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11 Jun, 2020 / BY Neil Sharp

How can manufacturers ensure business continuity?

robotic automationIn the manufacturing industry, we're no strangers to adversity. 

The Global Financial Crisis of 2008, the September 11th attacks, and the SARS Virus of 2002 all prompted a crisis mindset; the need for resilience, strength and change. And we've bounced back time and time again. What I like to think that means is, we don't simply cower and hide away and wait for it all to blow over. Instead - we adapt.

We face the disruption and we rethink our strategies. We experiment with bold, new ideas that we otherwise wouldn't have considered. And we use the crisis as an opportunity to change for the better.

So, while we haven't quite emerged from the other side of this current pandemic crisis, we can make some predictions about how those rethinking strategies might look for manufacturing leaders. From employee wellness, to technology, to supply chains, all areas look set to face major change. Let's delve a little deeper into what they may be.

Employees

With a great focus on employee wellness, employees will be give more autonomy to establish a routine that suits them (where possible). When we eventually return to normality, it's likely that many will still be plagued by nerves over the virus.

There could be added flexibility for employees who have to use public transport during rush hour. This will also see less employees occupying the factory floor at one time, as work times begin to stagger. 

We've already spoken about the introduction of social distancing measures on the factory floor, and this will likely stay in place long after the pandemic. But thanks to technology, office staff who perhaps do not need to be in the factory can continue to work remotely - with the right structure and tools in place. This will require technology that enables managers to maintain effective communication with their remote colleagues, and promote productivity and motivation.

Communication

That said, with social distancing protocols in place and many staff operating remotely, ensuring everyone is equipped with adequate communication tools will be a priority. At JJS manufacturing, we promote the use of Microsoft Teams for all internal and external communication, allowing us all to stay connected and co-ordinate meetings, training and learning exercises without physical contact.

Tools like this will be integral to the management of teams during a prolonged period of physical separation. Most online communication platforms enable teams to collaborate, share screens and files, and use video to stay on the same page.

What will the manufacturing environment look like as a result of COVID-19 in  the medium term?

Supply chains

Supply chains could perhaps see the biggest shift, some of which we're already seeing now. We've already spoken about this at length, and the big question that keeps cropping up is: will the COVID-19 pandemic kill off the global supply chain?

The fragility of a global supply chain has been highlighted once again, and along with other factors, the disruption has forced many manufacturers to consider a reshoring strategy.  

Many manufacturers will be sourcing locally for suppliers and products moving forward, enabling them to mitigate the types of risks associated with overseas trade, and protect them in the event of another global catastrophe. 

This behaviour is already evident in China’s trade activity which briefly surged following factory reopens, but has begun to stagnate once again. The impact of China's lockdown caused shockwaves across the trading world. And manufacturers in particular have started to decentralise production, rethinking and reshaping their supply chains in order to bring more production home. The implications of which we can't yet be sure of. But policymakers could be increasingly pressured to consider whether certain products need to be manufactured in the country or the region. 

Investment

With all of that change and disruption, the distribution of finances will need a big rethink too. Where are manufacturers more likely to invest?

A new tech infrastructure will be critical in supporting supply chains throughout the recovery period. With anomalies more than likely to arise in availability of parts, products and people, technology can bridge the gap and in some instances, may be able to take over entirely.

Does this mean human labour could become obsolete? Absolutely not. 

Human labour can be redistributed to more meaningful areas of the supply chain, while virtual production methods and automation can take care of repetitive, mundane tasks. This could ultimately improve the safety of colleagues in the long term - well after COVID-19.

The pandemic has accelerated the adoption of smart supply chains and smart logistics, automation, virtual production and artificial intelligence. Industry 4.0 was talked about and alluded to, but more manufacturers were taking a 'wait and see' approach. This new technology can only be a welcome change, and one that was well over due.

So while the COVID-19 crisis continues to play out, it's maybe fair to say we can finally see the light at the end of this very dark tunnel. Things are unlikely to feel completely 'normal' for a while, but we can push and accelerate new ways of doing things that could improve the overall productivity and management of our factories and businesses. COVID-19 has prompted a remarkable shift in industries across the globe, from retail, to healthcare, to production.

Could the end of the pandemic mark a new beginning for businesses? 

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