How the Pandemic is Accelerating Industry 4.0

Unpredictable expectations. Unprecedented workplace complications. Unexpected hurdles in the supply chain.

The pandemic has brought in a whole load of surprises for industries worldwide, especially for the manufacturing industry. Even before the pandemic, the industry was transforming with the digital culture, new technologies and tools to facilitate smart manufacturing.

Ever since the pandemic hit, there’s now an acute demand for industry leaders to adapt to the new norm while being socially responsible. The impact of the pandemic in just a short span has been so severe that many small-scale manufacturing companies have gone out of business. This disruption brought on by the pandemic has forced companies to accelerate the digital transformation out of necessity. 

This was when Industry 4.0 was born — the digitization of manufacturing processes interlinked with employees, business operations and shareholders. Industry 4.0 is making manufacturers rethink their current strategies and reinvent new processes for survival during the pandemic.

A Shift in Priorities

Today’s manufacturing organizations cannot survive the pandemic unless they shift their priorities to digital technology. Agility and flexibility are the keywords now and this is visible from McKinsey’s survey, ‘An inflection point for Industry 4.0’ published at the beginning of 2021.

Over 18% of the respondents agree that agility scale operations with respect to market demands and over 17% agree that flexibility to customize products to consumer needs is the first crucial strategic objective.

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In fact, among the surveyed respondents, 20% are doubling down on digital technology on multiple fronts, while 60% are selectively implementing the digital technology for specific objectives. 

The pandemic has forced the companies to rethink their current strategies to reach their end goal and introduce new processes coupled with digital solutions. The companies that were once following the traditional operations have to go digital to sustain the market and manage the pandemic’s challenges.

Digitization is the Buzzword

With remote work-life becoming the next big thing ever since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the world, digitization of business processes has become essential — from being a choice. 

The traditional ISA-95 standard for integrating enterprise with the control systems has taken a more modern approach, particularly the one with digitization through the layers.

According to a whitepaper by SAP, the traditional ISA-95 stack has shifted to a modern digital production platform with connected systems and data lakes.

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While the fundamental structure of the ISA-95 stack is still retained, digitization across the manufacturing, data storage, distribution networks and integrations have revamped the entire production flow with digital technology.

Some of the early adopters who predicted the outcomes of the pandemic were able to manage their production, distribution and supply chain far better. They could get ahead of the game, like a global conglomerate in CPG that simulated a virtual digital twin in the supply chain. With a digital twin, the company was able to position itself better with cost-efficient, sustainable operations digitized to the core.

Survival During the Pandemic with IoT & Edge Technology

The pandemic brought several complexities in running a manufacturing unit like limited workforce, uncertain demands and supply chain issues. 

This is when many companies started implementing new technologies like IoT, edge computing, machine learning and cloud technology. These technologies support the onboarding, connectivity and equipment management by inculcating predictive analysis and triggering mechanisms to prevent mechanical issues.

The edge technology allows real-time processing of sensor and actuator data, which are then relied on by the controllers to facilitate autonomous decision making. With cloud connected with edge computing, data-driven decisions and operational logic executions were made more manageable. This also enabled an efficient human-machine interface allowing people to monitor the data anywhere and reducing the number of people on the shop floor, which brings us to the next point.

Remote Workplace Becoming the Norm

Unlike most other sectors, the manufacturing industry is faced with a major problem — the need for a human presence inside manufacturing units in the middle of a life-threatening pandemic. While many sectors could implement the remote work culture, it’s a challenging walk for manufacturers. 

The element of human vulnerability and quick spreading of the coronavirus put a deter on the industry developments. 39% of the manufacturers have halted the Industry 4.0 implementations due to the remote work culture and travel restrictions. 

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In the times when remote workforce is becoming normal across many other industries, the manufacturing and supply chain sectors need IoT and Artificial Intelligence (AI) models to spreadhead the innovations. The focus of survival post-COVID depends on how soon businesses can adapt to the new norm of remote work culture with IoT, AI and cloud computing. 

AI and machine learning development services can act fast to fix issues and control operations from anywhere in the world, with only a small workforce left on the shop floor. The automation of the supply chain, demand and manufacturing process can create an efficient, seamless system that functions with minimal error.

Integrated Intelligence Across the Organization

Smart manufacturing creates an integrated solution and accelerates product development with no or fewer human intervention. When risking the employees’ lives is weighed against the scale of the business survival, intelligent systems are the answers.

With an integrated and automated manufacturing unit with data fed into the cloud, the process of control and operations will be simple and easy. Employees can swiftly monitor real-time data, automate decisions to be made without the need for vigilant monitoring and present an opportunity to detect and fix problems sooner than they occur.

By integrating the supply chain with the production unit and backed with data analytics, businesses can now fast forward their involvement in day-to-day operations and find better ways to manage the uncertainty caused by the pandemic.

Many companies are now shifting to smart solutions in parts of the manufacturing to test, deploy and implement. And it’s only a matter of time before standalone smart manufacturing units with wholesome automation emerge.

What is the Way Forward?

There’s no looking back with Industry 4.0 transformation during the pandemic. Manufacturing organizations have to figure out a way to use real-time data for integration and automation, both of which become the two main objectives of most units. 

With support from the right resources, technologies and right people, the manufacturing industry can sustain the pandemic and even accelerate the development to the point where high profits are reaped with minimal intervention operations.

The best way forward is to digitize the operations, if you haven’t yet, in rapid iterations to test and expand. Such an approach would immensely improve the chances of meeting the objectives quicker and in the best way possible.

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