Archy13 |
Dreamstime M 134049710

Manufacturing Amid COVID-19: Neural Manufacturing Takes the Lead

Nov. 19, 2020
Sreenivasa Chakravarti, VP, Head - Manufacturing Business Practice, TCS and Stefanie Naujoks, Research Director, Manufacturing Insights Europe, IDC speak about the future of manufacturing and how neural thinking is paving the way for the digital future.

1. The short-term impacts of COVID-19 are clear, but what do you envision the long-term impacts to be?

Sreeni (TCS): The manufacturing industry is faced with a relatively longer recovery cycle ahead as compared to other industries, with challenges on both the demand side as well as internal operations side—such as supply chain and plant operations. This is pushing the industry to adopt new paradigms of enforcing safety, health, and environment (SHE) norms inside plants and warehouses that we had never seen before. For example, connected IoT devices are being used on plant floors for contact tracing and social distancing enforcement. Similarly, digital twin technology is helping managers understand traffic-flow within their shop floor and how to streamline efficiencies from a manpower perspective, while also ensuring employee safety.

Furthermore, we expect the leading manufacturing enterprises to focus on building resilient supply chains catering to the ‘business from anywhere’ models by transforming themselves into asset-light companies, with localized operations with the help of ecosystem partners. Firms will adapt themselves to a strong customer services focus, operating within purpose-driven ecosystems catering to the full lifecycle needs of their clients.

Stefanie (IDC): The manufacturing industry has to be much more agile and has to have resilient processes in place to not only be able to handle challenges resulting from global pandemics but also be able to address the challenge of consecutive events that will potentially impact manufacturers operations negatively. Beyond this, manufacturers will need to invest heavily in strengthening ecosystem partnerships—for example, relationships between suppliers, peers and partners, and customers. By streamlining these ecosystem partnerships, all parties will be able to become more agile and resilient, at scale.

2. How can a digitally forward manufacturing strategy help companies cope with both the long-term and short-term implications of the pandemic?

Sreeni (TCS): A digitally ‘forward’ manufacturing strategy helps companies demonstrate resilience in navigating crises in business operations. It is no secret that it takes a reasonably good amount of time and investment for a firm to build an enterprise-wide digital framework and technology infrastructure that meets all the standards of Industry 4.0. Firms that have made this investment ahead of others had the flexibility to respond faster. A contemporary digital core helps companies establish connected and collaborative platforms for engaging with their value chain partners, extended ecosystem partners, and customers. The exchange of real-time intelligence through this networked ecosystem helps companies and their partners respond to supply and demand changes in the market. In a recent whitepaper that we commissioned here at TCS that focuses on the concept of ‘neural manufacturing,’ we outlined one of the major long-term implications of the pandemic to be on the industry structure.

For example, consider automotive OEMs that have started investing in connected and autonomous vehicles, and are investing heavily into electric vehicle architectures. With the very future of personal mobility poised to take a large shift owing to the pandemic, these firms will be set to consolidate as market leaders while others will be forced to select the roles of complementary partners or enablers. A similar situation arises for connected industrial assets, which will allow the leading firms to set the standards for remote monitoring and operations management, providing large flexibility to their clients.

3. You mentioned “neural manufacturing” earlier. What exactly is that?

Sreeni (TCS): Neural manufacturing is a concept built around insights and cognitive capabilities at product, process, and partner level. Previously disparate processes and partners along an entire value chain are networked into an intricate ‘intelligent’ web, serving as communication points for a seamless flow of data and information helping manufacturers understand their forecasting, inventory, aftermarket needs, etc.—all at a deeper level. Manufacturers that adopt neural thinking envision their value chains as a neural network of ecosystem partners and internal operations that all have consistent visibility and communication between one another, with autonomous decision-making capabilities built into the edge of such interface points, allowing for a layer of agility and operational efficiency that was previously unimaginable. Going forward, manufacturers that adopt this neural thinking will ultimately set the stage for truly next-generation industry transformation.

4. How did COVID-19 push enterprises to adopt a neural manufacturing approach?

Sreeni (TCS): Leading manufacturers have been investing in both products and operations capabilities even before the current crisis. The COVID-19 pandemic proved to be a point of inflection for enterprises. Every enterprise today seeks greater visibility, better cost management, and enhanced customer engagement—all of which can be enabled with a healthy information fabric. Beyond bringing more agility and efficiency, a neural approach brings many advantages for manufacturers. In the short term, neural manufacturing enables resilient, machine first supply chains, which are imperative in an economy that remains uncertain and volatile. In turn, this allows organizations to be adaptable to any internal and external factors while working towards their end goal—be it seeking profitable service and product mix or efficient business operations.  

5. How are process automation, centralized asset monitoring & diagnostics, and cloud-based collaboration tools improving manufacturing?

Sreeni (TCS): Process automation is bringing much-needed efficiencies in terms of time and effort. Automation in processes across the value chain will help companies identify all possible avenues where smart machines and/or robotic process automation can be used to delegate repetitive activities and move the workforce to take up value-adding activities. Centralized asset monitoring and diagnostics are the need of the hour in many industries invested in capital-intensive heavy machinery. It supports remote working conditions that have arisen due to the pandemic. With the equipment becoming intelligent and connected, companies can model autonomous behaviors for complex operations such as those that happen in mining or nuclear plants. The democratization of digital capabilities will seek to bring these scenarios to daily business operations. Cloud-based collaboration through platforms and tools help companies remain connected with their resources, assets, and workforce during times of socially distanced operations. Such collaboration is foundational for companies that are looking strategically at “make-build-operate” from anywhere kind of operating models.

6. Tell us more about the upcoming IDC European Manufacturing Digital Forum. What types of topics and themes can we expect to see from the event?

Stefanie (IDC): The key theme of this event is that the new Face of Manufacturing will be Digital, connected, and Resilient more than before. 

  • Digital, because we believe that manufacturers are recognizing the value of digital technologies, such as cloud, AI/ML, data analytics, IoT, 5G or robotics to pursue their digital transformation in order to meet the challenges ahead, which will very much relate to be prepared for the "next normal".
  • Connected, because we believe that Manufacturers are recognizing the value but also the need of a closer integrated ecosystem.
  • Resilient, because Manufacturers will have to embrace resilience and agility in their entire operations in order to succeed in the ’Next Normal’

7. What are the biggest takeaways/pieces of advice you hope enterprises take away from the event?

Stefanie (IDC): The biggest pieces of advice I hope manufactures can take away from that event are that:

  1. Investments in digital transformation definitely make sense. But, manufacturing CxOs should never forget about the ROI.
  2. Never forget about people! Acceptance of change is key among employees, but it is also important to get support from the management.
  3. Technology should never be a limiting factor—Work with IT providers that can help you address YOUR very specific challenges now/today.

Sreeni (TCS): Companies need to rethink about the future business and operating models in order to stay competitive. From an internal perspective, they need to build new ‘neural’ capabilities aligned to their core competency, while building an external ecosystem of partners to navigate the market with minimal risk and a larger canvas of service options bundled to the product, thereby capturing a larger share of the customer lifetime value. That future will be powered by a strong tilt towards what we can term as the ABCDE of success—autonomous operations, bridgital models (i.e. physical + digital), cognitive sciences, digital technology core, and ecosystem engagements. With the strong influence that technologies will play in the future, companies need to be prepared with a flexible and adaptive digital architecture to sustain competitive advantage.