Manufacturers are ready to adopt new ways of working during lockdown
The coronavirus has brought significant changes to the way we work. And this change is expected to continue at least, for the foreseeable future. These changes have not only been felt here in the UK but around the world. As consumers watched a number of manufacturing companies close down one after the other, there was genuine fear and concern about how the supply chain, especially of essential products, including food, would hold up.
Indeed, most companies during this time may be losing the fight to the grey market, where their products might be sold for way less without their consent. But one of the silver linings in this situation is the innovative ways by which several companies are introducing digital solutions into their ways of work. But one would think, digitalisation will be effective in, say, a service-based company. But how about the manufacturing industries? How can digitalisation save them – or at least, give them some sort of reprieve? And what other alternatives are available to them?
Digital platforms, tools and digital payment technology have helped many companies as most of them split up to work remotely. This help has mainly been in the area of information dissemination and access at any location, on any device. But what kind of impact has this ‘new normal’ had on manufactures? What does it mean for their ability to keep their supply chain running?
The latest guidance from the government with respect to the coronavirus and gradual easing of restrictions and lockdown rules have given businesses something to muse over concerning what the best ways to return to business are. One thing that remains for sure is the fact that doing business is no longer going to be like it used to be for the next foreseeable months.
During the lockdown, manufacturing companies have had to brainstorm on the best ways to comply with the latest regulations from the government. The result? Many businesses have adopted new ways to work during this pandemic.
According to an online report across the manufacturing sector, most of the new approaches that companies are taking were mostly enabled by digitalisation – from the use of digital procurement platforms to remote video conferencing. Thus, as the majority of companies across the UK cautiously return to work, there is a conscious attempt to return to working conditions that will offer productivity levels close to the pre-lockdown period.
But how will manufacturing companies be able to navigate this period to keep the supply chain going, especially the supply of essential and key materials?
Despite the fact that most manufacturing companies are finding innovative ways to navigate this uncertain period, the supply of some key materials has proven a rather difficult task. This is evident in the fact that a majority of the respondents interviewed in the report mentioned earlier admitted that although they are trying to resume or continue manufacturing, their regular suppliers have either closed temporarily or shut down completely.
But the problem does not end there, even the few suppliers still available are not able to make supplies available on time as they also try to adjust their mode of operation to suit the government directives. This, coupled with the fact that there has been a lack of visibility, prevented a lot of manufacturing companies from operating efficiently and making plans even for the near future.
Most manufacturing companies admit that it has been much more difficult to secure all the important materials they need during the lockdown period. The rest of them lament about the fact that obtaining a ‘winning quote’ from the suppliers of the needed materials is taking even longer. Thus, keeping the supply chain flowing was in serious danger of collapsing.
In order to create a more resilient supply chain long-term, there has been the need to rethink how the supply chain is operated. Most manufacturing companies and experts have identified the fact that one of the most effective ways of creating a resilient supply chain is by creating greater visibility. This is with respect to fulfilling orders that come in during a post-pandemic period.
Another very effective factor, according to most manufacturers, is creating a more diverse supply-base or network. This should be coupled with a time-saving technology that will help to increase efficiency.
In short, the way forward for manufacturing comes with a change in the way business is done – a new normal that will come with a digital mindset.
Fortunately, digitalisation has already taken a significant role in other sectors of business. Most companies have taken advantage of digital tools and platforms to reach out to a wider range of target audiences while ensuring that teams engaged in remote work remain connected, and thus, productive.
Embracing the digital transformation, however, has not been done uniformly across the manufacturing sector. While some companies seem to be getting the hang of it, other companies still consider it a work in progress that will require enough time. For example, from the report, the metal distribution sector is still at the beginning stages of incorporating digitalisation into their modus operandi.
One problem for this lack of uniformity in implementing digitalisation is the fact that some companies require a longer period of time to evolve. However, there has been an increase in the number of distributing companies that are moving towards the e-commerce platforms and the buyers changing their procurement process.
Thus, digitalisation seems to be a major way forward as manufacturing companies look forward to a period of recovery. The important benefits of digitalisation cannot (and have not) been underestimated by key players in the manufacturing sector. Let’s take a look at some of these key benefits.
The digitalisation helps to ensure that access to suppliers and supply platforms is no longer constrained by time. As most supply companies also move online, this is leading to e-commerce platforms offering 24/7 around-the-clock accessibility. This means that businesses are no longer limited by the usual five to nine working period. This is especially beneficial for companies working remotely with split teams as the manufacturing industry in the UK gradually transitions towards new ways of doing business.
Digitalisation also makes it less challenging for a large volume of suppliers and buyers to be able to connect, automate and transact at least the basic tasks when it comes to administration. This means that not only will manufacturers be exposed to a wider number of suppliers, but they will also be able to undertake procurements in very little time.
Digital manufacturing also makes it possible for manufacturers to work more efficiently. By automating the process, manufacturers are able to identify the bottlenecks and weaknesses in the chain of production. Plus, they will also be able to pretest new ideas before they are implemented. This will be both time-saving and cost-effective. Also, employees will be able to use their time more effectively.
Innovation also brings a bit more flexibility to the workplace. The new technologies, such as data connectivity and 3D modelling systems, can help companies make better improvements.
In general, by digitising the manufacturing process including the supply chain, manufacturing companies will be able to create an easily-accessible database of the different lists of suppliers as well as innovative designs that can be shared with anyone in the industry. This will also help promote the sharing of specialist knowledge.
There are quite many digital platforms available to assist and support manufacturers as they gradually reopen their businesses in this COVID-19 period. There are both free and paid digital platforms available to choose from. Indeed, some manufacturing companies are planning on creating their own digital platforms specially tailored to their businesses.
So, as manufacturing businesses return to restart operations, most of them are prepared for what is to become the new normal of doing business during and even after COVID-19.
However, there are still a number of important but complex factors to manage. These factors include observing social distancing protocols, as well as ensuring that there is productivity even while going through a transition.
Thus it is important not to further complicate matters by providing a means of getting access to the right manufacturing materials at the right time. Plus, companies will have to ensure that they get the materials at the right price. This is what makes digitalisation a bold and important step to take.
Taking the necessary steps to promote digitalisation in the manufacturing sector, and encouraging every business in the sector to get on board, is one of the best (if not the best) ways to ensure that the supply chain is supported even as businesses practice social distancing protocols. However, there is one more important area worth a great deal of consideration, even as manufacturers incorporate digitalisation. And this has to do with ensuring that there is a stable supply chain.
Aside from the wider option of suppliers that a digital platform will provide, manufacturers should also evaluate the structure of supply contracts. Most of these supply contracts are accompanied by a force majeure. And this leads to or allows for a disruption in the supply chain.