Industrial Automation & Sensors Blog

Covid-19 Pandemic Reveals Next-Generation Manufacturing Risks, Benefits

by Jared Weiner | 3/17/2020


The global economic turbulence and uncertainty incited by the coronavirus pandemic has affected businesses of all shapes and sizes. In the manufacturing sector, organizations have struggled to balance their business and operational needs with the health and safety of their workers, most of whom are unable to work remotely due to the inherently physical nature of their positions on the factory floor. While potentially life-threatening health concerns certainly outweigh mere operational challenges, the latter, unfortunately, cannot be ignored.

NRF 2020 Show ReportAmong the most significant operational challenges associated with this outbreak is disruption to the global supply chain, particularly for manufacturers reliant on components produced in China. Years ago, many manufacturers may have had raw materials and other supplies on hand sufficient to endure a temporary disruption in their supply chain. However, today’s emphasis on leanness and controlling costs calls for manufacturers to streamline their operations and align production with customer demand on an as-needed basis. Accordingly, most manufacturing organizations have fine-tuned their supply chains to accommodate short term production forecasts. This “just-in-time” methodology has allowed manufacturers to reduce expenses and improve profitability by minimizing inventory and better managing labor and production costs. Unfortunately, the risk of maintaining such lean operations has materialized as a result of the fallout from the coronavirus, with many manufacturers struggling to maintain operations in the face of uncertain access to raw materials and other production supplies.

Fortunately, next-generation manufacturing is also enabling manufacturers to play a crucial role in the collective global defense against the coronavirus outbreak. In the UK, for example, Prime Minister Boris Johnson asked automotive manufacturer Rolls-Royce and heavy equipment manufacturer JCB to assist relief efforts by producing suddenly-needed ventilators for the National Health Service. Similarly, French conglomerate LVMH (which owns an assortment of beverage, cosmetic, perfume, and other luxury brands) will dedicate some of its manufacturing facilities to the production of hand sanitizer. Such abrupt shifts in production operations would not be possible if manufacturers were unable to leverage Industry 4.0 principles such smart manufacturing and the digital twin, and world leaders will undoubtedly continue to turn to leading manufacturers to help address many of the acute production needs stemming from this crisis.

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