How can manufacturers ensure business continuity?

How can manufacturers ensure business continuity?
Investing in cloud, asset performance management and AI is essential to weather challenging times

Elly Yates-Roberts |

How the world does business was changing before the outbreak of Covid-19, but what we have seen in recent weeks and months has accelerated this metamorphosis beyond all recognition.

Business continuity is nothing new. It is, quite simply, prudent business planning. But the speed and scale of the current global crisis has forced organisations to implement more stringent and robust measures to not only cope with the present situation, but also to mitigate damage in years to come should a similar event occur in the future.

One of the major impacts of the virus on manufacturing companies was that it prevented the movement of people, which damaged and disrupted industrial operations and the manufacturing supply chain. However, there were already many technologies and innovations they could use to help mitigate this damage.

It’s hard to imagine how the world would have responded to the pandemic without cloud technology. At no other point in time has there ever been such a need for the instant availability of IT resources enabled by the cloud. It has transformed connectivity between people and businesses on a global scale, enabling millions of people to rapidly switch to remote working. Without the cloud, organisations couldn’t do many of the things they do every day. For example, it would be more challenging for executives to access real-time business sales information and companies would find it harder to share and co-edit documents securely. Plus, the cloud has also enabled businesses to spend less money and time on installing new IT capabilities by allowing them to quickly scale capacity according to business needs.

Modern industrial organisations are connected by the cloud, which means that teams can still collaborate and perform tasks, even when people are working remotely. The same applies to engineers and other employees who need to interact with equipment. This is because emerging technologies like big data, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and virtual reality have facilitated remote access and led to the advent of the digital twin – a virtual replica of machinery and factories. Using 3D modelling and advanced engineering and visualisation tools, engineers can now control, manage and maintain machinery digitally.

Some organisations had already deployed this type of technology before the pandemic, but many more will do so in a post-Covid-19 world. Entire sectors are now being forced to embrace innovative digital platforms to facilitate a way of working that keeps people connected, agile and safe.  

These technologies are also having a major impact on industrial operating assets too, most notably helping to reduce downtime. Despite the challenges the pandemic has brought, there is little doubt that if it had happened a few years ago, the damage done by factory closures and staff reductions would have been much worse. Manufacturing companies would have had to choose between exposing staff to health risks to keep operational equipment running or shut factories for longer.

Long before the world had heard of Covid-19, organisations were deploying asset performance management (APM) tools to deal with precisely this challenge. Combining industrial big data, cloud, AI, digital twins, and augmented reality technologies, APM allows companies to continuously monitor their assets to identify, diagnose and prioritise impending equipment problems in real time. This enables engineers to take steps to prevent issues before they occur and minimise unscheduled downtime, total equipment failures and maintenance costs, while extending equipment life and increasing asset utilisation. As industrial operations move to autonomous or near-autonomous modes, the ability to ensure reliable and safe performance while delivering production objectives becomes an imperative, and APM provides the framework and methods to ensure this. With a proven ability to cut time and expenses while improving output, it’s clear that APM should be a core part of any manufacturing company’s long-term business continuity strategy.

These innovations are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the cross section of industry and technology. Elsewhere, we are seeing manufacturing companies use digital tools to vastly improve everything from virtual training to communications to ensure their sites continue to run smoothly despite Covid-19-related restrictions. There are many more examples, but the overriding point is that these technologies have been available and ready to deploy for some time, but now they have been fully proven as critical for safeguarding long-term business continuity in our ‘new normal’. 

Ravi Gopinath is chief operating officer and chief cloud officer at AVEVA

This article was originally published in the Summer 2020 issue of The Record. To get future issues delivered directly to your inbox, sign up for a free subscription.

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