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AUTOMOTIVE The COVID-19 crisis & the changing world of manufacturing

Apr 10, 2020

While the world is undergoing a new kind of transformation due to fight against coronavirus, many are trying to assess its impact on the future of manufacturing and then continue. Rama Shankar Pandey, MD, Hella India Lighting, and Co-chairman of the International Automotive Manufacturing Summit 2020, in this column explains how the manufacturing world will try to recover from the impact of the COVID-19 crisis, how there is going to be a change in the way one perceives manufacturing and how mass manufacturing and mass customisation will be the future which everyone would be walking towards.

Our world & humanity is facing disruption of a newer kind triggered by the coronavirus or COVID-19 crisis. Much more than the impact of virus, it’s the impact of the countermeasures which has changed our lives. Leadership around the world is learning fast & adapting to the urgent needs of the current situation and taking bold & radical decisions to survive & excel in the new world.

In a similar approach, our manufacturing systems will also need to embrace innovations & take measures to remain adaptive and flexible in the new world, post the corona crisis. The ‘changed world’ will prioritise ‘flexibility’ (of manufacturing lines, equipment, people, skills, product lines, etc) to a never before level of importance, as leaders will be facing an unprecedent need to reduce reaction time/lead time of managing supply chains of ultra-fast changing demands. The speed of the countermeasures & hence, the speed to make necessary products available to consume will be a major factor for leaders to succeed & win the trust of the communities around them. Demands will change overnight. The new dimension of speed, flexibility and reliability towards change will have a profound impact on our manufacturing systems of the future.

When Anand Mahindra offered to make ventilators in his factories and Maruti joined the same purpose soon, it was considered an obvious decision in the current time. World over, automotive organisations have started working on producing ventilators & personal protective equipment overnight. The manufacturing systems were not designed for such a large scope, but the need & priorities of the society have changed overnight. In the new world, flexibility of a mass manufacturing system will attain the highest priority.

Though it may not be as radical as the world shifting to Additive Manufacturing and we witnessing mass democratisation of manufacturing, having 3D printers of the highest order spread in all localities of the world will make it capable of producing any changing demand of the communities around them. From ‘open source designs’ or ‘designs on subscriber-based model’, which is very similar to digital subscriptions on our mobiles, the redirection to embrace ‘community manufacturing’ with inbuilt high flexibility will certainly start to happen. This will provide a very strong case for ‘Industry 4.0’ & ’connected factories’. Technology will not only provide a flexible manufacturing system but also enable shared services of ‘collaborative design, product development & marketing/branding’ across these digital factories. It will also connect the world of manufacturing in a seamless manner to ‘digital supply chains’ much like our today’s online deliveries of food & all kind of services sitting from the comfort of our homes or offices.

The need will be to have the cost advantage of mass manufacturing but still carry the flexibility KPI with highest importance. We can call it ‘mass customisation’ of an extreme kind. For all products to be consumed by the society, Industry 4.0 with connected supply chain, with robots working alongside factory workers and autonomous material movement systems replenishing production line supplies will create smart digital factories. Sensor networks and communications technologies will be used to connect designers with the community factory workers with intelligent machines and software interacting autonomously and facilities connected in real-time to suppliers and customers. Though industrial manufacturing will still aspire to have further ‘economies of scale’ & world trade will still be driven by competitiveness on cost for those commodities, the final consumables for the community will need heavy ‘mass customisation’ closer to home and hence, will trigger faster pace to ‘community digital factories’. Smart technological utilisation offers the manufacturing industry so much potential. Engineers can get instant feedback on costs and performance predictions. Factory machines and logistics equipment can automatically assign factory processes. AI systems can compare parts and processes to optimise performance.

Having so much opportunities triggered by the use of AI and modern connected technologies, brings a completely new set of challenges, mainly in the area of job obsolesce, skilling and reskilling needs to masses. There will be growth of new verticals that will replace the old departments in organisations in times to come. These newer and smarter business environments will create new jobs that will demand a differently skilled workforce able to operate in the new systems.

Reskilling and re-deployment of workforce will be the major challenge facing the HR as AI starts to take over predictable manufacturing and data analytical processes. Also, with the changing manpower requirements, HR will need to reorient its approach to perceive and meet the demands of smarter workplaces. Passion and purpose among employees need to be reinforced while the difficult journey of transformation will happen from the age-old hierarchy, designation-based reward and recognition system towards ‘employee value add’ concept, which will disrupt the employee-ship towards an employee-entrepreneur. This divide between businesses owners and employees will merge and people will be contributing much more than today, and also be earning much more disproportionately than today, depending on the skill set they have. Valuation of an organisation will depend on valuation of its human resource in the future, which seems completely opposite to the common-sense prevailing today about these technologies eating away one’s jobs and earnings. HR has to gear up for this mega change of our times.

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  • Rama Shankar Pandey

    MD, Hella India Lighting

    Co-chairman of the International Automotive Manufacturing Summit 2020

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