Rohit Gupta, VP and head of products and resources, Cognizant explains that by equipping the manufacturing industry with the necessary digital tools, they can gain invaluable foresight and build the resiliency needed to recover from the current crisis.

The COVID crisis has forced many manufacturing companies to pause production or even close their doors for good. Although many have found ways to resume, the long-term impacts of the crisis are clear. According to the Federal Statistical Office, real (price-adjusted) production in the manufacturing industry in June 2020 was 11.7 per cent lower than in June 2019.

However, resuming production in the current situation is only one challenge; one of the other biggest obstacles to overcome is to develop greater resilience to protect from further impacts of the pandemic or other crises that might arise in the future that could require people to work, and businesses to function, remotely.

To achieve this, there are several measures that can be taken to increase the resilience of industrial companies.

Deploy more IoT-enabled sensors and devices

The Internet of Things (IoT) can turn any device or component into a data generator. This can create a holistic view of the factory floor, which is full of IoT devices, ultimately increasing the transparency of management processes or visualisation systems, enabling better remote operation. There are several advantages that result from this increased transparency. For example, the data from these sensors can be integrated into business and engineering systems and then analysed, meaning management systems could predict an assembly line failure before it even occurs.

Expand production networks by using blockchain

A deeper integration of systems also facilitates the use of innovative technologies such as blockchain technology that can help manage a network of suppliers in a more efficient and secure manner. Blockchain technology also makes it a lot easier to expand a supply chain to help produce a greater choice and diversity in material procurement.

Take advantage of virtual workplaces

Manufacturers have already digitised many of their processes, with extensive systems such as factory and process control, IT and Enterprise Resource Planning all operating in factory halls. This means they already offer the conditions needed for designing virtual workstations. By using an integration platform to merge the data from these systems, manufacturers can create a granular real-time view of their business and processes from any location. Data can be streamlined across supply chains so that partners can identify trends as and when they arise. In turn, this leads to faster and better decision making on elements such as the use of raw materials, supplies and personnel used.

Use remote video monitoring with 5G standard

The new 5G standard, with its high capacity and low latency in the wireless network, is particularly helpful, as 5G makes it easier to transmit videos to a local cloud endpoint for analysis. With the use of video analysis and predictive IoT, specialists can now be alerted at home if a process is interrupted. In addition, with the help of these technologies, experts can also help with diagnoses or instruct repairs remotely. They also allow for remote inspections.

Accelerate VR/AR adoption

Social distancing means that fewer people can work on the factory floor. To still be able to fully utilise capacities, new solutions are needed, such as virtual reality and augmented reality (VR/AR). By implementing these technologies it becomes possible to allow only one-third of the workforce to access the factory floor while the rest can access it remotely via VR/AR technologies. Even drilling or milling machines in the factory could be serviced remotely by an expert while using an AR headset.

Looking ahead

Measures such as these can considerably increase a manufacturer’s resilience in the current climate and for any future times of crisis. To put them into practice, it is necessary that a company has a strong vision for digitisation. An important part of this vision is to keep the company prepared to work in times of a pandemic. Security for employees and partners is the top priority, while maximising the ability to act. Technologies in an Industry 4.0 environment can make a major contribution to achieving these goals while enabling the company to work with greater resilience and flexibility to meet competitive demands.

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