majority of our resources are back in the office, but all employees can ask to maintain a mixed working regime; not just workers considered fragile, but also employees who for personal reasons need to work from home. Many companies are now wondering whether or not to continue with a full Remote Working regime, or to switch to a hybrid one, which involves both office presence and remote working. IMA Group is asking itself the same question.
The implementation of remote working has been an enormous source of support that helped the Company to find alternative and effective ways to stop the spread of the Covid-19 infection.
Training has always been one of IMA’s strategic assets: the group invests a great amount of time into training and learning.
In 2017, a great milestone for the Group was the creation of the ‘’IMA Academy’’, an in-depth and specific education program for each individual employee based on their grade and personal skills. The pandemic emergency was a setback for this project since every course was created to be physically attended in classrooms with teachers and experts.
Later, it made the most of the situation by implementing new and innovative technologies that allowed employees to restart those training courses in an on-line environment.
Online Learning acquired a new strategic value during the Covid-19 pandemic, giving all our employees the opportunity to stay up-to-date with the learning process through a dedicated digital platform now able to manage virtual classrooms. It was very challenging to come up with a new way of training, but thanks to both pre-recorded and live courses, the IMA Academy project was able to improve enormously by finding new useful and effective ways of interacting. As a result of this commitment, in 2020 the Group reached a total of 104,000 hours of training.
Despite everything, change has led to positive aspects too, like the increase in corporate tools and services, and the birth of a new global vision.
The Group was pleased to announce that for the third year running it won the international Top Employer award, a testament to the Group’s deep commitment to the wellbeing of its employees and contractors with active welfare policies, 104,000 hours of training and innovative projects, increasingly oriented towards digitalisation and sustainability.
IMA received this prestigious certification from Top Employer Institute: the global authority established 30 years ago and specialised in recognising excellence in HR practices.
This certification is the result of a unique and rigorous evaluation process of corporate Human Resources procedures.
through the Top Employers HR Best Practices Survey, the certification body analyses working conditions in the companies, based on 10 main areas:
• Talents Strategy,
• Workforce Planning,
• Talent Acquisition,
• Learning & Development,
• Performance Management,
• Leadership Development,
• Career and Succession Management,
• Compensation & Benefits,
Only after an independent auditor has verified the internal HR processes can the company be officially certified and recognised as Top Employer.
The 2021 confirmation allows IMA to stand out as an Employer of excellence, ready to identify talent and maintain high levels of productivity and competitiveness thanks to policies that focus on quality of work.
Supporting the community is a subject that has always been at heart of our Company.
Over the past year, the population that needed support wasn’t just local, but each and every individual of the globe.
IMA Group, aware of its role in the manufacturing industry and mindful of the technical solutions already achieved, decided to convert its regular packaging technologies into machines able to produce facemasks, in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic. It was time to do more to help the population, starting with the Italian one.
The first significant choice was the signing of an agreement with the Italian Extraordinary Commissioner for the Covid-19 Emergency, which put IMA in charge of creating 25 lines for the production of these items to be delivered to the Italian Civil Protection.
“We will give you the machines to produce the vaccine all over the world” With this statement given to the press, the Group’s Chairman expressed our intention to actively participate in the production of the vaccine right from the beginning, in the fight against the Global Pandemic.
At the time of this declaration, the entire world was holding its breath, hoping to quickly have the vaccine with a short development phase and satisfactory clinical tests.
Now that the vaccine is here, the challenge has shifted to producing hundreds of millions – billions – of doses, for everybody, in record time.
The Pharmaceutical sector has always been well established part of the company’s DNA. IMA has been supplying high speed lines for the production of sterile injectable products to all the big names of the sector, which is why it was instantly ready to take up the challenge of providing machines for the production of the Covid-19 vaccine.
As a matter of fact, IMA equipment is already in use in several vaccine manufacturer production sites. The Group has immediately adopted all the necessary policies to empower production capacities and the technical and spare parts support, making itself a strategic partner in the fight against Covid-19.
IMA adopts the same principle of reduced delivery times for aseptic filling lines for its cartoners too, which are definitely the link with upstream machines. IMA’s offer includes the most advanced solutions for handling vaccine packages, not only from single to multiple vial feeder inside a tray, but also multi-product trays.
In addition to vaccines, testing is a critical cornerstone in the response to Covid-19, enabling countries to trace and contain the virus.
Diagnostic kits like rapid testing, swab devices and laboratory storage are necessary for the community to help detect the virus and take the relevant measures to protect the population against it. IMA’s contribution to this huge worldwide effort includes several projects to quickly supply machines to assemble diagnostic kits. In fact, IMA manufactures assembly machines for rapid testing technology, a lab-free Point-of-Care molecular diagnostic rapid test: a device that definitely makes everyday life easier for all. In addition, IMA also assembles another type of Point-Of-Care molecular diagnostic for RT-PCR test processes. This disposable test cartridge with micro-fluidics and miniaturisation makes this highly accurate test method available in multiple conditions and outside laboratories. As for the increased demand for PCR test storage, not only has IMA strengthened support for the already installed equipment, it has also increased its machine production capacity – integrated into an in-vitro diagnostic line – for the automatic storage of samples in refrigerated conditions.
Specifically for the US market, IMA has also recently developed and manufactured a machine to manipulate swabs used for Covid-19 tests.
This equipment is suitable for feeding the downstream thermoforming packaging machine at a speed of 450 pcs per minute.Thanks to its experience in the diagnostic sector, its engineering capacities and its skilled supply chain, IMA has also succeeded in shortening its lead times: an active contribution to the fight against Covid-19. In almost all continents, IMA is supporting medical & diagnostic devices producers to increase their production volumes and deliver their products faster.
