WEF report recognizes the role of technology in “the new normal” Manufacturing change in the wake of COVID-19

A World Economic Forum report on the future of advanced manufacturing and production in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic hits the nail on the head. Simply put, this health crisis and its repercussions – social, emotional and economic – has touched us all, no doubt about it.

As the WEF points out, many of the areas hardest hit by COVID-19 have been major industrial hubs whose supply chains have been disrupted or even shut down altogether. Because of that, even those of us whose jobs have not been affected, whose loved ones have not fallen ill and who have done our best to look after ourselves and our families during the period of confinement have all directly experienced the global impact of COVID-19.

Many of us will remember the images of near-empty grocery shelves in the early days of the pandemic, when uncertainty triggered a panic reflex that caused consumers to grab what they could to last them as long as possible.

As the WEF suggests in its report, the pandemic should serve as a wake-up call to the manufacturing industry, which was forced to respond quickly to a seismic shift in consumer demand for some of the most basic essentials. In fact, many manufacturers responded admirably well, retooling their operations to produce suddenly critical products such as masks and hand sanitizers.

The real takeaway from the report is what the WEF suggests as the best response to the wake-up call: “… that Industry 4.0 technologies are necessary for survival in a global marketplace that will require more agile and flexible production systems and supply chains. With Industry 4.0 technologies – like 3D printing, the internet of things (IoT), advanced robotics, artificial intelligence and big data – manufacturers will see the benefits of applying a digital-first mindset to a physical business.”

The report goes on to tout the growing need for remote interaction and asset management powered by cloud-based services and other advanced manufacturing technologies as a means of adapting the “new normal,” whatever that will be.  As the WEF says, “The agility enabled by such technologies has allowed early adopters to see the benefits of their investments as they have pivoted more quickly and smoothly during the disruptions created by COVID-19.”

While the early adopters are already seeing the benefits, it’s not too late for all remaining manufacturing companies to get on board. In its report, the WEF offers the following four recommendations for those companies that want to survive and thrive in the new normal:

Ensure worker safety: Technology plays a key role in keeping manufacturing workers safe. Identifying carriers of the virus early is key to containing the spread, and manufacturers are leveraging technology to achieve that by setting up self-testing kiosks for their workforce using temperature sensors to screen for fever and manufacturing apps to guide employees through health self-assessment questionnaires. Furthermore, companies are using apps to control access to facilities and restrict non-essential personnel, thus minimizing the chance of infection.

Scale up and shift production to support the COVID-19 fight: Companies are responding in different ways to ensure business stability and improve the resilience of their supply chains as they pivot to innovative ways to generate revenue. One measure that can be observed across industries and regions is that technology is helping manufacturers respond more quickly by enabling agility in the scaling up and shifting of production to manufacture ventilators, hand sanitizers and PPE.

Facilitate supply chain collaboration: In this regard, organizations are mobilizing industrial and innovation stakeholders to identify future solutions and roadmaps for the after-COVID phase with a more strategic, medium/long-term perspective. In Italy, for example, a regional advanced manufacturing cluster promoted a set of “virtual innovation labs” to collaboratively discuss how to accelerate the adoption of new technologies and adapt them to the new future scenario. They are connecting regional manufacturing with other international ecosystems to establish international synergies in the fight against the disease. Through such a multidisciplinary cooperation, they are working to shorten the communication between research and manufacturing and to facilitate the path for the immediate industrialization of critical innovations to fight COVID-19.

Minimize remote work disruptions: The crisis has forced manufacturers to shut down non-essential production and keep non-essential production personnel remote. Technology is facilitating this transition in several ways. Automation is helping some operate with fewer people on the shop floor, especially when technologies like IoT and machine monitoring solutions are used by the remote workforce to keep track of production from home. Worker augmentation is helping manufacturers achieve more with fewer people on the shop floor.

Take advantage of remote support offerings: In addition to learning to conduct operations remotely, manufacturers must now look to partners and suppliers to follow suit at a time when travel is limited. For years, OPTEL GROUP has offered its clients the option of virtual training and tech support, a service that is now essential to keep employees up to speed, and systems up and running in the current climate. Using Smart Glasses with “see-what-I-see” augmented reality technology, field technicians and technical experts provide hands-free remote assistance to solve problems and collaborate with partners in real time, anywhere in the world.

As a world leader in traceability solutions and a certified B Corporation, OPTEL has spent the past 30 years developing and perfecting the technologies required to help companies meet their changing objectives. For instance, in recent months, we have adapted our technologies to respond to the new needs of industry and business in the COVID-19 era, including the development of a mobile application designed to help keep workplaces safe and infection-free, and a system to detect counterfeit or otherwise compromised test kits and, eventually, vaccines.

The global shift we are currently experiencing is the beginning of a new era to which we all must adapt, as the WEF suggests. Even in uncertain times, the best approach is to be proactive rather than reactive, which is why OPTEL has been developing the Intelligent Supply Chain®, which integrates and leverages some of the same Industry 4.0 technologies the WEF acknowledges are necessary for long-term survival.

We have the technology to secure the global supply chain, and by doing so, we can secure our future – no matter what that future may look like in “the new normal.”