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Why 2022 is the time to rethink people, processes and platforms

Image credit: Vasyl Chipiha/Dreamstime

It’s not just manufacturing that needs to be re-imagined for a post-pandemic world. We have the opportunity – and responsibility – to redesign the fundamentals of how we work together.

Recent months have been about challenges and opportunities in the corporate world. Businesses that pivoted fast, thrived; while those that were less agile, perished. We’ve seen communities come together to design and manufacture lifesaving products for first responders within days, and turn homes into remote engineering classrooms for millions of students.

The pandemic also showed us our vulnerabilities and gave us the opportunity of a lifetime to rethink how we work, design and manufacture, globally. As we enter a world of ‘new normals’, here’s how I think companies can evolve, reimagine the workplace and adopt technologies to create a better future.

The evolution of modern product development will accelerate

We’ll see a lot more companies adopt cloud-native platforms to accelerate innovation and boost business agility. According to Gartner, 85 per cent of organisations will embrace a Cloud-first principle by 2025, which will require using Cloud-native architectures and technologies to fully execute on their digital strategies. In addition, Gartner estimates more than 95 per cent of new digital workloads will be deployed on Cloud-native platforms, up from 30 per cent in 2021.

Why the increase in demand for Cloud platforms? It’s demographics. Cloud and digital-native employees are moving into leadership positions, and they want technology that works the way they do – collaboratively and asynchronously. These professionals have grown up using tools such as Google Docs to collaborate with peers and Onshape to design products in real-time. Like digital nomads, they are used to working from anywhere, not being tethered to a machine in an office.

It’s also about technology. The growing popularity of 3D printing and availability of new materials allows engineers to design parts and products right the first time, accelerating the innovation process. Companies are also pushing digital transformation strategies to meet the demand for a better and more personalised customer experience. These are some of the drivers that have companies reimagining product development platforms and processes.

Supply chain congestion will abate and a new normal will emerge beginning in Q3

As we’ve seen, the pandemic has disrupted the global supply chain like never before. The initial ramping down of production and quick reversal of increased demand resulted in shortage of many consumer products – from toilet paper to silicon chips. The recent bottleneck, where goods worth $24bn were floating in California ports, also demonstrated the vulnerability and gaps in our supply chain. Yes, the port congestion will decrease with improved operations and near-shoring along with the recent funding from the government and private-public partnerships. But I expect the disruption to continue into 2022 as we will see companies shifting to a just-in-case strategy – building up inventory to accommodate disruptions.

With the renewed focus on infrastructure, more companies should focus on investing in innovative technologies to get economies of scale, at a faster pace and at a lower cost of production. Instead of just-on-time strategies, companies should focus on finding new suppliers, including regional suppliers, to work with. Innovators and engineers should also reconfigure their products to use different materials that are easily available and use new processes. In short, in addition to reimagining how to manufacture goods, teams must also rethink ways to take an idea from digital to physical, fast. The days of face-to-face meetings with suppliers and manufacturers are over.

Industrial IIOT will become more mainstream

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) market is predicted to surpass $176bn by 2022, yet only 10 per cent of manufacturers are using it in their operations today. Given the relentless drive for manufacturing optimisation – to reduce time and cost while enhancing workflows and quality – the strategic push for more data and closed-loop analysis will increase. We’ll also see additional investment in industrial automation, while smart devices will continue to find their way into production lines. More data from more sensors will help manufacturers make necessary course corrections much faster and accurately than was possible just a few years ago. Replacement parts now almost always will have an IIoT connection by default.

While we don’t know exactly how the US government’s infrastructure plan will roll out, it will surely include incentives to entice manufacturers to invest in automating their factories. Many manufacturers are also expected to save between 30 and 40 per cent on equipment maintenance expenses using remote technology deployments. We’ll also see companies adopt sophisticated robotics and automation platforms to boost efficiency in factories. In short, automation will help fill the gap in skills shortage we are experiencing today.

Companies will need to adopt emerging technologies to support hybrid workplaces

According to a McKinsey report, executives expect ‘core’ employees to be back in the office three or more days a week, while employees would like to work from home for two or more days per week, and more than half want at least three days of remote work. It’s no surprise that companies are looking forward to bringing employees back to the office to restore some pre-Covid normality, while employees are not too thrilled at the prospect of commuting every day. Which means companies must rethink how to best support the hybrid workforce and allow employees the flexibility to split time working in the office and at home.

The transactional office type of roles such as building spreadsheet models to purchasing, can continue to operate in a teleworking mode. Granted, hybrid workplace can be a win-win for many, as fewer days in the office may reduce the required office footprint, while saving workers countless commuting hours and increasing productivity.

The pandemic has also shown us the not-so-positive side of teleworking. Creative and collaborative projects such as whiteboarding with colleagues have suffered during the work-from-home time. Tools such as Zoom and Teams kept us connected and have helped move programmes forward. However, tools that are file-based or rely on installed software didn’t work as well, as they required people to work in a serial process and send files around instead of interacting with a Cloud-native application where they can collaborate in real-time. If measured, the loss of time due to version-control mismanagement would negatively affect the world’s GDP.

In short, to support the hybrid workforce and boost collaboration, companies must continue to invest in emerging technologies, technologies that can be installed within minutes and allow the team to be productive immediately vs. one that requires hours of training.

The bottom line? It’s not just manufacturing that needs to be re-imagined in 2022. We have an opportunity – and a responsibility – to redesign how we work together, in what we hope is soon-to-be a post-pandemic world. We also need to reimagine the workplace, the processes, and platforms we adopt to get work done, to create a more innovative and better future.

John McEleney is corporate vice-president of strategy at PTC and co-founder of Onshape.

Jon Hirschtick, general manager of Onshape at PTC, talks about cyber security and why data is safer in the Cloud than on the shop floor or a server in a recent episode of the Third Angle podcast, available to listen to on the company’s website.

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