Opportunities in Automation and Digitisation in Manufacturing Post Covid-19

May, 2020

By: Michael Burgess

Programme Manager-Manufacturing

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The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted on economic activity both in New Zealand and overseas. Some manufacturing plants and warehouses that were not on the essential services list were forced to cease operation under Alert Level 4.

When we moved to Level 3 and more manufacturers could resume operations, conditions were still far from normal. Checking staff on arrival for health symptoms, contact tracing throughout the day, ensuring staff stay in their work bubble, monitoring how employees transport to, from and within work, maintaining physical distancing and minimising the risk of cross-infection from shared surfaces.

All this has had an impact on productivity and it may be the prompt manufacturers need to look at implementing digital transformation of manufacturing (Industry 4.0) or robotics within their manufacturing operations. Now is the time to take stock of your operations, from production through the supply chain in case of another crisis like COVID-19 and to future proof your business.

This may mean taking a hard look at your operations and looking for opportunities to become more ‘digitised’.

Digitisation means gaining insight and value from data collected by the digitisation of analogue processes. It involves tools like digital twins, augmented reality and virtual reality. Some machinery will be loaded with sensors when they are built, while others might need to retro-fitted. These sensors can provide continuous feedback throughout the manufacturing supply chain. They also respond to real-world data on maintenance requirements giving manufacturers the ability to respond in real time.

Another possible benefit that could emerge from the Covid-19 crisis is that manufacturers might become more interested in how robots and automation can help their business, both from a production and workforce perspective. Could a more automated workforce have alleviated some of the economic damage COVID-19 has caused? Could we see an acceleration in automation where it keeps workers and consumers safer?

Social distancing may become the norm in 2021. Companies large and small could consider how they can use the robots to increase social distancing for tasks like scrubbing floors to distributing hand sanitiser.

Even prior to COVID-19, just over half of manufacturers in the 2018 Business Operations Survey reported they had introduced new automation over the previous two years. The most common reason was to increase productivity and reduce costs.

Companies that will survive long term have the right tools to be flexible and agile and can quickly change productions lines, controlling and monitoring their plants and adjusting their supply chains.

EMA and TMN can help manufacturers gain an insight into the advantages of automation and digitisation when it delivers the contract for Industry 4.0 Contact to manufacturers. If you would like more information contact Mike Burgess.

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