Life After Coronavirus

Will Manufacturing Change Because Of The Pandemic?

At the moment, Covid-19 is the dominant factor of influence of virtually every aspect of business.

But what happens when that moment has passed? Will the changes for manufacturing be permanent and if so what will they be?

We asked some manufacturing experts, and here are their thoughts:

Matt Wicks, chief robotic solutions architect at Honeywell Intelligrated, and chair of the Robotics Industries Association.
Covid-19 will have short-term impacts on manufacturing operations. Many com- panies are repurposing existing manufacturing lines and flexible automation tools to increase the fabrication of personal protective equipment and other essential sup- plies as well as shifting their manufacturing to address shifts in the rapidly changing consumer demands. Companies are also turning to robotics and automation to fill the manufacturing and supply chain gaps that have been generated by changes in consumer spending.
In the near term, facilities such as distribution centers will normalize their labor and drive toward resuming their operations. This is when organizations should be reflecting on the impact of this disruption and how their operations can be more re- silient as well as how they can address the challenges with the labor market.
In the long term, they increasingly will turn to robotics and automation solutions to address labor challenges. Many supply chain jobs can be repetitive and potentially dangerous, resulting in high turnover, low morale, and a need to constantly retrain workers, all at a steep cost. Ro- botics offer the tremendous potential to address these la- bor and productivity growth challenges. Robots are a natu- ral fit because they are by nature more flexible than other types of automation. This pandemic may cause companies to rethink their automation investment plans. Companies that have already invested in robotic solutions are well- positioned during this period of social distancing. Looking ahead, more organizational leaders will open their eyes to the benefits of robotics and automation, which can make their companies more competitive and more innovative for the long haul.

Lisa Anderson, LMA Consulting Group, Claremont, Calif.
Manufacturing will definitely change as it emerges from the coronavirus pandemic. Weaker manufacturers that don’t innovate and proactively manage the demand and supply misalignment will go out of business whereas the stronger manufacturers (whether big or small) will thrive. Manufacturing leaders were already questioning their sup- ply chain because total cost is at parity with China, Ama- zon-like customer expectations are required for growth, technological advances made customer advancement rap- idly achievable and labor costs less relevant, and the tar- iffs already pushed them over the edge.
The coronavirus is adding fuel to the fire in reevaluating sourcing networks and supply chain risk. Manufacturers will in-source and near-source with increasing speed. It will be a unique opportunity for manufacturers to retool, rede- sign and redefine their future, and manufacturing careers will gain a significant boost as people see the value in essential businesses.

Rebecca Morgan, president of Fulcrum Consulting- Works, Inc., Cleveland
Very little will look the same after COVID-19, including manufacturing. Many manufacturers will not make it through this. None will emerge untouched.
Our industry has been evolving quickly toward Industry 4.0 and that will accelerate. Businesses have learned that big changes believed to take months or years can be done in days if made a priority. Partnerships have been verified or exposed as a sham. The importance of supply chain capabilities, financial stability, and flexibility is front and center. Any manufacturer looking to return to the good old days is in deep trouble. Leaders who take time to think will observe new relationships, new capabilities, and new thought processes during this crisis. That potential has been sitting dormant all along. We’ve simply not looked for them.

Andy Zanelli, president and CEO, Visual Communica- tions Co., Carlsbad, Calif.
Many companies in the United States are learning pain- ful lessons about their vulnerabilities, and they won’t want to rebuild their supply chains the way they were pre-Covid- 19. They will want to have more autonomy so that if this were to happen again, another pandemic, another trade war, or something else, they will have the capacity to deal with it. This can be addressed in a few ways, beginning with understanding what the true cost is to manage a glob- al supply chain. A frequent result of this analysis will be that the total cost of ownership of products manufactured in North America has become highly competitive with Asia, leading to a massive increase in nearshoring. Another lev- er to pull will be to build redundancy into the system, so that they may still be engaged in China or wherever, but they will also have meaningful capacity in North America.

As Published in Washington Manufacturing Alert Vol. 12, Issue 10 May 4, 2020