As the COVID-19 crisis has impacted every sector of the economy in 2020, many are wondering when things will begin to move forward again. But while the virus has been devastating, there are opportunities for manufacturers and entrepreneurs to look to when planning their future. Statistics show that the best time to start a new venture is during a downturn. And it is often noted that over half the Fortune 500 began during such a time. By extension, the best time for manufacturers to invest in new technology would be during a downturn as well.
Digital Transformation in Business During COVID-19
As COVID-19 has altered businesses across the globe, Internet of Things (IoT) technology and digital transformation has accelerated. One eye opening study by McKenzie revealed that by June of 2020, 58% of all customer interactions were digital. This constitutes a huge leap from 36% just seven months prior, an indicator that digital transformation has been recognized and deployed as a hedge against COVID-19 and future disruptions as well.
However, while many whole industries such as food, medical, pharmaceuticals, services and online retailers increased their already heavy presence in IoT investment, many manufacturers moved more slowly. And those who had been skeptical of the value of Industrial (IIoT) found themselves scrambling and even further behind their peers.
How Accelerated Digital Transformation Helps Manufacturing
Even before COVID-19, companies were slowly moving toward digitization. With initiatives such as Industry 4.0 and the IIoT as well as new technologies such as 3D printing and advanced virtual CAD applications, companies including manufacturing were beginning to make the transition. But the crisis has served as a wake-up call, especially for the manufacturing sector which has experienced unique new realities to deal with when compared to other sectors.
While medical diagnosis has moved online and many within the service industry or in back offices have moved to work-from-home arrangements to mitigate exposure, manufacturing faces different challenges because it requires people to be together for prolonged periods of time.
According to IIoT World, many in manufacturing are waking up to the value of remote technology, sensors, edge devices that transmit data, and other modes of data capture. This both creates new data streams that can be mined for process improvement clues as well as use in remote control of equipment to reduce employee interaction.
By applying IIoT and a full embrace of digitization, manufacturing companies can use digital transformation to manage their new reality by:
- Utilizing Smaller Teams – With intuitive algorithm driven software platforms making many of the decisions on the shop floor autonomously or semi-autonomously, production can rely on smaller teams, many of which can meet via human machine interfaces (HMI) across the factory floor. This reduces face to face interaction and allows staff to remain near the job they are required to do.
- Staggering Shift and Break Time – With digital applications, group blocked break and shift start times can become a thing of the past. This both reduces contact and allows a more even and continuous workflow compared to hard stops and starts that often create a temporary dip in efficiency.
- Collaborating Remotely – With remote collaboration, sales, scheduling, inventory control, HR and other “back office” and indirect groups can meet with manufacturing virtually and accomplish the same goals as traditional face to face meetings.
- Tracking Their Workforce – Many IIoT platforms can be tied into ERP systems or connect to timekeeping and other software through API connectivity. This will allow manufacturers to move from a traditional stationary time clock where people congregate to an app-based time system. This reduces contact and is more efficient for work stop/start as well.
- Using Wearables and Other Augmented Reality Devices – Many manufacturing companies are moving into wearables that tie into IIoT applications as well. This may be as simple as voice activated communication to allow employees to speak without breaching distance barriers. But it also includes advanced Augmented Reality (AR) devices that allow maintenance to see and visually direct and interact with staff and technicians to make a repair or diagnose a problem. Again, these technologies are not only safer, but they can also help improve efficiency and lower cost and downtime as well.
- Deploying Predictive Maintenance – One highly regarded benefit of IIoT within manufacturing is the advent of predictive maintenance. This means that breakdowns can be predicted, and repairs made timely and safely based on data. It may also point to parts such as bearings, shafts, and other wearable parts whose lifecycle may be extended due to lower wear than expected.
As manufacturing begins to catch its breath and learns to address the new realities that face it, those companies that move toward “digital first” have the potential to leap ahead of their peers. This is true for established manufacturers as well as startups and other entrepreneur-driven companies that either manufacture products or provide devices or software to support them.
The move of manufacturing toward digital transformation can also spur other technology leaps as well. Technologies such as 5G will be propelled by the increased volume of data required to drive IoT platforms, which will in turn spur new iterations of technology or new technology altogether.
If you are an entrepreneur or an established manufacturer with an entrepreneurial spirit looking to take advantage of Industry 4.0 and digital transformation during these trying times, contact Georgian’s Henry Bernick Entrepreneurship Centre (HBEC) to find out how we can help mentor or advise on your journey. The Henry Bernick Entrepreneurship Center also has resources and collected information to assist clients in business continuity and other issues related to COVID-19.