Manufacturing in 2020: Top Challenges and Tech Solutions

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Earlier this year, a survey by the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) revealed that manufacturers were expecting that the pandemic would have financial and operational repercussions. It did, and now manufacturing companies are also facing supply chain disruptions and a whole host of other unique problems.

Keeping Up with Demand-related Issues

Despite the global pandemic, demand is still increasing for manufacturers. For startups, not having the tools and equipment to deal with the increasing demand can hurt your company goals. If you own a startup and face higher demand than usual, you will have to decide whether to move or expand.

Before scaling up, consider asking yourself these:

  • How much will you spend on new equipment?
  • Is there a need to build a new facility?
  • Will there be complications when adding new tools?

Being able to increase your capacity within your budget can help you keep up and even exceed demand-driven manufacturing work. One solution is to make the best out of automation. If you haven’t used robotics or AI (Artificial Intelligence) for your manufacturing business, now is the right time to explore your options.

The IoT (Internet of Things) is now becoming increasingly common in the manufacturing industry. Manufacturers can streamline processes using smart devices embedded with intelligence, such as collaborative robots. Furthermore, implementing automation technologies as in smart factories or Industry 4.0 will enable your business to:

  • Gather real-time data for predictive maintenance
  • Monitor equipment performance safely
  • Identify possible issues before malfunctions occur
  • Help technicians see and resolve problems before arriving at the job site

With these capabilities combined, IoT-enabled devices can easily keep production on track. In effect, your company can reduce costs, enhance efficiency, and increase capacity.

In addition to IoT, cobots, and AI, you might also want to utilize 3D printing for faster and cheaper production. Innovations in 3D printing have come a long way, and now, they are able to support prototyping. This doesn’t only let you produce items on demand; this is also beneficial for testing and troubleshooting new products cost-efficiently.

Reshoring and Local Sourcing

Before the pandemic, reshoring was slowly becoming a common practice among manufacturers in the United States. Reports say that as many as 749,000 jobs were brought back to the country between 2010 and 2018 as a result of reshoring.

Today, the COVID-19 outbreak has revealed how the United States depends on offshore manufacturing. In between struggling economies and travel restrictions, it would be wise to renew reshoring efforts. Additionally, reshoring can address other problems such as:

  • Increase of wages in offshoring countries, making offshoring expensive
  • A lack of infrastructure that can support sophisticated operations in offshoring countries
  • The rising cost of transportation

Furthermore, manufacturers cannot afford to be in the position of not having essential supplies. Disruptions in the supply chain have become an unfortunate reality for companies in the middle of the COVID-19 outbreak. That being said, repatriating manufacturing operations isn’t the only answer here; the pandemic also calls for manufacturers to reevaluate and diversify sourcing.

One strategy to ensure that sufficient supplies are in order is to opt for near-sourcing or local sourcing. By obtaining raw materials from domestic suppliers and reshoring your manufacturing operations, your startup can eliminate difficult dependencies and remain resilient to the pandemic-related disruptions. More importantly, bringing operations back home can boost the nation’s economy, especially in this uncertain time.

Remote Working and Employee Safety

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To curb the spread of COVID-19, legislators implement shelter-in-place measures. This changed the workplace as we know it, with employees now working from home to keep themselves and their families safe from the viral disease. But not all jobs translate well into remote, home-office setups, and manufacturing is one example. Technicians still need to go to job sites, either to install equipment or conduct repairs.

Basic safety measures include using face masks, practicing physical distancing, and sanitizing the workplace. To go beyond that, you can also use assistive technology in the form of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). This makes it possible for technicians to conduct contactless troubleshooting and repair services by walking customers through the process remotely.

Responding to the Reality

2020 is a year like no other. Now that we are halfway through it, it is high time for businesses to adapt to the pandemic’s realities. Fortunately, the digital age has offered a myriad of innovative technologies that the manufacturing industry can use. If your startup is facing several disruptions, exploring the benefits of IoT, AI, bots, and other tools can help your business thrive and compete.

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