Global electronic manufacturing service providers are accustomed to navigating the complexities and changing conditions that come with supporting thousands of different customers, products and regulations. But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, it pushed the manufacturing industry’s ability to adapt and change to new heights.
At the onset of the pandemic, business continuity plans for factories had to be quickly modified and updated to reflect regional requirements. To ensure safe physical distancing practices, factory layouts were rearranged, machines reconfigured and workers appropriately spaced on factory floors. Staff had to wear masks, gowns, shields and gloves and undergo regular temperature checks. In some regions, only specific products were allowed to be produced that were considered essential, requiring a rerouting of resources to support these products.
Instituting all of these changes not only helped factories comply with immediate needs during the pandemic, but also introduced productive ways to shore up operations for the future. Expect new developments over the next 2-5 years that will help organizations better prepare for unexpected events that could arise in the future, including:
- More efficient design of factory floors and machines. As factory layouts are adjusted so that people and machines operate more safely and efficiently, production floor designs will continue to be optimized so that changing external conditions cannot interfere with production. Factories of the future will require less space to operate, as robotics are increasingly added to the assembly process. The design of factory machines will also become more compact and intelligent to accommodate new spacing rules and digital factory requirements. Less parts and reconfigurable product designs will minimize the number of human-based decisions and tests that are physically required on the production line.
- Up to 50 percent increase in factory automation. Today, some medical, network, automotive and electronic products cannot be touched during production to avoid contamination. Fully automated lines that use robotics and machine-to-machine (M2M) communications to perform repetitive processes have already become a standard in these areas. In the next few years, major factories will increase automation and reduce human interaction by as much 50 percent. Real time data from these operations will be communicated via the cloud and monitored safely and conveniently from a remote location.
- Adoption of 5G and the digital factory. Once 5G network infrastructures are widely implemented, faster computing, data transfer and testing response times between smart factory machines and the cloud will be possible. Data analytics generated from these communications will speed management decisions to help avoid errors, ensure quality and improve productivity. 5G will also enable virtual applications such as augmented reality that can assist personnel in activities such as training and assembly.
Embracing new practices, technologies and automation are no longer aspirations for the future and must be continuously adopted at a much faster pace. These approaches are critical to cultivating a flexible and responsive factory operation that can navigate changing events, ensure continuity of operations and strengthen execution for whatever is next to come.