11 June, 2020

Where manufacturers are headed in light of uncertainty

By: Cesilia Faustina

Coronavirus has caused great disruption towards global manufacturing and supply chain. Since the start of it all, it has continued to challenge the path our economy is headed towards and witnessing permanent change for our global economy.

This is not a new thing, however; our world has undergone major changes in light of a crisis for years. The Great Depression redefined the way our economy worked and has since affected people impacted until today. World War II also created a major shift in the way manufacturing and the economy worked; many people went unemployed and were forced to shift to different industries, while manufacturing became a powerhouse industry to provide for the war.

So, we are not newbies when it comes to changes in the global economy and consumerism, nonetheless, crisis continues to have a powerful disruptive impact on our lives.

WWII might have pushed the manufacturing sector, but COVID-19 is the opposite. Many industries are forced to halt operations; struggling to make ends meet and providing enough supplies. On the other side of things, demands for certain products, such as healthcare supplies, have rapidly increased, due to panic buying, with not enough employees to meet demands.

It does not help that employee safety measures and social distancing are making it even harder for manufacturers and workers to get the job done, with 40 to 50 percent of the workforce unable to perform their functions on-site.

Difficulties of handling manufacturing and creating a stable economy has led us to question how are we going to deal with this uncertainty and what is next for the future?

COVID-19 global economic impacts

We understand that instability is making it difficult for people to do their jobs, ergo a shift in economic sustainability. Sectors that were once not as popular has gained major support, especially when it comes to healthcare, survival, and hobby-related supplies. People now are thinking about their health and activities they can do under quarantine, which caused a major shift for the consumer market.

Employment is at an all-time low since WWII, with a 10.5 percent drop in work hours globally, while global trade values fell 3.0 percent in the first quarter of 2020; we can only expect these numbers to grow as the months continue. UNCTAD's Free Market Commodity Price Index (FMCPI) also lost 20.4 per cent in March, with signs of increase; not exactly the best time for our economy.

Source: UNstats

Now, it’s understandable to think that coronavirus is causing an economic apocalypse, but if we look at the other end of the spectrum, we have also witnessed increases for other industry sectors. According to a UN statistics report, trade in medical products totalled about US$ 597 billion in 2019, with most purchases coming from medicine purchases.

There has also been a huge increase in online purchases, such as in-home learning supplies and food delivery services. So even though it is causing disruption in many areas, COVID-19 is also creating opportunities in other sectors.

Combating disruption with ICT

Technology, information and communications technology (ICT) to be exact, has been a great tool to combat the misinformation and struggles of the coronavirus. Such technology has been used to minimize the uncertainty of everyday sectors and allow people to try to continue with their daily activities and lives.

ITU estimated that over 53 percent of the world’s population used the Internet in 2019, which is why technology works as a great tool to help with the current pandemic. Industries and manufacturers are seeing a shift in consumption, with technology as a great driver.

That said, we are witnessing the power of automation taking major effects in the manufacturing industry. Manufacturers already take advantage of automation even before the rise of coronavirus.

Automation and digitalization are key components in reviving the economy and global manufacturing. They have helped to increase productivity and minimize labour and operations costs. Manufacturing technologies are helping businesses stay ahead; many organizations that were able to respond quickly during the pandemic were those taking advantage of manufacturing systems and tech. 

Aside from helping the manufacturing side of things, technology has been highly used for the logistical aspects of productions; a way to stay connected and keep track of different purchases. Technology is providing means for consumers to buy, track and receive their purchases in no time, as well support the economy during these uncertain times, which means we are probably going to witness greater technological changes and implementations in the roads ahead.

Adapting to changes

The whole world has started to think about the changes and impacts that COVID-19 has on our economy and manufacturing processes. Many have offered business continuity planning outlines and others are recommending different methods to this. One of which includes a whitepaper by the World Economic Forum, which stated 5 key imperatives for global value chains:

Source: World Economic Forum

Focusing on what can be done for the manufacturing sector is important in these times. Resources such as from World Economic Forum will help greatly in planning the future of manufacturing sectors, which is why we need to look at some key points to pay attention to in light of the changes to come.

Adopting to different consumer needs

Consumer interest has greatly shifted since the start of COVID-19. For all the manufacturers out there, it is important to be able to adapt. This pandemic has changed everything we thought we knew about industries and it’s time to do an all new analysis on consumer interests and this new market. 
Manufacturers need to be able to adapt to these new interests and see how their products can meet the greater needs of the public.

Technology will be our saviour

Most organizations have emphasized the use of technology in combating any setbacks caused by the pandemic; this is true. Technology and machines function as great tools to help during these times, just as schools are taking advantage of digitalization to solve their problems, we are most likely going to see more digitalization in the manufacturing industries. Seeing how society is shifting towards online sales, we can only expect this to continue on a larger scale, creating high dependency towards a digital economy.

These technological measures will help to still organize and ensure that businesses can produce and distribute the products and services they provide while minimizing chances of contagion.

Stricker rules and regulations

Eventually, our factories and businesses will need to open up their operations in full again, including any logistics needs. That said, we are most likely going to face a new process of running these operations though. Though things will eventually go back to “normal,” most companies will be required to follow strict regulations from the government to keep employees and customers safe.

Regulations such as wearing masks and gloves, the availability of hand sanitizers and social distancing. These rules will most likely be the new normal in the work environment and everybody will need to adapt to; these rules will even be a major factor of allowing businesses to open again.

With the pandemic hitting our economy the hardest, it is time to adapt and make the best of a whole new economic paradigm.

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