We have all heard the catchphrase, “Zero Touch”. In different industries, it means different things but in a uniform sense, it is meant to convey that an item can move from point A to point B in an automated fashion without any intervention. Sounds ideal right? In a COVID-19 world, it is even more ideal. Not just because it removes the need or potential for humans to get in the middle of processes, but for the obvious increase in safety it naturally provides. Fewer humans physically touching anything a business produces, services, or moves through a supply chain we now know enhances safety.
As we are also learning, COVID-19 has a unique ability to stay alive on surfaces for as long as 3 – 9 days according to studies by the BBC, NIH and many others. Both studies not only looked at COVID-19, but referenced SARS and MERS which are similar pathogens as also being able to survive on surfaces we touch all the time; glass, steel, countertops, plastics, and wood. One problem this presents in a supply chain environment is the time from production to shipment of any good(s) now needs to be augmented with a Zero Touch period until the object is deemed harmless. Even while in production just one person, at one point of contact, who is infected, could literally disrupt an entire supply chain. People have always had the potential to be a weak link in the supply chain but they are now literally a dangerous link.
Even just a few months ago, when people had their hands on something or were very high touch, it meant whatever was being manufactured was being well taken care of. It was being managed in a very personalized sense and that gave us all even more comfort. So much comfort, we were also willing to pay a premium for that white glove sensation no matter where we were in the supply chain. Think about it, even as consumers, when Apple rolls out a new iPhone and Tim Cook gets on stage to tell you all the amazing updates completed by all the amazing people who metaphorically had a hand in providing this new snazzy device to you; it makes you crave the product that much more. High touch is what they produce, sell, and it is what we loved until now.
However, there are always silver linings when the world shifts or when we find ourselves in a situation such as this one. A situation where high touch is maybe a thing of the past, forever. Where handshakes are replaced with social distancing, where a hug can infect, or when even the sound of someone coughing at the grocery store now makes you glare at them; this is the new reality.
Industries will need to adjust. We should all be planning for a post-COVID-19 world, where safety is an absolute expectation, automation is used in as many places as possible and technology like IoT plays a way bigger role; likely limiting the touch at many stages of the supply chain. This is where IoT manufacturers, equipment makers, and software system providers like RFID Global provide platforms to help businesses convert manual processes into reliable transparent ones that are safer for supply chains and of course for end customers. IoT in enough places during the sourcing, planning, and manufacturing of nearly any product can help provide that zero touch backbone to a world now partially shaped by COVID-19.