As part of its IMA Digital Project, the Group has launched numerous digital development sites aimed at system interconnectivity to obtain more and more accurate data through the use of cutting-edge platforms, which could result in continuous efficiency of production flows. IMA is thus able to:
But how is it possible to achieve full production efficiency?
First of all, the machine needs to be connected and capable of sending the data to a data-storage. This storage is called IMA Data Room: it is a virtual space for collecting data through IIoT technologies. On the way to the virtual space in the cloud, the data passes through A4Gate: an integrated hardware and software solution to protect the privacy of the data, system operations and operator safety. Once the data is safely stored, and depending on the client’s operational organisation, it can go either to IMA Sentinel or to the IMA Control Room.
IMA Sentinel is a Digital Platform that collects raw data and translates them into information, allowing the operator to independently monitor machine conditions in real-time 24/7, while IMA Control Room is a dedicated space where data are analysed and re-processed to generate new technological solutions to improve production results.
Artificial Intelligence, or AI, is one of the most important digital development services adopted by the Group over recent years.
The processing of production data collected by the plants, through machine algorithms, allowing results never achieved up to now to be obtained in terms of performance optimisation. And this is where IMA’s race started, whose goal is full production efficiency. Two paths have been taken to achieve this target. The first of them sees activities focused on the Data Drive concept and the use of production data history acquired over time. The strategy put in place includes the application of specific algorithms to analyse what has happened in production in the past, so that they will be able to predict and anticipate the occurrence of similar malfunctions in the future. Supervised learning applied to the monitoring of machines is implemented to arrive at the preventive recognition of malfunctions (Preventive Maintenance).
The second way aims at developing a learning method where there is a lack of production data history. This method includes the acquisition of new information from the equipment (with the possible integration of sensors) and the use of statistic software, or AI, to recognise system conditions as normal or abnormal. A particularly functional approach: maintenance instructions for the management of the machine and at the same time support for the operator in identifying optimum setting of batches and system recipes. A fundamental contribution to the management of the installed fleet of machines can also be provided by IMA as a manufacturer. Using the know-how gained over time, the Group is able to support the client in the administration of plants for greater efficiency.
Last but not least, the Seneca Project (Systems Enabling Efficient Cognitive Automation) financed by MISE (Italian Ministry for Economic Development), in which AI has been applied to several types of machines of the IMA world to monitor their status.
2020 can easily be described as a busy year for IMA, due to the pandemic, but also to all the new and innovative implementations that have been not only created but already established.
One of the latest technologies created within the IMA Digital Project – and in particular, part of the Smart Factories solution – is Virtual Training.
In a constantly evolving digital world, the training of all actors involved is fundamental. IMA has in fact widely invested in platforms and technologies that support the employee training at all company levels and independently from the role and the assigned jobs.
To broaden classrooms training, applications and Virtual Reality visors became ideal tools for the learning in a risk-free environment. Operators could move between 3D plants, familiarising with machine digital twins and practising in both easy and complex situations. The use of gloves to move virtual elements and physical feedback after every action, make virtual reality and immersive, realistic and concrete experience useful to train operators before they even enter the production lines. Inside the lines, the use of Augmented Reality, through tablets or dedicated Hololens visors, broadens training possibilities even more. The potential of continuous training and of the tools developed allowed IMA to see the importance of conveying the necessary know-how also to partner and client operators, with the same technologies used within the Group to achieve increased and cross-cutting skills.
Smart technologies play a key role in the maintenance area of the manufacturing sector.
Smart Glasses and Tablets for Augmented Reality are two of the most recent technologies able to increase the potential of both communication and Remote Assistance. Through the offer of a wide range of tools, IMA launched 360-degree Remote Assistance Solutions to allow for a much quicker restoration of production.
The tools deployed see a series of scalable products, which can be chosen and combined based on the final customer’s needs. The Quick-Kit is the basic tool of the service: using headphones and a tiny wearable camera, the operator in production can share what he sees and what he hears with an IMA Expert connected remotely, and thus be guided through the course of the technical
intervention. Tablets and HoloLens that are integrated with Augmented Reality Technologies also perform the same function.
Using these devices, the operator can receive support from an IMA Expert thanks to the virtual sharing of documents through graphic indications on the screen for easier operating procedures.
The Remote Assistance solutions supplied by IMA guarantee many advantages. There is a considerable reduction in travelling expenses, shorter completion times for the different operations and quicker and more direct contact between the Group and its clients, in order to restore production as soon as possible and resume routine activities.
A fundamental step in the manufacturing field is the Factory Acceptance Test (or FAT). At this point in time, where moving from country to country is harder than ever due to the pandemic situation, FATs can be done remotely with the online presence of the client.
The IMA Group has been the first in the packaging world to adopt this possibility. To start a remote FAT is extremely easy: it is sufficient to arrange a direction, position the cameras with the right shots and make the client remotely able to interact and observe every detail during the different verification tests using webstreaming platforms. All customer-side users are profiled for correct access and management of procedures. The software, after proper validation, guarantees a direct dialogue between all interlocutors and facilitates the sharing of documents
and approvals, so that everything follows the right specifics.
At the end of all the procedures, every recorded session of the FAT is sent to the client to be archived and used for a subsequent consultation. This also enables other technicians unable to participate in the previously completed phases to participate at the just completed ones. The memorised information is shared on platforms developed to manage and avoid cyber-security attacks coming from the outside, to guarantee the complete safety of files and processed information.
All of this to guarantee operating continuity and maximum support to requests coming from the Group’s Partners and Clients