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Coronavirus and IIoT

Making Strategic Bets on Digital Transformation

Aug. 24, 2020
Manufacturers don’t want to have to push the big red button on their supply chain because of a global pandemic ever again. What adaptations should they make?

At a Glance:

  • Manufacturers will place more emphasis on data management and analytics tools in the aftermath of the pandemic.
  • The winning feature post-COVID will be all about finding inefficiencies.
  • Some sectors are seeing an uptick in demand for American-made products.

Mark a wholesale digital shift among prominent adaptations manufacturers undertook during COVID-19.

Many organizations have sought to accelerate and scale their digital delivery in an effort to realign business priorities—whether it was for immediate recovery or a future-focused strategic plan.

As Greg McHale sees it, manufacturers will place more emphasis on data management and analytics tools in the aftermath of the pandemic, but integrating IT systems that complement design work done by engineers, optimizing production workflows and value chain decisions are just a tip of the iceberg.

“The winning feature post-COVID will be all about finding inefficiencies and reducing the workload by five to 10 times for America’s hands-on, goods-producing workforce,” forecasts McHale, co-founder and chief technology officer at Datanomix, a Nashua-based startup that builds turnkey IIoT analytics platforms for discrete manufacturers.

 “The simple analogy is, if I can see whether my garage door is opened or closed from my phone, why do I need to pop through 10 e-mails and three conversations to find out if my factory is going to make that shipment today or not, or if the modifications to that drawing are complete?” asked McHale, who contends that everything needs to be faster, easier to use and integrated with other efficient aspects of our professional lives. “The technology and equipment that help people shed processes that they know have burdened them, but never had the opportunity to navigate away from, is the digital transformation challenge of 2020 and beyond,” he said. 

In an interview with Machine Design, McHale touches on why the crises of 2001 and 2008 have prepared factory owners for a new era of manufacturing and why repatriation is trending. He also offers insights on what we can expect from the latest digital transformation tools.

Machine Design: How have trying periods in 2001 and 2008 prepared factory owners for the new era of manufacturing in 2020?

Greg McHale: This is a really interesting mindset we are seeing from factory owners. They have been through two significant downturns in a short period of time. Post-9/11 felt almost apocalyptic, and then the financial meltdown looked like a black hole for months on end. Yet, companies that found a way to invest, modernize and position themselves for new business got their investments back manifold once the economy picked up again.

In this case, we have a pandemic that created significant economic challenges, but it is also coupled with unprecedented stimulus and a specific focus on repatriation of the supply chain. When you synthesize all of that, if businesses got rewarded for investing in 2001-2 or 2008-9, it makes even more sense now with all of the additional tailwinds.

MD: Can we discuss the idea of repatriation? Do you agree that we’re seeing an uptick in demand? Which sectors are experiencing gains from this trend and why?

GM: Simplistically, I think businesses do not want to have to push the big red button on their supply chain because of a global pandemic ever again. There are a lot of cases where outsourcing makes sense, and some believe perhaps we went too far. There is definitely an uptick in demand for American-made products and advancements in American manufacturing, and this is going to be a long, powerful wave.

From what we see, sectors like semi-conductors and defense are red hot…medical devices have pockets of momentum but also some challenges with the changes in the scheduling of surgeries and procedures, for instance.

MD: We’re observing how going digital is on the upswing. But can you offer insights into specific digital transformation tools and measures that are supporting this trend?

GM: Going digital is a progression based on where you are today, or where you were before the pandemic. For some companies, it’s about replacing paper time cards with digital time tracking systems, holding virtual meetings instead of physical, or migrating back office applications to the cloud to support work-from-home. For others, they’re on the path of adopting technology platforms to aggregate and analyze operational data from their equipment and ERP systems so people don’t have to pore over spreadsheets and reports, or are changing their commerce platforms and CRMs to make it easier to communicate with and sell to their customer base.

As we talked about a little earlier, the transformation is about shedding now what you have always known was too much work for you before, but you never had the time to catch your breath and fix it.

MD: Are there any other adaptations enterprises should be aware of and how these will change the way manufacturing operations function?

GM: One thing people need to consider is that the aftereffects of the pandemic will stretch for many years regarding workplace safety, work protocols, etc., and therefore we have an incoming generation of workers that will see those things as the norm. Rather than viewing these as temporary exceptions, enterprises may want to think about an ongoing model that balances safety, efficiency, productivity and remote accessibility as a blueprint and not a side note.

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