People’s safety has become the first priority for manufacturing companies. Pandemic-driven workplace changes such as social distancing on packaging lines, restricted access to installations for performing maintenance, a depleted workforce due to quarantine regulations, and multiple other issues require innovative responses from manufacturing stakeholders. For example, in March, the Institute of Supply Management (ISM) reported that nearly 75% of the companies they surveyed were already reporting supply chain disruptions in some capacity due to coronavirus-related transportation restrictions.
When outside factors conspire to force rapid change on an industry, there is no time (or funding) to hope that capital investments will resolve the arising issues. Instead, solutions that improve flexibility, agility, and visibility across manufacturing supply chains are what is required. The ability to ride through these difficult periods depends on being able to do more with the available people using equipment assets already in place.
New approaches that involve the digitization of operations enable employees to be quickly upskilled and trained, allow work to be performed remotely, and increase the efficiency of existing plant assets.
How Digitization Enables Better Asset Performance and Resiliency
Many organizations are now recognizing that digitization of operations can provide the means for quickly establishing new processes and for rendering existing processes more flexible. Listed below are several examples illustrating how companies in the Consumer Packaged Goods, Food & Beverage, and Life Sciences industries have used digital software solutions to adjust to the challenges posed by the global pandemic:
- Implementing predictive maintenance – In essential industries like Food & Beverage, steep demand spikes place manufacturers in a position where a slow down or halt in operations cannot be tolerated. For example, within dairy producing operations, milk production from cows is ongoing. If plants are forced to cease operations, incoming milk will have to be discarded resulting in regrettable waste of an important food asset and a corresponding negative impact on profitability. As such, machine assets are taxed beyond typical limits and provisions must be made to minimize downtime despite equipment breakages and failures. In such cases, digitization solutions that enable predictive maintenance help limited staff to focus on assets that are the most at risk, and to plan for repairs before any major disruption to operations occurs. Companies can extend the lifetime of their equipment by measuring its condition with IIoT sensors. If a repair is not warranted, companies can delay it beyond the standard period. According to McKinsey, such improved condition monitoring typically reduces maintenance costs by 10 to 15 percent.
- Workforce empowerment – Those organizations that face the challenge of a reduced workforce must leverage their remaining workers in a way that optimizes their production. One example where digitization can help is to have remote experts (like shop floor managers) use handheld tablets to guide multiple less experienced, socially-distanced employees. These devices run augmented reality applications, and visually explain how a particular machine procedure should be run or managed.
In situations where rapid change is required and where much of the plant depends on manual operations, employees have to take time away from machines to be trained on new operational procedures. When confronted with a plant floor issue, they likely have to review multiple screens on each of their machines to determine the root cause of the problem being experienced. If the production line stops, they have to call technical support. All of these processes are extremely time consuming and inefficient.
On the other hand, if an operator has access to hand held digitized augmented reality tools, for instance, they can very quickly, without further training, visually determine exactly where the problem lies and can instantly receive recommendations and updated documentation on how to rectify the issue. When an operator’s job is made easier through digitization, companies are better equipped to cope with difficult, volatile circumstances.
- Automating to enable rapid conversion to alternative products – Businesses that have already invested in such quick-change automation technologies have been less negatively impacted during the current crisis, because the added flexibility allows them to adapt to rapidly changing market conditions. For example, a distillery and bottling operation designed for production of alcoholic drinks can, with the proper automation already in place, easily retool and introduce new recipes for making hand sanitizer. The agility to quickly respond helps companies serve present market needs, more fully leverage corporate assets, and preserve jobs.
Digitization Advantages Emerge During a Crisis
Moving forward, many manufacturing firms will be pointing their businesses in new directions. For some, the emphasis will be on more self-sufficiency. For others, a focus on alternative supply and distribution channels will be top of mind. In all cases, digitization of core processes and the ability to remotely access plant assets in a cybersecure manner will emerge as primary capabilities necessary for better serving marketplaces that are increasingly unpredictable.
To learn more about how new digitalization tools are providing manufacturers and their supply chains with increased agility, visibility and efficiency…watch “Doing more with what you have” session available on demand as part of the recent Innovation Talks: A Way Forward for Industry.