Tale of COVID-19: Crisis Inspiring Innovations

March 30, 2020
Manufacturers have proven over the years that when faced with challenges, ingenuity can yield innovative results. The current crisis is no exception.

The unfolding crisis has already hampered many organizations with executive orders forcing some manufacturers to at least temporarily shutter operations. However, as history has shown, manufacturers are a seasoned group of highly skilled professionals capable of finding interesting ways to reinvent themselves -- often bouncing back even stronger when faced with seemingly unsurmountable challenges. How manufacturers respond to the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak will ultimately demonstrate their resiliency.

While it's difficult to predict what this current situation will mean long term, it will undoubtedly force most manufacturers to seriously rethink their operations. According to ABI Research, this includes radically embracing technological investments. In its new white paper, Taking Stock of COVID-19: The Short- and Long-Term Ramifications on Technology and End Markets, ABI Research looks at the current and future ramifications of COVID-19 across technologies and verticals. Analysts also offer recommendations to weather the storm and strategies to help companies rebound and prosper after the pandemic has slowed.  

“To effect change, there must be a stimulation of a magnitude that means companies cannot do anything but make bold decisions to survive. COVID-19 is that magnitude,” explains ABI's Chief Research Officer Stuart Carlaw. Bold decisions and technological investments could lead to outcomes including a more concerted and widespread move to lights-out manufacturing; increased usage of autonomous materials handling and goods vehicles; a more integrated, diverse, and coordinated supply chain; an investment in smart cities to support community resilience; and a move to virtual workspaces and practices

“Before we feel this potential long-term impact, there will be some serious short-term implications. Contractions in consumer spending, disruptions to supply chains, and reduced availability of components will create a rough sea for all boats,” Carlaw says. “In the short-term, there will be a retrenchment in outlooks a reduced investment in modernization, as survival instincts trump the drive to prosperity.”

Sparking new innovations

ABI Principal Analyst in Industrial and Manufacturing Ryan Martin tells IndustryWeek that the new reality is sure to spark new innovations, and as a result, the need for Industry 4.0 enabling technologies has never been greater. "Companies do well when they grow; they have a hard time when they contract. This means flexibility is key," he says. "Additive manufacturing is a good example. The same 3D printer used to produce airplane parts can be used to produce respiratory ventilators. For robotics, rather than fixed conveyor belts, factories and warehouses can use AGVs and AMRs as an automated storage and retrieval system (AS/RS).

According to Martin, "Manufacturers need to connect and automate as much of operations as possible. Employing margin-maximizing technologies to optimize efficiency and minimize downtime are key. COVID-19 simply amplifies the first-mover advantage."

Be sure to click through the slide show to see a few of the current innovations already entering the scene as we work our way through these unprecedented times.

Email me at [email protected] if you know of any other innovations that should be part of this list.  

About the Author

Peter Fretty | Managing Editor

As a highly experienced journalist, Peter Fretty regularly covers advances in manufacturing, information technology, and software. He has written thousands of feature articles, cover stories, and white papers for an assortment of trade journals, business publications, and consumer magazines.