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Lessons Learned: 2020, COVID-19 and the Future of Manufacturing

Nov. 30, 2020
Manufacturing & Technology Virtual keynote panelists discuss the most powerful lessons learned through an unprecedented year of disruption.
It goes without saying that 2020 has been a particularly interesting year.

The challenges, constraints and complex (and often contradictory) safety and productivity requirements COVID-19 presented the manufacturing industry have tested its people, its processes and its technologies like never before. It fundamentally changed the way the industry operates—it required new production systems, new supply chains and new procedures for the full market while individual companies experimented with new technologies to meet unexpected surges in demand while keeping customers and workers safe.

An interesting year to say the least.

The totality of the changes 2020 required will be studied in textbooks for years. It was a unique high-stakes, high-speed innovation race, the likes of which the world has rarely experienced. Some of these changes will likely prove to be temporary, though others—particularly around the technological and automation implementations it included—have already begun to reshape the industry in permanent ways.

To help understand these changes, we have pulled together an elite panel of manufacturing executives and experts for the closing keynote of the Manufacturing & Technology Virtual conference. The panel keynote, “The Future of Manufacturing,” takes a look back at the full 2020 experience and then ahead at the future it will create from a wide range of perspectives—from robotics and 3D printing to supply chain and smart manufacturing, and everything in between.

To help us understand the future a little better ahead of the event, we have asked each panelist to answer one simple (though also quite complicated) question: ‘What was the biggest lesson learned in your industry through all of the disruptions of 2020?”

We have included their responses below. You can also tune for the keynote panel on Thursday, Dec. 3 at the Manufacturing and Technology Virtual event where these panelists will detail their perspectives and experience through these disruptions in full.

John Dyck, CEO, CESMII- The Smart Manufacturing Institute:
“It became clear fairly quickly that we’ve taken much for granted in the past decade, as we’ve designed our supply networks and the systems that support them – both in the plants and throughout the supply chain. 2020 has really helped bring into focus and reprioritize where to invest for the future for a more resilient manufacturing operation and supply chain.”
Stefan Nusser, Chief Product Officer, Fetch Robotics:“The pandemic has taught us that automation has to be flexible and adaptive. Historically, many forms of automation have been very static – deploying them was costly (both in time and money), and once they’re installed, it’s difficult for them to adapt to new configurations or workflows. That rigidity was problematic during COVID, as facilities had to adjust operations and workflows to contend with lower headcount and new social distancing rules. The most successful deployments were those that could occur remotely and be customized to serve a facility's needs from day one.

"The pandemic has helped to accelerate the rise of a new type of automation – flexible, collaborative, cloud-based automation – that can better support changing operations and more intricate workflows. AMRs (autonomous mobile robots) are an example of this new wave of automation – they can be deployed remotely, their workflows can easily be adjusted to fit changing facility needs, and they work safely alongside humans (they don’t need to be kept in cages or walled off). Cloud-based AMRs are also a great platform to quickly develop new robots: We teamed up with partners and were able to develop disinfection robots in only three  months.”

Marie Langer, CEO, EOS: “At EOS we believe that innovation and technology can help create a better world for everyone. The 2020 pandemic caused immeasurable disruption to nearly every aspect of life, but specifically to supply chains for medical goods that were urgently needed around the globe. Our technology proved to make a difference here as it closed the gaps caused by disrupted conventional supply chains. Industrial 3D printing was used locally for an on-demand, digital and distributed production of test strips, face shields and ventilators. So one of the big lessons learned is that with this technology supply chains can become more flexible and resilient, at the same time allowing for a responsible and more sustainable manufacturing - designed to be less harmful for our planet, yet offering unprecedented digital solutions to existing and future manufacturing challenges.”
William Hardy, SVP of Supply Chain, Carhartt:“2020 has proven to be a difficult year, but it has also been full of opportunity. At Carhartt, we were able to evaluate all parts of our supply chain from product concept to consumer delivery. The key takeaway for us was to always ensure our pillars are strong. A platform of execution begins with a firm footing and balance in your value streams. When you incorporate transparency and collaboration as core principles,  you will be positioned to execute your brand strategy.”

Register today for Manufacturing & Technology Virtual. Coming soon: Dec. 1-3.

About the Author

Travis Hessman | Content Director

Travis Hessman is the editor-in-chief and senior content director for IndustryWeek and New Equipment Digest. He began his career as an intern at IndustryWeek in 2001 and later served as IW's technology and innovation editor. Today, he combines his experience as an educator, a writer, and a journalist to help address some of the most significant challenges in the manufacturing industry, with a particular focus on leadership, training, and the technologies of smart manufacturing.

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