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Perspectives Part Four: COVID-19 & manufacturing

April 9, 2020
What changes to the manufacturing space will this pandemic prompt?

We are all dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic in our own ways, but struggles for members of the manufacturing community share similarities. With that in mind, we solicited insights on a few topics from a broad spectrum of industry stakeholders in order to provide perspectives that can help you navigate this unprecedented period. 

This is Part Four of a series. 


“As a result of this pandemic we will see redesigned work environments with fewer workers spending less time collaboratively due to physical-distancing requirements. This creates an acute need for individual employees to be more agile, which existed previously in the form of the global skills gap and is now exacerbated by COVID-19. Counterintuitively this creates a transformational opportunity to advance productivity initiatives that would have been unheard of only a few weeks ago due to cost, union fears, cultural resistance or IT barriers. As a result we will see a surge in the adoption of 'connected worker’ initiatives with a renewed passion to eliminate rework. In the process boosting productivity numbers and empowering employees to execute tasks beyond their usual mandate by taking advantage of proximity whenever possible.” Gabe Batstone, CEO, contextere

“We see our customers showing a renewed interest in tackling a lot of projects that were on the back burner due to their lack of resources before this crisis. Whether it’s researching new automation, implementing a new planned-maintenance process or diving deep into manufacturing data to seek areas of improvement. I think after this passes, the industry will be more efficient than ever before.” Eric Fogg, co-founder and chief connectivity officer, MachineMetrics

“The worldwide impact of this virus will be the push to virtual and online communities/tools. With the aging workforce, manufacturers have been challenged with capturing that expert knowledge and replaying it in a format for the younger generation to learn. Not everyone believed virtual tools were the wave of the future. Many people still thought support had to be in person, and not via video online. This crisis has pushed everyone to use online virtual tools, even our schoolchildren, so cultural adoption will be more widely accepted because people will have personally seen how ‘virtual’ workspaces can work!” Linda Freeman, industry manager, Rockwell Automation

"With many manufacturers having to limit their number of employees in a plant, organizations are finding creative ways to stay productive. Many are sending sets of teams (like engineering, design, quality, executives, and human resources) to work from home while others are rotating shifts—all in efforts of creating distance. These techniques are shedding light on possibilities for cost savings while maintaining productivity, which may otherwise have gone unseen. Going forward, many organizations may adopt these remote-working agreements as strategies to reduce costs, improve productivity, and increase worker satisfaction." Jason Kleinhenz, marketing and training manager, Exact Metrology

“In manufacturing, the silver lining of COVID-19 is that there will be increased commitment to the safety and efficiency of production-line workers and the quality of their work…those  unsung heroes that are still going into factories to ensure we get the essential products we need. For how long have we heard that robots are going to take over those jobs? Yet we all know robots aren't saving the day right now. 

Instead, many manufacturers are increasing efforts to equip their human workers with digital connected-worker tools that incorporate safety checks into workflows, ensure collaboration with colleagues when physical contact is off the cards, and other such processes that ultimately balance business continuity and employee health. This is also the dawn of a new era where 'frontline' workers and desk workers are harmonized with tools that can support the flow of collaboration and data, and even event triggers, where something that happens on the factory floor initiates a communication or workflow in the back office. 

And although the concept of using connected-worker technology to empower workers around safety, quality and productivity may be heightened right now, it will still be just as critical to build business resiliency after this pandemic is over.” Lawrence Whittle, CEO, Parsable

“Go back to basic Economics 101—understand that competition is the only market type that combines innovation, flexibility, service and lowest cost possible. Monopolized single- or (even worse) sole-source situations are ticking time bombs. Sole sourcing is a design mistake, caused by lack of collaboration and innovation. Single sourcing is a management mistake driven by short-sighted metrics and lack of technology enablement. Resiliency is key to win in any turn. When others fail and cannot protect their market share and are unable to deliver products and services, those companies that are able will win with not much other effort, no marketing expenses, no price negotiations. If they are also combining resiliency with high customer-loyalty initiatives, the companies that left the shares on the table will not only have to worry about the supply chain recovery, but expense even more to fight a lost cause. For them, recovery will never happen. Therefore, dynamic risk management is an investment with a definite but unpredictable ROI, whereas crisis-management is pure expense with a predictable red impact to any companies P&L and no return on the investment.” Koray Köse, senior director analyst, Gartner

