• By Renee Bassett
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2020—a year like no other—saw personal and professional lives upended by illness, natural disaster, economic upheaval, and more. The U.S. manufacturing industry—and by extension its industrial automation and technical corps—has felt the impact. Along with declines in production caused by a global pandemic-driven shutdown, the year saw a significant dip in manufacturing employment levels. To the remaining workers, envisioning a path forward must have seemed impossible.

What did manufacturers collectively do while others were simply putting 2020 into the dumpster and trying valiantly to get excited about a “new year”? According to Deloitte industrial consultant Paul Wellener, the manufacturing industry went looking for ways to make itself disruption-proof. “Agility might be the key to manufacturing industry resilience,” he said, and Deloitte sees it emerging through four trending activities:

  • Navigating the manufacturing disruption. Solving forecasting challenges could be critical here, he said, and cultivating visibility into production and supply chains is likely to be even more important.
  • Digital investment. Digital twins could support “new levels of resilience and flexibility, recreating a product, its production, and even simulating its performance in the real world without having to ‘bend metal’ or take any other physical action.”
  • Focusing on supply chain resilience. Wellener describes how the early days of the pandemic saw manufacturers create “war rooms” that brought together planners for demand and supply to manually share updates in real time. Manufacturers can automate this process with a digital supply network and even digital twins (see “Manufacturing Supply Chain Agility,” p. 20).
  • Adapting to the new workplace. In what could become a permanent change for the industry, said Wellener, pandemic disruption revealed the need for greater workforce agility. “Manufacturers are seeking ways to re-architect work, the workforce, and the workplace to manage disruption and uncertainty.”

Fast forward to mid-January and I’m attending a session at the AVEVA World Digital conference—one of many events held virtually for the first time. Subtitled “Agile Insights for a Transforming World,” the panel discussion/press conference involves principals from AVEVA, parent company Schneider Electric, and Malaysian oil and gas major Petronas discussing global environmental sustainability goals for themselves as manufacturers.

Prakash Kumar Karunakarau, head of the Petronas NervCentre, said his company’s goal of “net zero carbon emissions by 2050 requires a radical rethinking of the engineering space and digital technologies to support this. We are thinking of ourselves not as an oil and gas company [now], but as an energy company.” The target—zero—is clear and “exciting” to Petronas engineers, he said, adding: “Zero carbon emissions seem impossible, but don’t ever tell an engineer that something is impossible because they’ll prove you wrong. We have actually started to solve some of these big problems with the help of Industry 4.0 technologies.”

They’re not the only one: “2021 is the year of resiliency, renewal, and rebuilding,” said AVEVA CEO Craig Hayman.

Source: Automation.com Otto Mation cartoon series

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About The Authors

Renee Bassett is chief editor for InTech magazine and Automation.com, and publications contributing editor for ISA. Bassett is an experienced writer, editor, and consultant for industrial automation, engineering, information technology, and infrastructure topics. She has a bachelor's degree in journalism and English from Indiana University, Bloomington, and is based in Nashville.