Published 11-05-2021
| Article appears in June 2021 Issue

Three things manufacturers have learned from a year of working remotely

10-05-2021

There has been extensive discussion of how office workers have adapted to the challenge of working from home (WFH), but the manufacturing sector has also embraced an increase in remote working, whether by design or necessity. Here, John Young, APAC sales director at automation parts supplier EU Automation, identifies the three major things the manufacturing sector has learned from a year of WFH.
 
Having been forced to work remotely due to Covid-19 restrictions, many employees and companies are acknowledging that things will likely never return to the pre-pandemic status quo. In countries and sectors that have embraced high levels of automation, businesses can save money and employees can enjoy greater flexibility through hybrid models that mix working on site with more frequent and flexible remote working.
 
However, the debate so far has focused mostly on office working. Here’s three key things manufacturers in the APAC region have learned from a year of working remotely.
 
Accelerating automation?
For office jobs, there is little doubt that a year of remote working has accelerated the uptake of digital technologies and automation. According to Teo Lay Lim, South Asia Market unit lead for Accenture, the pandemic has effectively consolidated 10 years of digital transformation efforts into a mere six months.
 
In manufacturing, the picture is less clear, but the early evidence suggests more manufacturers turning to automation. At the very least, the crisis has shone a spotlight on automation technologies and the benefits they can offer. Automated guided vehicles (AGVs) are one of many examples of technologies that have enjoyed a period of growth throughout the pandemic and look set to enjoy a strong uptake in many sectors, particularly food and beverage.
 
Cyber gaps exposed
Although digital transformations have allowed greater levels of remote working, they have also exposed cyber vulnerabilities. The manufacturing sector is no different to others in this regard, but the stakes could potentially be greater. Just imagine the consequences of an industrial robot being hacked.
 
One problem is employees using vulnerable devices when working remotely. A recent study from LogMeIn, found that globally 31% of people are using ‘vulnerable devices’ when working remotely and for the APAC region specifically, the figure was 45%.
 
In another study from AT&T, which surveyed 500 IT decisionmakers in Singapore, Hong Kong and Australia, almost half the respondents said they anticipated the volume of cyber attacks to increase.
 
Remote condition monitoring
The possibility of remote working varies greatly in the manufacturing sector. One interesting area of development that has been given a fillip in the past year is technology that enables remote condition monitoring.
 
Remote condition monitoring is the ability to view the performance, status and behaviour of a machine from a distance in real time. This is achieved with a combination of Internet of Things (IoT) technology and cloud computing that allows an on-site machine to be tracked by maintenance engineers wherever they are.
 
Having automated sensors removes some of the need for human intervention. The data gathered via these sensors can be accessed remotely via cloud services and data visualization tools allow engineers to identify and diagnose a fault while working from home. Using these solutions, maintenance engineers can order components from parts suppliers such as EU Automation.
 
Many companies have learned a lot from WFH, and manufacturers are no exception. The challenge has encouraged the uptake of those technological solutions that reduce the need for human workers on site. However, manufacturers are also discovering that WFH is opening up greater cyber vulnerabilities and necessitating a more effective strategy to respond to this threat.
 

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