Manufacturing processes are at the heart of the supply chain. The pandemic’s many disruptions proved that global supply chains were not ready for prime time. A combination of many factors led to widespread breakdowns and shortages. Take, for instance, the surge in demand for personal protective equipment for healthcare workers: the Western world was unable to respond quickly enough and ramp up manufacturing of the products. The problem was only solved after some time had passed and a global mobilization effort to procure the equipment from all corners of the globe came through. Clearly, that’s not a viable way to operate and supply chains need to consider every cog in the machine to prevent that scenario again, including manufacturing processes.
Current manufacturing processes, while modern by many standards, are not up to the challenge of meeting global demands, especially in crisis. One of the issues is redundancy in the system. To remove that and improve speed of operations, companies can look at several options. These include improved scheduling, improved tool usage, and improved operator ability. There are several software and technology companies that are developing tools to attack all three issues. One, for instance, is exploring ways to combine wireless sensors that pick up sounds indicating pending machine failure, then using AI to analyze those sounds. This allows operators to intervene and stop problems before they occur. Another strategy is to reduce the amount of waste when producing a component. One manufacturer is toying with a combination of corn syrup and enzymes that would eliminate fossil fuels from the process, not only scaling up manufacturing with a material that exists in abundance but reducing cost and the carbon footprint. And when technology and new tools like robots are combined with the labor pool, output increases exponentially. All of these solutions put together will help manufacturing processes make the leap into the future and hopefully, improve supply chain woes, too.