3 ways manufacturing will rebound with tech in 2021

“2020 has been a major learning experience for the manufacturing industry, and a key lesson from the coronavirus crisis is to think of risk as inevitable.”
26 November 2020

When an economy begins to grind, manufacturing gets the full, immediate brunt of the slowdown.

A PwC study of CFOs found that 80% of those in manufacturing expect the pandemic will have a financial impact on their business. For other cross-industry companies, it’s around 48%.

Manufacturing is affected so badly for two reasons: First, many manufacturing jobs are on-site and cannot be carried out remotely. Second, slowed economic activity has reduced demand for industrial products in the US and globally.

Employing 13 million workers in the US, damage to this part of the economy is severe.

After the 2008 financial crisis, a return to pre-recession levels took the industry several years, if not longer.

But the journey ahead following a worldwide pandemic promises a longer, tougher slog.

And while companies may have more cash and equity available than they did a decade ago, simultaneous shock on both the supply- and demand-side due to global shutdowns have led to deep slumps and a turbulent up-and-down recovery to come.

In the face of this drawn-out crisis, safeguarding the health of the workforce is a number priority, but this means plant closures, which could continue for prolonged periods in the worst-hit areas.

How manufacturing will invest in tech post-Covid-19

For many businesses prone to a viral outbreak, now is the time to invest in new technologies that can enable business continuity and agility in a period of uncertainty — and ultimately resilience to future crises.

With that in mind, Rafi Billurcu, Partner, Head of Manufacturing at Infosys Consulting, pointed to three ways that manufacturers might adopt technology to enable a faster recovery as we head into 2021.

Remote working will put robots to work

Manufacturing firms will increasingly look towards technologies that enable the remote operation of facilities, meaning they can run with fewer human staff on-site.

“The application of automation and other Industry 4.0 technologies such as AR, VR, and analytics can ensure efficiencies are achieved with minimal impact, impacting both the top and bottom line of organizations,” said Billurcu.

Teleoperation is fast becoming the norm in many sites, with machinery like forklifts being operated from a remote location. Specialists can join in-the-field operators remotely via AR headsets across multiple locations without the need to be there physically.

“[…] remote working and automation will provide manufacturing organizations with better access to talent pipelines irrespective of geographical location – something that is becoming increasingly important in an age of digital skills post-pandemic.”

5G’s time to shine

The development of Industry 4.0 has slowed somewhat in specific verticals, due to the economic impact of the pandemic deterring some manufacturers from investing in new technologies. In 2021, however, we’ll see things speeding up again as the industry tries to get back to pre-COVID levels.

“From big data analytics to connected devices, 5G, in particular, will provide the key building block to next-generation factories, providing the ultra-reliable low latency connectivity on which Industry 4.0 depends,” said Billurcu.

Thanks to the speed and reliability of networks provided by 5G, manufacturers will be able to move closer to their vision of the smart factory, realizing the full potential of disruptive technologies and digital.”

‘Black swan’ events bring predictive technologies

“2020 has been a major learning experience for the manufacturing industry, and a key lesson from the coronavirus crisis is to think of risk as inevitable,” said Billurcu.

Next year, we’re likely to see increased adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) within manufacturing and supply chains to better predict risks and solve them quickly.

“The use of AI tools will help bring automated insights in a fraction of a second – insights like how to manage the logistics network, how to re-route the fleet, and how to make a delivery happen,” Billurcu said.

“There will also be greater uptake in other digital technologies like 3D printing and blockchain, as organizations look to better prepare themselves in anticipation of future, similar black swan events.”

Innovation from a crisis

It’s hard to overstate the impact COVID-19 has had and will to continue to have, on the economy, industry, and livelihoods. If there’s a crumb of comfort, it’s that the crises of the past have left long-lasting legacies of technological innovation.