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Hackernoon logoIs COVID-19 A Blessing In Disguise For The Manufacturing Sector? by@manishood

Is COVID-19 A Blessing In Disguise For The Manufacturing Sector?

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@manishoodManish Nepal

Stir-crazy bum with an insatiable hunger for good stories.

Before COVID-19 stopped us dead on our tracks, businesses all around the globe already had enough problems to deal with.

The manufacturing industry in particular was braving some of the longstanding problems such as the trade disputes between various states, the gradual slump in demand for Chinese manufacturing, and the aftermath of Brexit.

But when COVID-19 came knocking on our doors, it threw us all for a loop. It’s as if 2020 opened the Pandora’s Box for businesses across all industries—and none more than industrial manufacturing is bearing its most brunt.

COVID-19’s wide-ranging impact on manufacturing has made the supply chain more vulnerable, derailed shipping and logistics processes, and created significant staffing challenges.

According to E&Y’s recent findings, more than 52% of global manufacturers are taking active steps to change their existing supply chain system while expecting a slower economic activity till the Q4 of 2021.

But there is a silver lining to all of this. For instance, COVID-19’s impact has notably shifted manufacturers’ focus from streamlining supply chain to driving the integration between IT and OT (Operational Technology)—just to keep their basic level of operations running.

Manufacturing companies—who are usually very resistant to change—are feeling the heat to take urgent and bold actions to ensure its business as usual.

The pandemic has not only increased their speed and urgency to embrace the digital transformation (DX), it is making them more agile and nimble in the way they function.

Take cost-cutting, for instance. The manufacturing sector has an immense pressure to shave off costs, minimize human dependency on manufacturing processes, and come up with innovative ideas to future-proof their operations.

Manufacturing companies are looking at the present situation as an opportunity to adopt automation, bring their non-digital processes up to snuff, and increase their operational efficiency.

The current situation is also driving several companies to scale up their adoption of smart manufacturing processes powered by Artificial Intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), industrial IoT, and Blockchain.

On a more global scale, many companies in the West are starting to divest in China and looking to invest or outsource their manufacturing either in their home turf or new geographical locations.

This will disrupt the existing global value chains (GVC) to redistribute their current bases and proliferate new mid-market operations across different geographies which will impact the existing order of the supply chain world.

Right now, manufacturers also face the big unprecedented challenge to develop a resilient contingency plan to prepare themselves against similar unexpected future events.

All this to say that COVID-19 has accelerated industry 4.0 in a way that no other digital transformation strategy could do in the last few years.

But there’s a bigger question looming over us: will the manufacturing sector stay true to its newfound love for DX or will it falter once the situation normalizes?

The short answer to this is—manufacturers will have to stay the course. They don’t have a choice because digital is the new normal.

COVID-19 might be a momentary crisis, but the reinvention process that manufacturers are going through right now is not merely a temporary workaround.

Reshuffling this new setup means recalibrating the whole partner ecosystem that has also traversed to the new reality of DX.

For instance, automobile manufacturers who are serious about building resilience will have to model their shop floor automation based on predictive analytics to see trends in machine failures.

Companies in the cloud storage domain will be using blockchain to connect all stakeholders in the long chain of their network to prepare for any future disruptions.

3D printing and manufacturing companies will have to leverage a sophisticated RPA bot to collect information across their ecosystems like inventory, warehousing, and logistics.

They can also use the RPA technology to trigger an action in their ecosystem in order to increase their overall production efficiency.

Other manufacturers can use AI to forecast demand and returns in order to optimize their supply chain.

AI can also help in the optimization of the supply chain by forecasting demand and returns. With advanced technology like smart manufacturing and IIoT, the possibilities are endless.

And here’s what else will change in shop floor management. For manufacturers, ensuring the safety and security of staff was already a top concern before the pandemic came along.

The COVID-19 situation has not only shifted the paradigm from shop floor employees' safety to health concerns, but it has also forced a large scale of the workforce to move to a remote set-up—making their team collaboration more challenging.

Now, manufacturers will be responsible for the health of their on-site employees more than ever. They will also be obliged to enforced new health and safety measures, such as:

Keeping the team bandwidth at a maximum of 5–10 shop floor staff

Redoing the shop floor layout to keep people at least 6 feet away from each other

Decoupling the shift start and end times and managing shift handovers remotely

Industrial IoT tools can play a major role in leveraging location-based services to help shop floor teams ensure a seamless transition to new workplace rules.

The widespread adoption of IIoT to boost shop floor efficiency will soon make digital collaboration, the use of bots and gamification to drive end-user engagement, and predictive analytics a norm in the manufacturing sector.

The manufacturing sector will have to rely on IIoT’s smart intelligence to predict and mitigate future challenges such as procuring necessary materials despite the limited fulfillment capacity of suppliers and handling the pricing spike of manufacturing materials due to increased demand.

Without a foresight into these challenges, manufacturers won’t be able to maintain their operational efficiency to the optimum level. For instance, any delayed or abandoned shipments in the manufacturing sector create a lag time of 3–7 weeks in receiving supplies.

Adopting automation and smart manufacturing can also help curb the production downtime that can be caused by the new staffing challenges brought on by COVID-19.

Governments all around the globe are putting up new regulations around workforce management such as enforcing stringent social distancing requirements to fight the spread of any contagious diseases.

This will lead to inevitable downsizing and organized labor disputes—creating tough challenges for manufacturers to maintain their business continuity.

Workers at Target and Amazon recently made news headlines for organizing mass sickouts and walkouts demanding better working conditions and new safety guidelines.

Eventually, all this slowing down of the production line will badly hit manufacturers where it hurts them the most—their end consumers and the bottom lines.

Therefore, manufacturers have little choice but to find innovative ways to navigate through these tough challenges and leverage the power of AI, IIoT, and Blockchain technology to obtain better intelligence, anticipate future risks, and mitigate roadblocks in their production capacity.

A promising future with all things IoT

This is not the time to brood over the losses we have incurred due to the COVID-19 situation. Instead, it’s time for us to use our creative problem-solving skills to exploit all the possibilities in front of us.

It was a matter of time before all manufacturers adopted Industrial IoT Solutions to level up their productivity. Thanks to the pandemic, the manufacturing sector at large has the opportunity to speed up the adoption process and prepare themselves to become more adaptable to weather the next storm.

Lucky for them, IIoT and AI offer advanced technological capabilities and connectivity solutions to help them not just ensure their productivity but also to increase their profitability in the new business landscape.

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