Combating the COVID-19 crisis with automation in the manufacturing world
This article was first published in BW SMARTCITIES magazine in April 2020. - Source Link
BW SMARTCITIES
The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted critical gaps in manufacturing capacities. Insufficient supply chain agility, over-dependence on human effort, and the inability to respond to demand spikes are among the common challenges plaguing the sector during this time – and beyond. Automation could prove to be an effective solution, helping manufacturers reestablish business continuity on the road ahead.

In the last three months, the COVID-19 illness caused by a strain of the coronavirus has swept across the world. At the time of writing this article, it had claimed over 100,000 lives and completely disrupted operations across industries. One of the most severely impacted sectors was manufacturing.

Manufacturing has always been a labor-intensive industry employing 2.7 million workers in the U.S. alone. As more and more regions come under some degree of lockdown, factory staff is also shrinking. Further, the industry relies on porous international borders for procurement and distribution. The coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc with the world’s manufacturing supply chains. Ultimately, people’s demand for most non-essential goods is coming down, which has a ripple effect on production. Currently, manufacturers in countries like the U.K. and others are exempt from lockdown – but a slump continues to loom ahead.

To ensure business continuity and minimal impact to production streams, manufacturers must embrace automation at the earliest. Data from the National Association of Manufacturers indicates what could lie on the road ahead. 78% out of the 558 manufacturers surveyed anticipate a financial impact. 53% expect a dramatic change in operational models, and 36% could be facing supply chain disruptions. These unprecedented challenges brought on by the coronavirus pandemic has several vital takeaways for manufacturers:

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  • Agility is integral to a resilient enterprise - COVID-19 has particularly hit the consumer electronics sector. Landmark trade shows like the Mobile World Congress and Apple’s WWDC were canceled this year. This pandemic will stagnate production, requiring manufacturers to be able to scale down accordingly. But once the spread begins to hold, enterprises must pick up the pace and fill any gaps in supply, which requires incredible agility.
  • Human dependencies in manufacturing need to be minimized - The manufacturing sector isn’t new to labor shortages. This problem has been a recurrent issue for the last seven quarters, and by 2030, manufacturers could be running short of over 7.9 million workers. The challenge becomes even more apparent in the face of COVID-19 – with employees compelled to stay home; manufacturers must explore automation possibilities to reduce human dependencies during this period and beyond.
  • Specific sectors must ramp up production - Right now, the medical devices sector is under immense pressure to scale up production. A leading player, in this sector reported a production uptick of 40%. Manufacturers must be able to respond to such requirements, expanding capacities with ease quickly. Once again, this requires pervasive automation across the manufacturing value chain.

Automation isn’t merely a panacea to the manufacturing sector’s current woes. Indeed, COVID-19 has highlighted shortcomings in processes and operating models that need immediate modernization. Automation is central to this entire transformation journey. From enabling faster supplier onboarding to futuristic ideas like Lights Out manufacturing, automation marks the next bend on the road. Enterprises should cull out the most critical takeaways from this period of crisis, and take measures to stay prepared for similar (or other) challenges on the way forward.

Madan Mohan Mewari
Madan Mohan Mewari
SVP, Global Head-Delivery and Operations (Manufacturing and Services Verticals), Birlasoft
    
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