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Learning lessons from the pandemic

05 January, 2022

Covid-19 has changed the way that UK industrial companies operate in many ways. Nikesh Mistry*, Gambica’s sector head for automation, considers the longer-term effects that the pandemic may have on British industry.

Has the pandemic provided UK industry with a level of unparalleled resilience? I hope so. We are still unsure of the current climate, with new variants of unknown severity still being detected. This is not the first time the virus has mutated, and we can’t be sure that it will be the last either. The global pandemic has created so much uncertainty, and along with it comes a vital requirement to futureproof our processes.

Overnight, most manufacturers have had to devise ways to maintain their equipment remotely. They also had to develop maintenance, sales and supply chain quality control methods – again through remote means. This unprecedented requirement necessitated the installation of industrial digital technologies (IDTs). It also led industry leaders to want to futureproof their businesses from further external or internal shocks. Or so we’d like to hope.

For manufacturers, operational resilience has become a priority. Businesses had to stop and think: will our supply chain be resilient enough to hold itself together through the disruption? Many organisations may have already contingencies in place before the pandemic. However, there were still many that didn’t and had to adapt.

Regardless of the root cause of the disturbance, factories needed resilience to continue with as close to full capacity as possible. In many cases, it was digital technologies with connected devices that allowed them to do this.
A combination of societal drivers, the fourth industrial revolution, and the global climate crisis, all also contributed to the increased requirement to futureproof processes and supply chains. Preventative measures were put in place to help not only in the long term, but for short- and medium-term responses too.

Companies that embraced digital technologies pre- and post-pandemic can be more agile, achieving higher quality standards, while maintaining productivity and improving response times. With less focus on maintenance – because the digital technologies were autonomously doing this – they also gained valuable time. And time is arguably the most valuable reward of all.

If we look forward to what we may face in the future, we can assume that crises are likely to occur again, and potentially to intensify both in scale and frequency. To tackle this, many of the changes that companies implemented in response to Covid-19 will become permanent changes.

Manufacturers have no choice other than to reorganise their strategies. If they want to maintain or gain a competitive edge, they must make sure that they embrace fourth industrial revolution technologies or IDTs.

We have learnt that the future of manufacturing is about making sure that we use the right combination of technologies and people to upskill and manage a new style of working. These technologies will provide the foundations for sustained growth. It was great to be able to tackle these shocks initially, but now it has become about future-proofing ourselves so that our workforce will be much more able and resilient to any future disturbances.

We need to think about protecting our industry and also the UK. Digital technologies must be seen as a key enabler of digital supply chains which naturally lead to intelligent products. In turn, these will capture more information that corporations can use to integrate their horizontal business processes. This “Circle of Lifecycle” means that if manufacturers take the right steps now, they will quickly be able to reap the rewards.

This will not be the last disruption that our economy and industry will have to face. Manufacturers need to improve their agility to be prepared for whatever the next disruption may be. It’s important to identify any weakness or failures that may have arisen over the past two years and to tackle them now. The pandemic has exposed the consequences of having weaknesses in flexible supply chains and production lines, and will hopefully have created a new-found confidence in business resilience and supply chains going forward.

To find out about how other companies are dealing with pandemic resilience, or to express your views on how to streamline production, please get in touch with me using the contact details below.

* Gambica is the trade association for the automation, control, instrumentation and laboratory technology sectors in the UK.
For more information, please contact Nikesh Mistry on 020 7642 8094 or via nikesh.mistry@gambica.org.uk




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