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Navigating the Evolving New Normal

Nov. 24, 2020
Technology producer Panasonic provides insights into steps manufacturers should take and the tech to ease the way.

As the new wave of COVID-19 cases ripples through the economy, what manufacturers consider the new normal is again evolving with most paying closer attention to worker safety and ensuring that operations dynamically adjust to avoid the many supply chain issues that surface as the pandemic first took hold on the global economy.

Panasonic’s Jim Dempsey and Michael Pozapalidis took a few moments to provide their insights, touching on steps manufacturers can take now as well as addressing which technologies show the most promise in today’s ever-changing environment.

IW: How supply chains need to react during this time to ramp up production?

Dempsey: Manufacturers need to create a connected supply chain and a real-time network that can detect changes or disruptions so they can adapt quickly. With its low latency and high bandwidth, 5G can collect real-time data through connected sensors. It also enables technologies and can help manufacturers deploy AI, robotics, autonomous vehicles and even virtual reality within the supply chains. However, manufacturers today still use legacy hardware that is unable to connect to 5G. While the network is still at its early stages, manufacturers will need to reassess their existing supply chains and investment strategies to truly benefit from 5G, when it becomes available.

Pozapalidis: Manufacturers need to react faster. Automation and inventory management tools are going to help them streamline production.

IW: To what extent do you see strategic technology investments helping manufacturers?

Dempsey: Having a leaner supply chain will help manufacturers improve productivity. Investment in the next generation of network will enable predictive analytics as 5G will provide location capabilities to help manufacturers track and trace inventory in real time. Once 5G becomes available, manufacturers need to make an assessment of the technologies they can use, including smart machines, edge technologies and sensors; and if they can retrofit existing equipment to optimize manufacturing processes.

Pozapalidis: The current climate shows that it’s important for manufacturers to be able to switch to a more flexible assembly line. Technological investments that can quickly adapt to the needs of both the manufacturer and the ecosystem of partners which down the line provides society with added benefits.

IW: Which tech investments make the most sense for manufacturers in this new environment?

Pozapalidis: Wireless technology powers machine-to-machine and machine-to-human communications. Thanks to wireless, manufacturers have the flexibility to optimize manufacturing processes. There is also an increasing number of autonomous guided vehicles (AGVs) and autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) that are being used on production floors. In order for them to complete tasks more efficiently, manufacturers need to have a robust system in place to monitor and control them remotely. A significant benefit from the introduction of these technologies that are powered by wireless connectivity, and specifically 5G as a tool in manufacturing, is employee safety. In this new norm, manufacturers might be required to introduce new guidelines for employee safety, from keeping their distance in the assembly line to following new processes and protocols in the human-to-human or human-to-machine interactions.

Dempsey: Manufacturers process a large amount of data from smart devices, and having a data collecting and processing system – or a BI system – can help manufacturers rationalize data and turn it into useful information. Investing in a data warehouse can reap big benefits for manufacturers.

IW: What role do you see 5G playing in helping manufacturers succeed in the new norm?

Dempsey: The current situation is really highlighting opportunities where manufacturers can improve their operations. Whether they need to adapt to a leaner supply chain or optimize their shipping and deliveries, the new network, i.e. 5G, shows great promises to help them do so in the future as we embrace our new norm. At Panasonic, we leverage connected technologies and develop smart edge devices to ensure they can connect to 5G networks safely and securely.

Pozapalidis: Predictive analytics gives manufacturers a systematic approach to the monitoring and diagnosis of machine tools and manufacturing processes, and 5G’s connectivity capabilities can greatly improve predictive monitoring. 5G networks also offer manufacturers the chance to build smart factories and truly take advantage of technologies such as automation.

About the Author

Peter Fretty | Technology 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.

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