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How Will Industry 4.0 Shift in a Post-COVID World?

The COVID-19 pandemic forced companies around the world to adjust their strategies to survive in the so-called “new normal.” Customers have tweaked their priorities, too. Many prefer to shop online or have found that the stores they frequented in person not so long ago now only offer deliveries. Businesses experienced surges in demand for some products, while entire industries virtually ceased operations due to coronavirus shutdowns. 

Companies are now taking in-depth looks at how Industry 4.0 tech could help them return to productive operations. Maybe your enterprise is doing the same. Here’s a look at smart technology investment plans, plus which options seem most viable for making a business stronger and more able to cope with whatever the future holds. 

  1. Current Efforts and the Future Outlook for Smart Manufacturing

Industry 4.0 focuses on enhancing traditional manufacturing and industrial platforms and processes with emerging technologies. Companies are interested in it, but many remain in the early stages.

A survey from Plex Systems — a company that sells an intelligent manufacturing platform — surveyed global businesses to learn about their progress in using Industry 4.0 applications. The results showed only 24% of respondents implemented smart manufacturing options. However, 22% launched pilots to assess a technological solution’s worthiness. 

Grand View Research anticipates a prolonged investment uptick in the global intelligent manufacturing sector. An April 2020 press release revealed the market value reaching an estimated $514.3 billion by 2027, representing an 11.8% combined annual growth rate over the forecast period. 

Analysts at HFS Research also polled enterprises to determine which technologies attracted their attention the most. The results showed many want options offering quick cost savings, such as automation, smart analytics and the cloud. Spending on products in those categories will likely go up, while the investments on products that take more time to show their payoffs may decrease or stay unchanged in the coming months, researchers found. 

  1. The Short- and Long-Term Plans for Industry 4.0 in the Post-Coronavirus Economy

As companies assess how Industry 4.0 tools could help them recover from coronavirus-related issues, they make both short- and long-term plans. Survival is the immediate primary focus for manufacturers. The longer-range goal is figuring out how to limit the damage.

Companies are unsure how long the pandemic may threaten the economy. After applying technology to survive, they’ll transition to how to approach recovery and how to achieve business as usual in this new landscape. 

Artem Kroupenev is the vice president of strategy at Augury, a company that gives industrial clients tools to gain knowledge about equipment health. He expects many of the short-term changes brought about by the coronavirus crisis to ultimately become long-term adjustments to fundamental parts of society and the economy. 

Kroupenev also believes manufacturers will increasingly view data as a valuable asset, spending money on sensors, dashboards and other products that reveal how companies excel and where room for improvement exists. He brought up how digitization will prove its worth by giving competitive advantages to the companies that pursue it. 

COVID-19 — like other global crises before it — could create changes that last for years, Kroupenev asserted. He said manufacturers must gauge which changes are on the horizon, then make their tech investments accordingly. 

  1. Using the Internet of Things to Minimize Supply Chain Stress

The coronavirus pandemic quickly revealed supply chain difficulties and left many unprepared companies scrambling to catch up. Many people who shopped in stores for essential products like soap and toilet paper found bare shelves. 

Those who turned to the internet also experienced delays, while e-commerce companies simultaneously saw tremendous jumps in traffic. Statistics from ACI Worldwide showed a 74% increase in e-commerce transactions for most retail sectors in March 2020 compared to that month in 2019. 

Many people reported shipment delays, especially as regional and national lockdowns complicated matters. Shipment companies posted updates about service suspensions in affected countries, but slowdowns continued occurring even when the sender’s and recipient’s respective nations did not cease shipment transport and acceptance. Technology that improves supply chain visibility can help customers thrive in the pandemic aftermath and during any future hardships. 

You may initially overlook the impact on components destined for use in finished goods, but COVID-19 impacted them, too. Take computer chips, for example. Their production cleanrooms require 1000% higher cleanliness than hospital operating rooms. Obtaining the chemicals to make the chips poses complications, too. Many chemicals must stay in temperature-controlled environments to prevent reactions from happening between them during transit. 

The Internet of Things (IoT) can relieve some of these pressure points. For example, a sensor attached to a shipping container could let a company verify the geographical position of the shipment and confirm that the handlers upheld environmental requirements and did not mishandle delicate pieces. Having such data equips companies to set expectations for customers and have peace of mind concerning parts or whole products reaching their destinations in good condition.  

  1. Applying Analytics to Increase Business Success

Companies will likely become even more interested in analytics tools to guide their decision-making in this post-pandemic world. Some wasted no time in moving forward with such investments. Sisense surveyed data professionals in the United States to learn how their enterprises relied on business intelligence and data analytics since COVID-19. 

According to the results, 49% of those polled said analytics were more or much more important than before the pandemic. Also, most respondents from the industrial and manufacturing sectors planned to maintain analytics spending. That’s good news, especially since many companies face the reality of making cutbacks in some areas to stay afloat. 

The possibilities for using this technology are virtually endless. For example, an operational platform could show increased vibrational activity or temperature in a given machine, suggesting it may need prompt servicing to avoid a breakdown. Companies could also analyze data at the department or shift level, staying abreast of what the overall productivity is or which new processes are working well versus those requiring adjustments. 

Enterprises embracing Industry 4.0 can apply analytics to help them cope with issues experienced during COVID-19, too. Real-time platforms could give updates about shortages or demand spikes, offering businesses warnings to mitigate potential catastrophes. Plus, the risk of contracting the virus looms even while companies reopen. Many enterprise leaders may realize contact tracing apps and wearables help them keep people safe while identifying risks. 

  1. Ramping up Robotics Investments

Industrial robots can boost output, streamline processes and work continuously without breaks. All of those advantages are particularly appealing as companies devote attention to their recoveries. 

Robots can become crucial elements of businesses’ adoption processes. Some countries overcame the worst of their coronavirus outbreaks, but the possibility remains of experiencing workforce shortages when exposed persons need to self-quarantine. Other illnesses — such as the seasonal flu — could harm a plant’s production, too. Robotics equipment reduces those effects, helping companies keep meeting their needs.

Companies may want to investigate robotics opportunities slowly and wait to see outcomes before scaling up. That’s why robotics-as-a-service (RaaS) businesses could find plenty of opportunities to increase their presence in the post-COVID-19 marketplace. RaaS providers handle repairs and maintenance on the machines and usually allow their clients to invest in more products as their needs require. 

Robotics vendors should also emphasize ease of use while designing machines for eventual clients. Businesses may feel eager to explore what robots can do, but equipment that comes with a gigantic learning curve could dampen their enthusiasm. 

  1. Industry 4.0 Technologies Can Bolster Business Resilience

Companies that have not invested in Industry 4.0 advancements will likely discover that doing so now will spur their comebacks after the coronavirus. Moreover, enterprises that use these technologies now will increase their dependence on them and see how high-tech innovation can make operations stronger within weeks or months, as well as in the long-term.

The author is Megan R Nichols, STEM Writer

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