COVID-19 has dealt a heavy blow to the manufacturing industry. Manufacturing spaces were one of the first to suffer from the pandemic, being unable to keep production lines up and running without risking their employees’ health.
Not long after came an even grimmer sight – the entire world observed how long-built dependencies between producers, consumers, and suppliers started to collapse.
Fortunately, like always in human history, there is a way to move forward. But this time it’s fair to say that consequences may stay with us for a long time.
Failure Is The Best Lesson
You probably know the above saying. For now, this is the best business approach you can apply. The only reasonable way forward is to analyse the failures from various angles and to find ways that will lead to better – more resilient – solutions.
In manufacturing, there are three main aspects to consider: human resources, operations, and visibility. In my opinion, the escalating issues in those three areas reviled secret ingredients that may very well help to build less vulnerable ecosystems in the near future.
Let’s drill down into it.
The Next Step Forward
As market studies show, around 70 % of manufacturing companies already started their transformation towards Industry 4.0. Most efforts concentrated on a wider IT technology adoption. A lot of modern use cases show the “digital muscle” of manufacturing in AI, ML, Cloud computing, analytics, robotics, and value chain changes.
Yet, what wasn’t clear from day one is the broader picture and the ultimate goal – meaning the end state and its benefit. Now’s the perfect time to name them.
The upgraded version of the industrial revolution – often called “Industry 4.1” – should focus on delivering flexibility to enable faster changes to be able to quickly respond to market threats and opportunities.
It can be achieved by finding solutions for:
• Global supply chains – by breaking down the silos and monopolies to increase the mentioned flexibility. The key are diversified strategies, variety of sources, unions, and federations co-operating to keep continuity on the market.
• More transparent value chains – providing bigger traceability, applying real-time tracking systems, sharing visibility over end-to-end processes not only within the organization and facility, but between them from start to finish.
• Flexible environments supporting both employees and consumers – by increasing human safety and support.
Many of the manufactures resumed their transformation with a stronger focus on a change of their environments. Since the demand from markets and businesses is rising each day, they are looking for smart improvements. The question arises – what can be achieved?
My answer is simple.
“Success is a direct result of the number of experiments you perform.”
The above quote from Michael Simmons is the perfect depiction.
We already have proof from other industries showing how small experiments or R&D teams can influence the entire organization – mainly by enabling innovation – which effectively is a game-changer for the business, by delivering hirer ROI or/and new business cases.
Some may disagree, but there is no simple way to resign from “all-in” technology adoption.
The question is: who will be bold enough to push for even more?
A Glimpse Into The Future
What I mean by it (and what is probably only a matter of time) is adopting these areas of technology that will allow introducing mass-scale solutions to:
• Augment Humans. Many factories already introduced wearables, additional sensors, newer equipment, and robotics to support their employees. Let us take a step further and let’s think about a distributed environment using AR/VR.
With it, it wouldn’t matter anymore where the operators physically are, as long as they’re connected to sensors, actuators, and robots, that will follow their orders.
This would also further secure workplaces by increasing overall safety and providing higher control.
• Implement continuous micro-optimization processes. This would mean constant, on-going improvements aimed at achieving the highest benefits in one of the desired spaces – like waste reduction, energy saving, velocity, etc.
It could be accomplished only by introducing of a high level of automation combined with Machine Learning built on edge devices.
• Build supply-chain flexibility. Classical systems managing certain processes (e.g. EDI) need to change. Firstly, to increase the overall performance, and secondly, to break existing dependencies.
Higher transparency, automated notifications (bi-directional between producers and suppliers), logistics notes, etc. – the visibility in this space can greatly improve how businesses operate globally. But it cannot be achieved without adopting edge computing and 5G solutions.
The Change Has Already Started
It’s clear that the secret ingredient to successfully transform manufacturing is hidden in technology.
Each of the mentioned improvement ideas addresses different needs. Altogether, they can make manufacturing less vulnerable to crisis and more responsive to new opportunities.
From my observation, mindsets of leaders already started to change, and nearly everyone has identified the need for improvements. So, the “white elephant in the room” that we need to name is the courage and experimentation to drive the changes beyond known borders.