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Supply Chain News: The Long Term Impact of the Coronavirus on Manufacturing

 

New Designs to Space Workers Out, more Robots Coming

April 13, 2020
SCDigest Editorial Staff

The coronavirus crisis is sure to ultimately have a transformational impact on the supply chain, some in ways that are predictable (e.g., a move away from China sourcing) to changes no one is seeing right now.

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“We're going to do five years of innovating in the next 18 months," technology company CEO says.

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An article the UK's The Economist magazine recently made this interesting observation: while factories with robotic automation must protect workers from injury using cages and designs to make sure workers do not come near the dangerous machines, now the challenge is to design work processes and the flow of parts and materials to keep human workers away from each other to reduce infection risk.

Will such practices continue even after the current virus crisis ends? Probably so.

Some types of manufacturing, such as car assembly, for example, generally already have a lot of physical separation of workers on the line – though some car makers are starting to also regularly disinfect parts as they pass through the assembly process.

But other goods, such as consumers electronics, commonly use manufacturing cells, with workers crowded closely together.

"At a phone factory in Guangdong province, though, changes in layout are immediately apparent. Workers no longer cluster around each step of the assembly process in dense U-shaped cells; instead they are spread out, increasing their safety at the expense of some speed," The Economist reports.

Checking the temperature of workers as they enter factories has become standard practice now in China and increasingly in the US.

Contract manufacturer Foxxcon says it is also using chest X-rays looking for workers that have COV-19 disease and that is has been a key tool to keeping workers safe from infection in the plant – though whether the company is factoring in the long term risk from frequent chest X-rays is not clear.

And in China, centralized systems from government-backed technology firms track those results and the movement of workers from job to job.


(Article Continued Below)

CATEGORY SPONSOR: SOFTEON

 

Certainly, technology will play a key role in the transformation.

That includes great use of robotics almost certainly – last we checked the robots are immune to infection. What the societal impacts will be from this acceleration of the existing trend of more robots and fewer humans remains to be seen, and is the subject of huge debate, from highly pessimistic to very optimistic on the net effect.

But the impact will be beyond just faster adoption of robots and other forms of automation.

The Economist article notes that in many manufacturing sectors, the critical process of new product introductions often require lots of engineers from Western companies flying to China or other country to evaluate processes, quality, etc. needed for a successful launch.

Companies may find ways using technology to reduce or eliminate those now perceived risky face to face meetings.

For example, a company named Instrumental has technology that enables companies to remotely monitor the manufacturing process and results detail in real-time.

The virus crisis is going to cause rapid change in manufacturing, says Instrumental CEO Anna Shedletsky.

“We're going to do five years of innovating in the next 18 months," she says.

“Covid-19 has provided a new spur for more factories to approach the highly automated perfection of computer chip foundries,” The Economist article concludes, adding that “the new distancing between human and machine is likely to long outlive the disease itself.

Anything to add on how the virus crisis will impact manufacturing? Let us know your thoughts at the Feedback section below.

 

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