Across the world, the impact of COVID-19 has forced most businesses to adapt almost overnight, adopting new technologies to continue operations. But for many in the manufacturing world, the digital journey was already well underway.
The industry has long formed the backbone of economies and communities across the world, using innovation to benefit from new opportunities and drive step changes in the way they do business in a globalised market.
And while the challenges have been well documented for some, for others the situation has resulted in an acceleration towards a more digital factory of the future.
Building flexibility in the production line
That being said, it’s not the same story for everyone. In some verticals such as automotive, demand plummeted as the crisis spread whereas other areas have seen more orders than ever before.
However, in both instances digital maturity stands as an indicator of an organisation’s ability to adapt to changing demands.
Switching from alcohol to hand sanitizer or car parts to ventilators is a huge logistical challenge, but these pivots are made much easier with a digital framework in place.
An intelligent ecosystem of connected devices also allows manufacturers to manage more tasks centrally, off the factory floor.
This represents an ongoing opportunity to improve worker health and safety by reducing physical risk on-site, as well as increasing the potential for more employees to work and collaborate remotely.
Looking past the pandemic
With these factors in mind, businesses are starting to look at longer-term initiatives. The innovators want to learn from this crisis experience and build digital capabilities and resilience even deeper into their core.
With that in mind, some businesses realise they may soon be building entirely new factories closer to home, or at the very least augmenting existing ones. Next generation technology can help to create these more cost effective digital factories.
The Mobile Private Network (MPN), for example, allows you to install connectivity far quicker than traditional fixed cables, changing timescales from years and months to weeks and days.
The flexibility of an MPN also means that factory designers can prioritise bandwidth for critical, high demand machinery. And with less cables it’s easier to move equipment as the factory evolves, or augment existing assets with new sensors that support better analytics and predictive capabilities.
Add to this the potential of Multi-access Edge Computing (MEC), which offers ultra-fast, low delay connectivity at the “edge” of the network for vital processes that need to happen in fractions of a second, and it’s clear that manufacturers have a new toolkit to choose from and innovate against.
These new digital tools, which integrate operation technology with information technology, will also help to further attract tech-savvy talent into the industry and away from the allure of big tech brands.
A digital first approach is key to succeeding in this transition, and with the right ecosystem of partners, the manufacturing industry will continue to be the trendsetters who power the economies of tomorrow.