Manufacturers navigate COVID-19 with AI, cloud and robotics, says Google study
Manufacturing firms around the world have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic by accelerating their investments in disruptive digital technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics and cloud platforms, a new study has found.
Most manufacturers were caught off-guard the COVID-19 pandemic began spreading across the world, and the vast majority of them were forced to shut down their operation temporarily. Worse, they found themselves severely hampered by reduced orders and an inability to provide a safe workplace when they finally reopened.
But the industry has bounced back quickly as manufacturers around the world responded by stepping up their investments in some game-changing tech.
That’s according to a new report from Google LLC, which found the key to the manufacturing industry’s transformation has been their embrace of “digital enablers and disruptive technologies.”
In a blog post, Dominik Wee, managing director for manufacturing and industrial at Google Cloud, said Google’s survey of more than 1,000 senior manufacturing executives in seven countries shows that more than 40% of manufacturing firms responded to the pandemic by stepping up their use of public cloud platforms, data, analytics and digital productivity tools. The number varies by country, though: In the U.S., for example, 64% of manufacturers increased their use of digital technologies.
Google found that 46% of manufacturing firms were hit by lower productivity because of the COVID-19 pandemic, with 44% reporting lower sales and 39% complaining about increased lead times, possibly from supply chain disruptions. Some 35% of manufacturers also reported reduced customer demand, while labor shortages were a problem for 34% of respondents.
Manufacturers responded to these challenges in several ways. Seventy-seven percent said they were forced to re-evaluate their operating model strategies in light of the pandemic because of their inability to collaborate effectively with value chain partners and employees. They also cited a lack of technology needed to operate without large numbers of onsite workers.
Ultimately, disruptive technologies such as artificial intelligence and robotics proved to be the answer to many of the challenges COVID-19 throw up, Wee said. Some 76% of manufacturers responded by increasing their use of cloud, AI, data analytics, robotics, 3D printing and additive manufacturing, “internet of things” and augmented and virtual reality to transform their business operations.
As a result, 82% of manufacturers say they’re now in a position where they believe they can navigate any future pandemics. Wee said this sentiment is likely the result of of a large part of the industry switching to new product areas such as manufacturing personal protective equipment, as well as their increased investment in digital factories.
The sustained nature of the COVID-19 pandemic impacted supply chains in ways never seen before, said Bob Parker, International Data Corp.’s senior vice president of enterprise applications, data intelligence, services and industry research.
“As a result, we’re seeing an urgency from manufacturers to quickly put the right technological levers in place, sooner rather than later,” Parker said. “While there may have only been initial conversations about digital transformation in the past, we’re now seeing a rapid acceleration of critical tools and technologies being adopted within the industry.”