The COVID-19 pandemic is fast-tracking the digital transformation of industry, according to an Industry 4.0 expert at Manchester Metropolitan University.
Dr Carl Diver, Industry 4.0 Lead at Manchester Metropolitan University. Credit: Manchester Metropolitan University
The digitalisation of manufacturing and the wider economy may already be underway, but Dr Carl Diver, Industry 4.0 Lead at Manchester Met, believes that the impact of Coronavirus restrictions will serve to accelerate the shift:
“Businesses of all kinds are being forced to find new ways of working to remain operational – with many turning to technology to make this possible. Whether it is putting in the functionality to enable remote working, or giving themselves an online or digital presence in order to keep operating or providing a service; they have had to adopt digital technology quickly, or risk having to close their doors entirely for the foreseeable [future].
“We are in the midst of a huge shift in how businesses operate, individuals work and how consumers behave – and we have already seen a huge change in a relatively short period of time. I think we will see these challenging times result in organisations growing in confidence when it comes to adapting to digital solutions – and hopefully help them realise that the associated risk can be managed.”
Examples of digital technologies that can aid business continuity in manufacturing, range from relatively simple measures such as using free remote-working software like Dropbox or Zoom, to ‘virtual twins’ and 3D printers.
A number of North West manufacturers receiving digitalisation support from the Made Smarter initiative have already reported widespread benefits to their business during the pandemic.
This includes Northwich-based adhesives manufacturer Alphabond Technologies, which has adopted a new ERP system that better connects its systems and enables increased data visibility. Managing Director, Dylan Shaw, said:
“Not only has the new technology reduced manual and duplicative processes, it has also increased our response rates to customers. An added benefit we have seen through these challenging times is our ability to adapt and work remotely. Remote working wouldn’t have been possible otherwise.”
Elsewhere, Lancashire-based agricultural machinery manufacturer, Storth, has recently introduced a robotic welding system into its production line, which has allowed it to continue operating through the crisis. Julian Lopez, Export Manager at Storth, said:
“We were experiencing bottlenecks within our welding process which was causing delays in schedules. The robot has helped us overcome the delays, but also helped us to continue operations at a time when some of our welders have been self-isolating, which has caused staff shortages.”