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BW Businessworld

Rebuilding The Manufacturing Industry In The New Normal

Technology has enabled us to navigate the current situation, and tech intensity will play a stronger role than ever before as we plan a comeback and shape the new normal.

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Over the last two and a half months, we have seen every aspect of our lives and our work change like never before. We have gone through multiple phases of learning to survive and thrive in this changed normal and enter a new era of doing business. It’s been challenging, but it’s also been uniquely productive. Everyone has rallied together to mobilize resources to help and we are really humbled to be able to contribute in our own way.

The implications of Covid-19 on the industry are significant and the impact on some sectors more than others. We’ve heard from manufacturing companies from across the country, and the world, on how the outbreak has created new challenges as they worked to handle drastic shifts in materials supply and customer demand and manage factory closures.  While many manufacturers faced challenging disruptions to supply and demand in their businesses, some reconfigured their production, supply chains, and services to deliver critical supplies to first-line responders and essential service providers. For instance, leading automotive companies have offered their facilities to manufacture ventilators and PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) kits and masks. We salute these leaders and their work.

Technology has enabled us to navigate the current situation, and tech intensity will play a stronger role than ever before as we plan a comeback and shape the new normal. Organizations have realized the need to consolidate communications, collaboration and business processes in one solution, built on a foundation of security and privacy. Like other sectors, manufacturing will also see digital acceleration across all areas – whether it is keeping employees connected and productive; connecting dealer management systems; automated, robotics-driven factories; or ensuring health guidelines compliance in their facilities.

Remote work and productivity

Future-proof strategies for seamless communication and work force productivity are a must. The new work culture will be anchored in ‘remote everything’ and virtual workplaces will be the way to go. Traditionally, in sectors such as manufacturing, employees are not equipped or accustomed to accessing work related content or systems remotely. However, businesses need access to their applications to stay operational. For those engineers, information workers, and first-line workers who’ve been working from home, platforms such as Microsoft Teams and Windows Virtual Desktops have enabled remote  collaboration and productivity. Let me give you an example - leading pharma companies have enabled work from home for their employees using Teams to connect, communicate & collaborate with colleagues and customers effectively. Another pharma company is using Office 365 and Azure Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD) to enable their critical workforce to access internal content from home using different browsers from home PCs, laptops and personal mobile devices in a secure manner to support their operations.

Supply chain resilience

It will be imperative to redesign geographically dispersed supply chains for better control of critical warehousing, fluctuating volumes and backlogged goods. Tools such as data and analytics will play a big role in helping analyze supply chain risk. They can enable real time visibility and insights - from supplier readiness across locations to the best way to move inventories to multiple factories. On top of that, a layer of predictive decision support systems like AI can help plan for course correction as well as providing the agility required to instantly adapt to changing circumstances. Manufacturers can also streamline operations with Dynamics 365 Supply Chain Management and rapidly build and deploy supply chain solutions with Azure IoT Central.

Intelligent factories

Intelligent manufacturing technologies will help create a sustainable future. As in supply chains, AI and analytics will play a key role in supporting resilient decision making in the factory. Restarting production after they have been idle for two months also means issues in the lines and with initial batches. This is where IoT can provide real-time visibility into line manufacturing operations, analyze production line losses at various stages and help minimize impact. Technology integration need not always be expensive – it can be designed for fast and easy set-up, building on existing infrastructure.

We see factories of the future clearly being built on a platform of solid automation. AI powered solutions, a combination of sensors and cameras can help create the required audit trail for compliance to health guidelines requested by statutory authorities. This includes mask identification, sanitization practices such as washing hands as well as distance between two employees – all monitored centrally. Large facilities can also deploy similar solutions via drones, while maintaining privacy.

Connected sales and service

To remotely assist those workers who are supporting customer operations, it is essential to enable contact center employees to provide consistent, personalized support while working remotely. Customers are taking advantage of the ability to gain insights into case volume topics, ensuring agents are properly distributed across channels, and quickly deploying chatbots that are trained to respond to the highest volume of inquiries.  In the long term, using virtual service agents can also help increase customer satisfaction. Manufacturers can proactively engage with consumers throughout a product’s life cycle, gaining new insights and creating AI-driven assets that target their desired outcomes. Embedding AI into products can help supply personalised and intelligent assistance, predictive maintenance and remote monitoring after they leave the factory.

Empowering the workforce:

While technology is radically changing how we innovate, make products, deliver services, and explore new business models, at the core of all of this will be people. Equipping workforce with the skills and manufacturing technology they need to keep up, as the industry shifts gears, will be vital. Advancing modern roles, re-skilling to accelerate a data-driven culture, and empowering the first-line worker will be as important as embracing technology to leapfrog into the next phase.

We are all are navigating our way through unchartered waters and it is clear that a resolution to this crisis will take time. Microsoft has been in discussions with partners, customers, and industry associations to help support new, innovative ideas and plans to deal with what is ahead of us.  We are all in this together as a community, and we remain committed to supporting the industry and working together to emerge from this stronger.

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. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Rajesh Rege

Executive Director - Technology, Cloud & Solutions, Microsoft India

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