Many of us intuitively know how much technology adds value when properly applied. The list of industries that tech has transformed over time is long and wide; healthcare, business, education, communication, and transportation to name a few. One area that has seen bursts of technological change over the last 100 years is manufacturing. Unfortunately, that change has not been as adopted widely in the US; primarily because we have off-shored a huge portion of our domestic production of goods for the last forty years. Effectively, there has been no upgrade, no new apps, and certainly no real reason to change because offshoring has made so much economic sense for so long. Until now. And boy, are we about to change in a big way.
Upgrading the manufacturing sector is going to be a massive domestic driver of growth. Companies across the land are going to be forced by both policy and circumstance to produce products here. In some cases, upending huge existing global supply chain systems, as we are already witnessing delays for all sorts of goods during this crisis and probably for some time after it abates. It has also become very clear that not being able to shift gears during something as virulent as this pandemic can cause huge loss of life and total economic chaos on scales yet to be measurable in modern history. Things that took years must be done in weeks or months at the latest. The supply chain world is absolutely not immune to this. A complete rethink of how to accomplish these parabolic shifts will be inexorably linked to success going forward and in a lot of ways, to our success as a country.
For manufacturers, their ability to monitor what’s happening, make changes on the fly, switch products they are able to produce, shorten the time it takes to deliver those goods, and shift to what they need to make next is paramount to their success. Businesses need to show that they are ready to pivot on a dime. Look no further than what Honeywell has managed to do in Smithfield, Rhode Island over the last 4-5 weeks. They went from making goggles, helmets, and gloves to producing an entirely new product; N95 Masks for the US national stockpile. Normally, this conversion process can take up to a year without existing technology. According to Securityworldmarket.com, Honeywell is now repeating this at another facility in Phoenix, AZ to help add capacity as of April 9, 2020. This factory was making propulsion engines and auxiliary power units for military aircraft…wow.
By using technology to help lay out new production processes more heavily based on customer demand, new IoT sensors, RFID scanning, robotics, and software will help tighten the data feedback loop to meet customer needs faster. According to their website, Honeywell’s goal is to hire more short-term staff at these facilities, and also to migrate to more of a “lights-out” infrastructure to keep up with demand.
Even for those manufacturing businesses who are best-positioned to make the shift necessary to meet the demand, humans can only move so fast, adjust so much, take longer to train, are harder to scale and unfortunately right now can also be a supply chain liability. The push towards a safer and faster way to produce goods in the US for a new emerging domestic-only supply chain will be met with software, IoT, and RFID automation technologies.