What COVID-19 has taught us so far

While COVID-19 continues to plague the globe, companies spend their time preparing for the future – the ‘new normal’.

It’s no secret that the acceleration process of Industry 4.0 has been rather slow to date but post-pandemic, the adoption rate is set to skyrocket in some of the most peculiar ways.

Adaption is key in times of uncertainty
Max Jarmatz, managing director for Nord Drivesystems ANZ believes that every crisis requires adaption under exceptional circumstances. “We’ve learned a lot from past disruptive events like the economic crisis in 2008, or the supply chain interruption after the Fukushima disaster. In the aftermath, we have decentralised our production, built up second source suppliers and increased our stock levels.

“Our highly automated production centres already rely heavily on robots and can be run even without the presence of human workers for some time. To cope with COVID-19 while meeting customer demand, we have now changed our supply chain from air to sea freight,” Jarmatz said.

Flexible, functional and digital manufacturing to fast-track ANZ
Jozef Ceh of SMC Corporation ANZ echoes Jarmatz’s sentiments saying that if anything, the pandemic has cast a spotlight onto manufacturing. It encourages us to re-evaluate our current systems and their abilities to adapt to rapid changes.

“At a time like this, we need to analyse our production lines to ensure that they are three things: flexible, functional and digital, moving forward”.

Ceh noted that flexibility has been challenged on a physical and functional level, with more emphasis on the functional software changes.  “Changing a production line to produce more units, multiple variations or a completely different product at a rapid speed has called for consideration of modular and scalable production lines.

“In terms of functionality, it is becoming more apparent that if each product, from the central processor right down to the sensor level, can possess more individual parameters it will that may be allow for a greater functional scope and reduced physical changes,” said Jozef.

“Digitally, having real time systems and a flow of data form the whole process provides a more complete picture which integrates with the CRM or ERP and leads to more accurate forecasting, production planning, use of resources and more efficient production in terms of cost of production, energy use, waste management and production capacity.”

Adopting a ‘lights-out’ approach
While FMCG manufacturers such as those producing ‘in-demand’ items like toilet paper, pasta, rice and hand sanitiser have already had to adapt their manufacturing and distribution processes, many of us are still to learn.

“Many industries can adopt a lights-out approach, especially those in the distribution of fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG). Fully automated warehouses have been utilised for many years and have proven themselves to be far more reliable and timelier than those using traditional manual pick-and-pack methods,” said Nick Psahoulias of Beckhoff Automation.

“By harnessing the power of live-data and automated picking machines, the process of getting goods out the door, safely and accurately, benefit both the consumer and the supplier.”

Jim Wallace of Balluff has seen various companies in the FMCG sector repurposing their production lines to cope with the demand. He says that the Industry 4.0 concept of flexible manufacturing plays a key role in aiding this rigorous process.  “The fewer components that need to by physically changed or adjusted, the faster the goal can be achieved”.

An independent approach to manufacturing
Another notable learning amid the pandemic is the need for shorter supply chains and local manufacturing. Multinationals still rely heavily on their international counterparts for assembly, manufacture and supply.

The Open IIoT panel believes that we will see a notable shift here in years to come based on the COVID-19 ‘shake up’.

Traceability and real time visualisation of the supply chain is critical at times like this to allow flexibility and fast reaction to demands. RFID systems, barcode information and software integration to ERP systems are critical to achieve this goal,” says Wallace. “In addition, traceability of employees is very important.  Who was working on which machine at what time, producing which batch of which product?”

More support is needed by local government
Psahoulias said that state and federal government should however further support local manufacturing.

“Our leaders should introduce incentives, subsidies, concessions and remove the costly red tape that is required to manufacture goods locally.”

To further curb the current crisis, Jarmatz said that Nord has once again looked to IIoT technologies to implement predictive maintenance algorithms. “Our drives can monitor the current status from anywhere in the world.”

Implement an Industry 4.0 Plan, right now
Richard Roberts of ZI-ARGUS says that seven steps can be applied to implement an Industry 4.0 strategy, sooner rather than later:

  1. Consult with Industry 4.0 experts to understand what Industry 4.0 can do for your people and your business.
  2. Identify areas in your processes and plant that can directly benefit from Industry 4.0 solution.
    1. Measure these areas to take a snapshot of the now, this will act as a KPI back into the business to measure successful implementation.
  3. Generate a scope of works to implement I4.0
    1. Break it down into phases, each successful phase leading onto the next.
    2. Earmark local subject matter specialists to liaise with I4.0 experts to assist in the transition.
  4. Engage Industry 4.0 Experts to implement these phases:
    1. Measure each phase upon completion comparing the changes from area previously identified.
  5. Educate local staff members on the tools used for the Industry 4.0 solution
  6. Continue to measure to ensure the solution is still making an impact on process/ production.
  7. Be open to simplicity for a solution and define budgets to accommodate. Consider an operation costing model to support on-going development and implementations rather than a traditional capital costing model.

 

As a collective, the team believes that COVID-19 will rapidly accelerate IIoT technologies and local manufacturing. Use this time to speak to your preferred automation consultants, upscale your production in your quiet times to reap the rewards post-pandemic.