Companies must maintain a dual focus to remain resilient and competitive.
Nov 07, 2021COVID-19 prompted upheaval to an entire manufacturing industry struggling to adapt to workplace health concerns, market shifts in demand and, especially, major supply chain disruptions. Many companies responded with heavy investments in technology, which helped U.S. manufacturing activity to not only survive, but actually surge to a 37-year high. As the sector collectively wipes its brow and looks to the future, manufacturers must now size up how both their technology and workforce dynamics have changed in the wake of these investments—and what this altered landscape means for the strategic outlook for moving forward.
Technology Investment and Industry 4.0 Helped Manufacturers Stay Resilient
The pace of investment during COVID-19 in technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), edge computing, digital supply chain and other areas fueled a juggernaut of manufacturing innovation that amounts to five years’ worth of advancement in just 18 months. This allowed manufacturers to preserve health and infrastructure, while scaling quickly to adjust to shifting demand and supply chain impacts ranging from rising commodities prices and record-long lead times to transportation gaps and critical shortages of semiconductors and other basic materials.
IoT and other advanced Industry 4.0 technologies proved particularly useful in helping manufacturers weather the pandemic. Supply chain modernization allowed companies stay resilient with more agility and automation to adapt to fast changing conditions. To protect health, IoT-based access-control systems helped many facilities provide contactless entry, with some tying these systems to thermal imaging cameras to detect elevated body temperature as a sign of possible sickness. Meanwhile, Ford tested RFID wristbands to enforce social distancing, with the devices vibrating and sending alerts to supervisors when workers got too close on the factory floor.
Beyond those COVID-specific applications, manufacturers saw value and resiliency overall across their operations from IoT and other advanced industrial technologies once the pandemic hit. A McKinsey global survey of more than 400 companies found that 94 percent believed their investments in Industry 4.0 helped keep operations running during the pandemic. The survey found more than half (56 percent) considered these technologies “critical” to their crisis responses; and the report cautioned those who hadn’t yet started on their Industry 4.0 journeys to view the pandemic as a “wake-up call” for urgent investment.
Post-pandemic, this renewed urgency to scale and expand IoT and related innovations is being facilitated by the ongoing growth of both edge computing and 5G networks. The 5G services market is projected to grow 46 percent annually over the next seven …….