Accelerating Automation and Digitisation in the Post COVID Era

The situation created by the pandemic has also accelerated the digitization of the manufacturing sector using prescriptive predictive analytical technologies.


The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our lives has been both universal and unique at the same time. The lockdown, for example, had necessitated a vast majority of us to work from home, which is something we need to acknowledge as a forced situation, while we have also imposed quite a few restrictions on ourselves in the interest of coping with the situation from going out of hand.

Considering the size of India’s population and social and economic diversity of our country and purely from a statistical point of view, it looks like we have managed the situation reasonably well. This is not to say that we have all been affected to the same extent, but only to point out that the big picture that is emerging is better than what it could have been in terms of its impact, both economically and from a health point of view.

The manufacturing sector being what is in terms of moving people, inputs and finished goods, it would be fair to say that the challenges posed by COVID-19 in this sector have been particularly more difficult to manage. For a better understanding of the challenges, the manufacturing sector can be broadly broken into three parts i.e. the supply chain (that is inputs and logistics), the manufacturing process, and access to customers and markets.

Even before Covid-19 hit the global economy, the automation and digitization process within the manufacturing sector was already moving ahead. What Covid-19 did was to accelerate the pace at which manufacturing companies started to adopt technologies and to get back to business as usual while providing a safe working environment for people.

The first few weeks since the lockdown was announced in the latter half of March 2020, the focus was completely on managing the apparent health challenges and to create a safe working environment for everyone including employees, vendors, partners, and customers. This was managed by a combination of hardware, mobile communications, Wi-Fi, and by creating a secure network (virtual private network or VPN). Technologies that were on the fringe quickly moved to the mainstream, and quite literally overnight. The best example of this is virtual meetings using apps such as Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Team, etc. that saw a huge surge in downloads.

The first few weeks of the lockdown saw routine activities being carried out remotely, that is without the need for people to check into our offices across the country. Since the first phase of the lockdown also coincided with the end of the financial year, legally mandated activities like finalization of accounts and preparation of annual reports ahead of the annual general meeting had to be given the highest priority.

A host technologies under the broad umbrella of IoT and automation will make fasters in-roads in the manufacturing sector.

The situation created by the pandemic has also accelerated the digitization of the manufacturing sector using prescriptive predictive analytical technologies.

In the chemical industry for example, especially in a batch manufacturing process, there is always batch-to-batch variation in conversion yields and efficiency. Using prescriptive predictive analytical technologies (within the larger umbrella of automation and IoT based on sensors) helped offer prescriptive advice to the workers thereby ensuring that every batch is a ‘golden batch’. The conditions that create the golden batch was based on data collected over a three year period. The use of predictive analytical technologies can be directly linked to a drop in fatigue and thus results in a marked improvement in the quality of work which in turn helps improve efficiency and yield. This is just one example of the change in progress in the manufacturing sector.

Another important area that will come under the immense technological influence is the supply chain. While the global supply chain and logistics sectors are already in very advanced stages of technological innovations, its engagement with the manufacturing sector will get stronger and deeper.

The Covid-19 situation has already shown how vulnerable the ecosystem is when borders between countries and even states within countries come under lockdown. In the post-COVID era, large manufacturing pockets across the world are already getting rearranged as big nations like the US and Japan seek to increase their domestic production. The winners will be those with a digitally well-connected supply chain network resulting in creating huge efficiencies and values across the chain.

The deepest footprint left by COVID in the manufacturing sector however will be in the area of people and skills. The large scale automation and digitization of the manufacturing sector would also mean sweeping changes in HR in terms of numbers and skills. Businesses across sectors are already reporting a steep increase in their L&D (learning and development) spending in the post-COVID months. The impact of this will be felt all the way down to our larger education, skills ecosystem, and the kind of manpower we are producing for the future.

In the post-COVID era, the pace of automation and other technological innovations will only gain further momentum. The manufacturing sector will see a transformed digital and IT system to create a manufacturing unit of the 21st century with the elements of Industry 4.0.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house


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