Mark Hughes, Regional Vice President, UK & Ireland, Epicor looks at Why disruption is now a springboard for innovation in manufacturing.
The effects of COVID-19 have rippled across every industry, but its impact on manufacturers has brought positive change, as well as disruption. Despite the difficult choices manufacturers have faced over the course of the year, digitisation has accelerated – a process which has long been challenging in the industry.
The reasons behind this vary; those with ageing workforces have sometimes been sceptical about new technology, while others have been uncertain the investment would pay off. However, the onset of lockdown saw restrictions from mandatory remote working to limits on how many people can be in one area at a time. Manufacturers had to adapt to stay in business – and now they’re in the fortunate position of being able to pick and choose the best of those new processes and technologies. So, what should they be focusing on?
As a result of lockdown, businesses and factory floors had to evolve at speed. To highlight just one example of adapting to this change of pace and reacting with an innovative solution, manufacturers implemented Internet of Things (IoT) sensors on machinery to monitor performance remotely. But can those sensors compete with the good old-fashioned hands of a seasoned engineer on a long-term basis?
Both offer convenience, but the cost of ongoing high-tech maintenance, training and equipment might present a barrier to continued use. Manufacturers need to strike the balance between traditional factory set-ups and the new now, incorporating the benefits of digital acceleration while retaining the perks of having human staff on the floor.
The human vs. machine debate also affects recruitment. It might be more difficult or more expensive to find staff who are well versed in any new implemented technologies. But with remote working enabled, manufacturers are free to choose from a much wider pool of talent – something that’s especially relevant to the industry given its often isolated site locations.
The proposition of a truly flexible role in a field that used to be the very opposite could be a draw. Combined with manufacturing’s relative stability compared to other industries and it’s not difficult to see why the sector is reputationally bouncing back to be considered a solid place to be employed and do business – which, in turn, causes a surge in fresh blood to drive digital change.
Mind over matter
It’s not just those employed in the industry who saw the benefits of recent digitisation. Many factories pivoted almost overnight to produce completely different in-demand products – including Mercedes F1, BrewDog and Dyson. While few businesses would have considered swapping from making vacuum cleaners to hospital beds pre-COVID, these organisations have witnessed their own power to pivot – and, with any luck, this inspiration will fuel further change in the near future.
The real silver lining beyond merely accelerating digitisation was a shift in mindset. With the experience of 2020 behind them (and support from recently digitised platforms), manufacturers should all feel more confident in running with new ideas and innovations.
While budgetary and practicality constraints persist, they’re no match for manufacturers having the confidence to follow their ideas and the drive to see them through to completion. As we’ve seen, small developments can have a butterfly effect. Each step towards digitisation attracts more forward-thinking people to continue the trend, as well as inspiring existing team members to think and actively reach outside the box. Change is never easy but, with the right tools in place and attitude in mind, anything is possible.
For almost 50 years, Epicor Software Corporation has specialised in helping customers grow their businesses, expand their capabilities, increase their productivity, and improve efficiencies. A leader in Enterprise Resource Planning for medium-sized businesses, Epicor serves as a trusted partner for thousands of companies worldwide across key industries such as manufacturing, distribution, and retail.