COVID-19 May Have Ushered Us into the Future of Manufacturing

COVID has created the need to adapt faster, and in turn, has sped up the progress of manufacturing.

(Image courtesy of World Economic Forum.)

(Image courtesy of the World Economic Forum.)

To many, the world of production and manufacturing is a mystery. The general public often simply picks up their goods from the store or orders them online, with little thought given to what engineering efforts went into developing those products or what it takes to create them.

The realization of what manufacturing means to the rest of the world became apparent with the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic and supply chain shortages that many (especially in the U.S.) were not aware could be possible.

The pandemic has impacted the world of manufacturing on both sides of the supply chain. According to a white paper from the World Economic Forum (WEF) and Kearney, the manufacturing space in a wide variety of industries has experienced COVID disruption on both the demand and supply sides of their businesses. 

WEF and Kearney conducted interviews to prove the state of disruption during the pandemic. (Image courtesy of the World Economic Forum.)

WEF and Kearney conducted interviews to prove the state of disruption during the pandemic. (Image courtesy of the World Economic Forum.)

The WEF suggests that in order to move forward from the challenges highlighted by the pandemic, as well as to insulate the sector from similar issues in the future, manufacturers need to embrace transparency, quickly evaluate data, and work together.

Through a survey conducted by the organization, five imperatives emerged from feedback provided by more than 400 senior executives in operations and supply chain management:

  1. Rapid tailoring of manufacturing and supply systems to respond to changing consumer behavior
  2. Agile manufacturing and supply system setups enabled by advanced technologies
  3. Logistics coordination across and within global value chains
  4. Adoption of new ways of working and governing to increase manufacturing resilience
  5. Shared responsibility and collaboration among companies and authorities to address social and environmental challenges

There’s little doubt that the effects of COVID-19 will last well beyond the pandemic. In fact, according to the white paper, “Without question, the long-ranging impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is yet to be understood and several sectors will be severely impacted through changes to daily life, accelerated by the pandemic and supported by technology and innovation, which companies will need to adapt to. Consumer demand and consumption are changing—new ways of working and governing are likely here to stay.”

While these five concepts are suddenly being pushed to the forefront, the industry has already been slowly progressing toward them. Boutique manufacturing, where businesses and supply chains can adjust to quickly-changing supply and demand, is growing as an industry, but it has long been a small part of the market.

Now, even large manufacturing businesses are recognizing and catering to the need for agile manufacturing practices, diversified supply chains, and having the ability to change production on a whim. Currently, these concepts are expensive and still fairly time-consuming (which makes them more costly), but the WEF is working to help address these challenges with data.

According to the WEF, “We are working on a community-developed framework that lays out key prerequisites and highlights how successful companies have overcome the barriers.” Its project community is designed to help manufacturers gather and share data, so that when a future pandemic or another major world event occurs, the industry can adapt and adjust faster and more efficiently.