Future-proofing production: COVID’s impact on manufacturing
Marcus Behrendt, Partner, BMW i Ventures, discusses how manufacturing organisations can future-proof there production operations amidst COVID-19.
Now is the perfect time to automate. It’s bold advice, as so many in the sector grapple with uncertain futures – and to be sure, the future is indeed uncertain for all of us in manufacturing. But if your uncertainty is around when and not if your factory will reopen and production will kick off again, now is the time to make important changes that will take your manufacturing operations from vulnerable to immune as we brace for the next inevitable disruption.
So often, manufacturers have well thought through plans as to when they’ll automate elements of their production line. They know it’s a sound investment in the future and an opportunity to reduce costs, increase output and optimize quality, representing returns that can be harvested down the road, but the cost of shutting down production to deploy next generation automation means missing out of harvesting more immediate returns. So, they wait.
But now, with day-to-day business at a standstill, there’s never been a better time to future-proof manufacturing through modernization – and there’s never been a better example in context of the myriad ways next generation automation can protect manufacturers from increased exposure when disaster does hit.
Anything that’s true of the benefits of intelligent and flexible automation in normal circumstances is doubly true now: it enables more efficiency, lowers cost, increases output and quality – and importantly, it lowers reliance on manual labor. In a crisis like the one we’re all experiencing now, the more self-sufficient manufacturing processes are, the less they’ll be affected by unexpected changes in circumstance, such as a sudden shift in the availability of the workforce.
As we all talk about Industry 4.0 nowadays, we should also start thinking about Automation 4.0. Automation in the past might have been independent of labor-related influences, but it was, and still is, far from flexible. It was quite an effort to adapt to changes when needed. But there are new possibilities in automation when it’s powered by software – it offers more dynamic, flexible lines, with changeovers that happen at the touch of a button, as exemplified by the technology of one of our portfolio companies, Bright Machines. This software-defined approach to manufacturing enables a more agile response to demand. As we’re seeing in real-time as manufacturers work to shift their factory floors to address not only shifting consumer demands, but the pressing needs of healthcare providers, the ability to quickly reconfigure a production line cannot be undervalued.
Solving for Supply Chain Complexities
Those in the electronics manufacturing industry will remember well the impact that the earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan in 2011 had on the global supply chain. That was one localized crisis, but it had massive global repercussions. Now, we’re dealing with a global outbreak that’s affecting every place, every nation. But it presumably strikes at different times with differing severity, making the recovery for supply chains completely unpredictable.
The case for scalable, intelligent automation solutions that enable more localized production has never been more clear – and in fact, this has been a discussion point for OEMs well before COVID became a household name. I’m optimistic that supply chains will show resilience and that going forward, the concept of decentralized, localized production will come into clearer focus for manufacturing as an industry. What we’re quickly learning is that shipping products around the globe to save a penny today, might not pay off in these times of crisis.
It’s always been a concern for OEMs, especially in complex situations like auto manufacturing, that the complexity of the supply chain will lead to issues when a group of suppliers hasn’t planned well enough for the unexpected, and that the production cycle will be thrown off. The more manufacturers throughout the supply chain are able to better prepare themselves and their lines through implementing flexible, smart automation, the more likely they’ll be able to weather any storm, whether it’s a tsunami, a pandemic, or a trade war.
The Time to Automate Is Now
There are of course some who won’t be able to weather this particular storm; it’s a tough time for the world, and those in manufacturing aren’t exempt. That said, if you are confident in your future, I urge you to consider seeing this downtime as the perfect time to rethink your approach and move forward with next generation automation plans.
The bottom line: anyone who invests in software-defined automation now – while production allows, because of unforeseen downtime – will be ready to answer the call when things do return to normal, whatever that new normal might look like.
For more information on manufacturing topics - please take a look at the latest edition of Manufacturing Global.
SAP Whitepaper: Advantages of Intelligent Assets
A core pillar in SAP’s Industry 4.0 strategy, Intelligent Assets equip organisations to reduce downtime, empower employees and increase efficiencies across industrial equipment and manufacturing units.
In a whitepaper produced in partnership between SAP and BizClik Media Group, Rachel Romanoski, Solutions Manager, Digital Assets, SAP, dispels some of the myths surrounding asset intelligent, and shares insight into how even small investment in asset intelligence can pay dividends in minimising cost leakage and realising an asset’s potential.
As with all innovations, the ceiling for Intelligent Assets is as high as an organisation can dream, afford and implement. But Romanoski says that just a little intelligence can go a long way: “Oftentimes people think Intelligent Assets need to be the latest and greatest cutting-edge technology. They can be super advanced, such as leveraging physics-based engineering simulations to forecast potential failures, and help mitigate them. But it could be as simple as a temperature reading. You can pull a lot of simple information from most equipment, and by enhancing that data through ancillary solutions and digital capabilities, you can create that Intelligent Asset.”
One of the most immediate benefits is reducing or, in some cases, eliminating unplanned downtime. Equipment failure is one of the most common causes of disruption and can cause chaos throughout the supply chain.
“The true power of the Intelligent Asset is in changing the basic, reactive emergency work or time-based, planned maintenance and being more prescriptive and tailored to that specific asset and use case,” Romanoski says. “Ultimately, you can reduce the unplanned events that often carry a big price tag.”
"Oftentimes people think Intelligent Assets need to be the latest and greatest cutting-edge technology... But it could be as simple as a temperature reading"
Other financial benefits include stemming cost leakage and “sweating assets” to the full potential. “Maybe you can consider the lifecycle of the asset and understand whether you can push it a little bit further,” Romanoski explains. “It might be that the best course of action for a low-cost item is to run it to failure. Having this information that we collect over time empowers those people to make those better decisions, but also has a trickle down effect to building resiliency and efficiency into the entire supply chain.”
To read the full report, including insight from Intelligent Assets, Intelligent Factories, Empowered People, and exclusive insight from Dominik Metzger, the lead on SAP’s Industry 4.0 programme, CLICK HERE.