As we enter June 2020, economies are beginning to re-assemble after a global shut-down that has redefined how we interact with each other. As we respond and adjust in the short term, questions remain about how critical sectors of the economy, such as industrial production, will settle into a ‘new normal’ for the long term. In order to assure business continuity and relevance, companies will be taking careful stock of how they manage their workforce, technology, and supply chain, and they will be doing so with the threat of pandemic at the forefront of their mind.
Workforce Management & Safety
If COVID-19 showed the manufacturing industry anything, it was that workforce safety is paramount to their continuing operations. We are already seeing a surge in investment in workforce training and safety protocols to reduce risk of virus transmission, in addition to previous efforts around mitigating operational workplace hazards. This is also driving companies to plan for workforce continuity within their business. It has given a fresh opportunity for employers to prioritize key aspects of their business operations and enable their employees to continue to provide value through flexible work arrangements. Through a combination of increasing workforce flexibility, accelerated cross-training and knowledge sharing, resilience is built into the workforce.
An increased focus on workforce resilience and business continuity will also promote the use of tools that facilitate team communication and knowledge sharing, whatever the team makeup. While work-from-home trends appear to have a limited immediate impact on production employees needed to operate the plant, supporting functions such as supply chain and technology will accelerate in their use of technology so that they can deliver value even remotely. These roles have already become more efficient through automated systems and collaboration tools. These tools are now becoming an business need to provide for remote support of multiple sites as well as work-from home scenarios.
Mere implementation of software tools cannot solve every problem. The complexity and risk of software implementation is tied directly to the complexity of the physical system. This industry has been moving towards a common ethernet network for decades, and the pace will accelerate as standardization and technologies advance toward a more effective plant system. For example, Time Sensitive Networking and Single Pair Ethernet will contribute to reduced integration effort and prevent conversion loss to deliver data where it needs to be consumed.
Decades of globalization have lengthened supply chains focused on the most efficient production. The ongoing global COVID-19 crisis has shown that especially those companies with long and complex supply chains have been challenged to respond. Maximizing efficiency of production is being replaced by maximizing efficiency of the overall supply chain, as customers have shown willingness to pay premiums for the shortest guaranteed lead time. Further, vendors with the shortest supply chain have double advantage of both “buy local” support from customers, added to the reduced capital requirements to do business. Potential implications of this is twofold: first, the supply chain that delivers the product will have an increasing influence with customers; second, customers will prioritize medium volumes and flexibility over against high volumes and fixed production.
As this pandemic passes, it is leaving an indelible impact on the minds of consumers and businesses alike, including businesses focused on industrial production. This is changing expectations of what is normal, which will result in substantial change in both workforce and supply chain management. As result, it will also increase reliance on technology to support and effect that change.