How will COVID-19 change the way manufacturers evolve?

COVID-19 is a massive disruptor for manufacturing industries, which is resulting in a radical and sustained period of change.  While industries are eager to return to life as it was before the pandemic, it is clear that it will not happen anytime soon.  Organisations across sectors are evolving to a new “normal”, with new routines and new resources.  Some things may have changed forever; handshakes may become a thing of the past; social distancing may stay with us and more schooling may be done at home.  But regaining a bit of pre-lockdown life is possible if we all adapt.

The World Economic Forum stated COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated 10 key technology trends:

  • Online Shopping & Robot Deliveries
  • Digital & Contactless Payments
  • Remote Work
  • Distance Learning
  • Telehealth
  • Online Entertainment
  • Supply Chain 4.0
  • 3D Printing
  • Robotics & Drones
  • 5G and Information and Communications Technology (ICT)

Following on from this theme, Industry 4.0 has never been more relevant.  The global supply chain is experiencing a level of disruption that has never been seen before.   When uncertainty rises, global supply chains suffer.

Based on past data, we can predict that a 300% increase in uncertainty – as the COVID-19 pandemic seems likely to produce – would reduce global supply-chain activity by 35.4%.  Firms no longer consider the cost savings of offshoring to be worth the risk.

At a time when adopting robots is cheaper than ever, the incentive to re-shore production is even stronger.  The calculation is simple.  A company in, say, the UK would have to pay a UK worker a lot more than, say, an overseas worker.  But a UK-based robot would not demand remuneration, leave & sickness costs.

The transition to Industry 4.0 is expected to bring many advances in efficiency and productivity as well as many changes in the way the industrial processes work.  Factors such as improved efficiency and reduction in production costs, compared to the conventional manufacturing process, are boosting the adoption of automation, which is driving the demand for industrial control systems.

The Manufacturer believes Industry 4.0 can reduce the recovery phase from the current pandemic and greatly reduced the impact of this crisis on the industry.

Just a few examples include:

  • Real-time visibility into the availability of raw materials, finished goods, WIP, people and assets
  • Use of artificial intelligence and machine learning to constantly reassess and re-plan activities
  • Robotic process automation (RPA)to support non-value add labour-intensive activities
  • The use of mobile technology and augmented / virtual reality to enable workers to perform tasks they were not trained for more easily. This could have assisted with skills shortages due to self-isolation or repurposing of manufacturing
  • The same technologies together with digital twins and remote support from OEM’s would improve the availability of assets
  • The same technologies could also have enabled more remote and virtual working to help with the issue of lockdown and social distancing
  • 3D printing of spare parts that were stuck in the supply chain
  • Use of AGV’s, autonomous electric vehicles, and drones to again reduce the reliance on people and to further assist with social distancing.

We cannot truly predict the future of manufacturing and speed of change; however, we can be certain some elements have changed forever.