“We see manufacturing, among many industries, emerging from this pandemic more resilient and more innovative. This is the time where creativity, embracing technology, and outside-the-box thinking is called upon in ways that we couldn’t have imagined prior to this experience. IoT will be there hand-in-hand to connect autonomous devices and sensors, identify supply gaps and prevent shortages with rich data to help manufacturers manage, deploy, and scale to keep their organization as productive as possible.” Romil Bahl, president and CEO, KORE 

“At the rainbow end of this challenging time, I believe, we will see a greater acceptance of open-source solutions both for automation and IT infrastructure. NIST guidelines for proper cyber-hygiene are not new, but are seldom implemented within smaller organizations. Now is the time to review security protocols before rushing into remote-working or data-integration solutions that might leave a business more vulnerable to cyber-threats.” Chris Misztur, owner, Mr. IIoT

“Manufacturers overall are now running scenarios and planning for future supply chains that have more redundancy and are less reliant on one region. On the consumer side, lower energy prices will boost spending in other areas and should have a broad, positive impact on non-energy sectors as the world recovers from the pandemic. Longer-term, though, the reduction in CAPEX by energy firms now will drive up energy prices for consumers over the next 2-5 years and could be a drag on the overall economy.” Paul Donnelly, industry marketing director, Aspen Technology

“A positive outcome is that we can expect companies to start migrating their business processes to the cloud to modernize their capabilities around adding scale, speed and reliability. This will allow them to gain significant reduction in costs and make improvements in team efficiency by consolidating the integration solutions that power their supply chains. Additionally, this will help to optimize their user experience, gain end-to-end visibility and be in a better position than they were in prior to the pandemic.” Frank Kenney, director of market strategy, Cleo

“The outcome of any crisis is a new perspective on how to get work done and to maintain a level of normalcy in the face of new challenges. Likely, manufacturers will embrace distribution of work across traditional boundaries where possible and where it makes sense.“ Benson Hougland, vice president of marketing & product strategy, Opto 22

“With Industry 4.0 trends and the convergence of IT and OT environments, Incident Command System infrastructure is becoming more connected to the outside world to enable production analytics and optimization. This will require converging IT and OT monitoring, security, and in particular remote and on-premises access control capabilities. Organizations are looking at Network Access Control technology to bridge that gap in order to offer user, endpoint and IoT/OT device visibility and threat response.” Scott Gordon, CMO of Pulse Secure and CISSP

“I predict there will be a reluctance to offshore and a resurgence of reshoring for certain goods. This is a positive thing, but it will take time for things to adjust—capacity/availability. Hopefully we will see new investment in the manufacturing infrastructure by government, and greater consumer demand. The biggest challenge for some, like myself, will be to survive and flourish once this is over. It will take a long time to recoup the losses, and we are still early into this nightmare.” Juliet Goff, president and CEO, Kal Plastics

“In many situations, innovation comes from difficult challenges. I expect innovation in medical-equipment manufacturing to occur during this time, either in manufacturing technique or speed of production. I also predict that our facility will be more cognizant of hand-washing and more careful during future cold and flu seasons. In general, I think remote work and digital learning will become more commonplace.” Chris Wilder, CEO, Sealing Equipment Products Company (SEPCO)

“These are early days and manufacturers are still in the middle of making adjustments. Digital solutions will be critical as we emerge from this unprecedented situation. As we’ve quickly seen just within the past month, companies that invest in digital-transformation programs will have the agility to adapt to changing conditions.” Pat Byrne, CEO, GE Digital

“I used to joke with clients that now that our asset-performance management solution was implemented, they could be on a beach in Hawaii and have more insights to how their facilities, lines and individual assets were performing than they could have prior to the technology deployment, even if they were standing right next to the machine. That joke is now a reality. They may not be on a beach in Hawaii; they may be in their homes with the ability to log into our solution and see how all automated lines are performing down to individual components on the machines that may be showing signs of failure. Bottom line, Industry 4.0 tech is not all hype, there is real value that companies, now more than ever, are realizing.” Chris Catterton, director of solution engineering ONE Tech, Inc.

Find Part OnePart Two or Part Three of our COVID & Manufacturing series.