IIoT, Industrie 4.0

COVID-19 accelerates the digitalization of enterprises

Facing pressure and uncertainty from COVID-19, manufacturing companies need to improve innovation, agility and adaptability as it applies to products, services, operations, and employee developments. 

By Stone Shi September 27, 2020
Stone Shi is executive editor-in-chief, Control Engineering China. Courtesy: Control Engineering China

 

Learning Objectives

  • COVID-19 continues to change how factories work.
  • Manufacturing digital transformation is accelerating innovation, agility and adaptability.
  • Factory labor shortages can be helped with automation, 5G, smart factories.

In 2020, COVID-19 is having a huge impact on global industrial companies in their markets, workforce structure and more investments in rapid digitalization to enable remote operations and flexible innovation. According to IDC estimates, a quarter of the world’s companies are in recession. Work patterns have changed in the past four months more than a few years ago. Siemens even announced it will form a new normal of working pattern in the future, with “mobile office” and “traditional office” complementing each other.

With COVID-19, markets around the world have undergone great changes. More companies also have begun to rely on telecommuting and are striving to build an intelligent and flexible supply chain. Before COVID-19, many analysts predicted it would take two years or more for the industry to complete digital transformation. It turned out these tasks were realized within 10 weeks of 2020.

Manufacturing innovation, agility, adaptability

Facing the severe pressure, challenges and uncertainties brought about by COVID-19, it is necessary for manufacturing companies to improve innovation, agility and adaptability as it applies to products, services, operations and employee developments.

The only way to solve these problems is accelerating the digital transformation of enterprises, and use digital tools and deep integration of business processes to make online working, conferencing, training and even remote factory operations the “new normal.” This allows operating losses caused by COVID-19 to be hedged in the short-term and long-term business management models to be explored.

Smarter factory work environment

Of course, employees in manufacturing companies aren’t always in a traditional office; they could be in a factory, on the shop floor or on the sales and service floor. Digital transformation can succeed if the use of digital technology is narrowed down to the worker’s work environment.

For those on the front lines of manufacturing companies, new technologies, such as augmented reality (AR), allow them to interact with realistic environments, more and more complex products and information in many information technology (IT) systems, helping them quickly obtain 3D through intelligence. With wearable devices, such as smart helmets, it is possible to view equipment and access expert guidance remotely without having to go to the factory floor.

Faster digital transformation

For manufacturing companies, labor shortages and rising labor costs have been one of the driving forces behind digital transformation in recent years. The higher level of intelligence in response to COVID-19 and the higher pace and efficiency of work in the factories are why companies must speed up the process of digital transformation.

According to some reports, in the process of resuming work in some smart factories, it only took one night to prepare for the emergency resumption of production, to ensure the quality and quantity of equipment needed. The capacity utilization rate at the beginning of the resumption of work reached 80%. Compared with traditional factories, the number of workers in smart factories has dropped by at least half, but production efficiency can be increased by 2.5 to 3 times.

COVID-19 prevention, digital transformation, 5G

This increase in online demand for COVID-19 prevention and control undoubtedly has boosted digital applications, creating many new digital scenarios and increasing the initiative for digital transformation of enterprises. In particular, some large state-owned enterprises have joined in, which will add to the overall impact on the digital transformation of enterprises and more deeply influence the digitalization process of the industrial supply chain.

COVID-19 has promoted society’s reliance on and adaptation to digitalization and network economy, accelerated the process of social digital transformation. COVID-19 also stimulated the application of 5G technology and industrial Internet platforms. Greater industrial internet and 5G use allows enterprises to feel the efficiency improvement brought about by digital technology for the first time on a large scale, opening the prelude to the large-scale popularization of relevant applications.

COVID-19 isn’t over and is forcing the global manufacturing industry to accelerate change. Companies that succeed in 2020 and beyond will be the ones that become more digitally advanced and resilient with digitalization. COVID-19 will be a turning point that will accelerate digitalization at all levels of society.

Stone Shi is executive editor-in-chief, Control Engineering China. Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media, mhoske@cfemedia.com.

KEYWORDS: Digital transformation, COVID-19, manufacturers

COVID-19 continues to change how factories work.

Manufacturing digital transformation is accelerating innovation, agility and adaptability.

Factory labor shortages can be helped with automation, 5G, smart factories.

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Stone Shi
Author Bio: Executive editor-in-chief, Control Engineering China