Coronavirus has virtually put everyone under lockdown today and while it is helping us contain the pandemic, it is hurting businesses, among which manufacturing has been impacted the maximum. Working remotely was never heard of in manufacturing but the world is now moving towards it. Leaders are faced with a very tough question of how to balance people’s safety and business continuity. The situation is that a lot of the plants are locked and few are operating under a reduced production capacity of 25-50%.
Only pharmaceuticals and few FMCG companies are operating fully to help us get essential supplies, but it’s not easy to run these plants. Stepping out of homes is frightful these days and hence plant employees, management personnel and workers going to work are doing a great service to the nation.
What seems certain in this era of ‘new normal’ is that digital will rule the world. Enterprises who took lead and moved forward with the digital journey will pat their backs for their decisions and investments, but for others who were sitting on the fence should take this as a wakeup call.
Looking at the manufacturing plants that are operating now, fully or partially, digitisation done earlier will definitely have helped them produce with limited workforce. Automation of production process was always taken with a pinch of salt but now it will be the most desired thing to have.
While lockdown gets eased, there will be strict instructions to ensure workers maintain a safe distance and take precautions. This means the number of shifts will increase to meet the demand and the overall number of workers at any point in time in plants will reduce. This will need a different approach to planning as the operational constraints have changed.
Every organization, large or MSME should use this time as an opportunity to accelerate the adoption of AI, IoT and Analytics to integrate customers, employees and vendors through digital platforms.
While automated production lines can help but the challenge is that investments for them are very high. With current pressures, companies would not have big Capex budgets. So, more simplified ways to improve worker productivity, safety and reduced operational costs will have to be thought of.
Some of the solutions that can help are Analytics led demand prediction and production planning, remote assisted assembly operations through AR/VR, AI-based face tracking solutions to manage access control instead of biometrics. IoT solutions can be of great help in energy management and monitoring machines and workers’ health.
Energy is the biggest operational expense in plants today and the current solutions can help us save 10 to 20% energy cost. With worker safety of prime importance getting health parameters like temperature, pulse rate through sensors placed in protective gear can give early warning on health issues with a worker. Location tracking can help to improve worker productivity and ensure they stay in designated areas only.
These are a few suggestions, to begin with, and there can be a lot of other applications where digital can help in remote monitoring. This will need every boardroom to come up with future strategies and action plans. Fortunately, the lockdown has given manufacturing leaders some time in hand to prepare for the future and manage the crisis effectively.
Manufacturing companies, large or small, must look for design thinking to define future digital adoption or digital solution roadmap. The pandemic has had a deep impact and it will not be easy to layout plans without following a structured approach. Design thinking is a proven methodology under these kinds of scenarios and the tools under it need to be leveraged as much as possible.
Author: Amit Saluja, Senior Director & Center Head, NASSCOM CoE – IoT Ecosystem for IoT Startups, Gandhinagar
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author. These views and opinions do not represent those of The Indian Express Group or its employees.
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