While each manufacturer has a unique story, the business challenges they’ve all had to face are along a few similar fronts.
First, there’s the financial impact of COVID-19. When the stay-at-home orders were issued across the U.S., manufacturers that experienced decreased demand were confronted with the immediate decision to reduce workforces or furlough people because no one could know for certain if this was a 30-day issue, or one that was going to last indefinitely. Other manufacturers had to decide whether it would be worthwhile to pivot production to stay in operations while serving the needs of the community. For example, when demand for alcohol dropped due to shuttered restaurants, many distillers shifted production from spirits to hand sanitizer.
Second, were the changes necessary to keep workers safe and the business operational. Many companies that remained open — or reopened — invested in solutions like thermal cameras to detect symptoms and enforce safe practices. Some manufacturers in essential fields had to find ways to quickly ramp up production to meet growing demand.
Finally, there’s the acceleration in the creation or adoption of a digital strategy. Manufacturers are now having conversations around the value of a “just in case” supply chain mindset rather than a “just in time” one in an effort to better position themselves to respond to future disruptions with greater confidence and speed. In addressing these challenges, businesses have begun to leverage a slew of modern technology solutions.
While it’s impossible to predict when COVID-19 will be a thing of the past, what we do know is that we’re at a pivotal point where some businesses will start returning employees to the workplace while others embrace a long-term, remote or hybrid approach. Either way, let’s explore a few of the lasting impacts the pandemic will have on the industry.
Earlier this year, many IT leaders had to shift to a work-from-home strategy at alarming speed. We saw enormous demand in March for devices, displays and computer accessories, as well as security and networking software. But the overall IT shift to the cloud over the last five years, plus the evolution of remote access solutions, helped lay the foundation for rapid adoption of remote work.
This is all reflected in the manufacturing space, where IT leaders were able to bridge any technical debt their organizations had. Those that were working with outdated or aging servers, computers and mobile devices were forced to make changes in order to keep up.
Those that already embraced technology could test new capabilities and potentially earn an advantage over their competition.
For instance, real-time data and Artificial Intelligence (AI) can now be used to improve production speed and reduce errors when fewer workers are present on the factory floor. And connectivity solutions help managers and teammates maintain constant visibility and an open communication channel whether six or sixty feet away.
Companies starting to return workers to the factory, either full or part time, are focused on keeping employees safe, first and foremost. Thanks to innovation and creative thinking, there are now a handful of modern tools available for companies to use to ensure the safest possible outcomes in accordance with CDC guidelines. Some of the solutions are as simple as an application with a daily employee checklist to confirm employees aren’t exhibiting any symptoms.
We’re seeing many organizations put an emphasis on detection and prevention. Leveraging the Internet of Things (IoT) and AI, companies can now unify data from a wide range of devices to provide the real-time visibility needed to help detect and prevent health risks. In fact, a few countries in Asia that were hit first are now largely adopting thermal monitoring devices and cameras, and we’ve begun to see more adoption here in the U.S. From smart hand sanitizing stations to proximity detection for social distancing, there are plenty of tools available to support a safe reopening.
The strength of the supply chain and its ability to address demand disruptions is a great learning opportunity. The manufacturers that survive the impact of the pandemic will end up being stronger because of it. Most manufacturers will have validated and potentially shifted their operations and supply chain to models that deliver higher value and are more sustainable. This rebalance probably wouldn’t have occurred if not for the stresses of the pandemic. Those that rebalanced properly, adapted quickly and strategically shifted priorities, are more likely to stand out among their competitors.
Automation and solutions that keep employees safer will also remain large priorities in the near future. And anything that allows companies to respond to future disruptions with greater confidence and speed will be no-brainers in the post-pandemic market. In addition, the development of a digital strategy — and the adoption of the IoT and AI — will mean more automation, flexibility and accelerated growth.