“There are decades where nothing happens, and there are weeks where decades happen” – Vladimir Ilyich Lenin
Lenin was no manufacturing expert, but he got that one right. We’ve just been through a few of those weeks, and manufacturing and supply chain management will never be the same.
In a crisis, changes that would otherwise take years or decades can happen in the blink of an eye. One example: the attacks of 9/11 grounded all U.S. air traffic for days. To keep the financial system from collapsing, the U.S. abandoned the practice of flying paper checks around the country, opening the door to now ubiquitous electronic payments.
In the same way, the economic trauma of the coronavirus crisis is forcing rapid technical and operational change on the world’s manufacturing companies. The companies that adapt quickly to the new reality will enjoy both competitive advantage and greater resiliency against future crises.
In Sight Machine’s world of manufacturing analytics, the coronavirus lockdowns around the world are forcing many manufacturing leaders to work from home, cutting off their visibility into how their factories are operating. The crisis is accelerating the shift to cloud-based rather than locally-based applications and data, to Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) for data security, and from whiteboard-based performance reporting to remote performance tracking and optimization.
In mid-March, many business leaders thought the crisis would last two or three months. But with development and widespread availability of a Covid-19 vaccine at least a year away, new work practices will become entrenched by the time the disease is controlled.
Manufacturers have realized that in pursuing lean manufacturing and just-in-time supply chains as far as they could, they were exposing themselves to deep supply chain risk; 94% of Fortune 1000 companies have reported supply chain disruption during the pandemic. Just-in-time supply chains are due for a restructuring, not just for life-saving medical products but also in industries like auto manufacturing, which was quickly hobbled by the shutdown of suppliers as the new coronavirus began spreading outside of China.
Surviving requires resiliency and flexibility. Decentralization of supply chains, production facilities and information technology allows business to go on even when natural disaster, epidemic or man-made catastrophe put entire regions temporarily out of business.
Working with Sight Machine’s customers since the start of the coronavirus crisis, we have seen a surge in reliance on Sight Machine’s tools for visibility and analytics, including time-series correlation, variance analysis and centerline comparison. We’ve also seen heavier use of Sight Machine’s mobile app for plant performance monitoring. Meanwhile, plant managers have mandated training on remote tools for everybody in the plant.
The increased reliance on remote access helps companies deliver the highest level of expertise to all the plants in their network. We expect an increased focus on centrally-located teams of data scientists and other experts who consult with operators at multiple plants, in situations where it isn’t feasible to have that level of expertise based at every plant.
One of our packaging industry customers used the Sight Machine platform for a remote ‘Hackathon’. These are problem solving events that our customers typically conduct on the shop floor with participation from operators, supervisors, engineers and others to solve specific problems using the Sight Machine platform. A remote Hackathon was the first of its kind. Nevertheless, it was fascinating to see the effectiveness of data analysis on real time streaming data was effective for root cause problem solving even when 10 people were participating remotely.
Plant managers at another one of our customer are now mandating use of tools on the Sight Machine platform. Sight Machine is helping personnel at the plant with additional training so that the adoption of the platform and tools is much more widespread in line with what the plant managers are pushing for.
In other industries considered non-essential, plants have been shut down globally. Startup issues can be expected when these plants are brought back online, reducing efficiency and threatening quality.
Coming out of the crisis, manufacturers will need to become more agile to be responsive to market changes, relying on real-time, accurate data and metrics, and mastering smaller batches and fast changeovers.
With the global economy likely to remain in recession for months, efficient manufacturing for cost savings will be crucial, with OEE a key metric to focus on. To succeed, manufacturers will need to collaborate more closely than ever with suppliers and customers.