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23 April, 2021

Digitalisation technologies can help us to move forward

16 February, 2021

During the pandemic we have become more reliant on technology than ever before. As we emerge, manufacturers will need to turn increasingly to connected technologies as they adapt to the new future, argues Nikesh Mistry*, Gambica’s sector head for industrial automation.

Technology has, without a doubt, proven to be a vital form of resilience during the turmoil of the past 12 months. The combination of Brexit and the global pandemic have altered habits drastically both at home and in the workplace. Digitalisation was a priority for many in 2019; during 2020, it became a necessity rather than a novelty.

Global technology giants such as Amazon and Netflix have flourished as a result of the increases in consumer spending, while Google and Microsoft have excelled in their ability to offer remote video conferencing technologies. Zoom was almost unheard of before the pandemic, but now has almost become a verb itself. It was a fine example of the ability of a small or little-known company to seize an opportunity in a time of uncertainty to gain worldwide renown.

While the global economic situation was deteriorating, the technology sector began to boom as more and more connected technologies needed to be implemented.

A powerful trend during the past year has been the need to work from home, to connect to machines remotely, and to diagnose issues remotely. The key word is “remotely”. Never before have people been prevented from attending their workplace for extended periods of time simply to protect their own safety.

Because this was the case, it has become imperative for manufacturers to look increasingly to connected technologies. How could they make best use of technologies such as remote machine operation, predictive or preventive maintenance, or digital twins?

The pandemic has reminded us that when people are unable to attend their usual place of work, contingencies need to be set up to allow them to continue doing their jobs remotely. Many who have self-isolated were not necessarily doing it to protect themselves, but others around them.

Procedures now need to be put in place to allow for a smooth transition as we move forward.

Many people who previously believed that they could not work remotely have found that it is indeed possible. Companies are going to have to modify their working infrastructures to allow their staff to continue working as efficiently as possible. Whether this means investing in new technologies, or modifying supply chains, changes will be needed.

In recent years, the manufacturing sector has been moving into the fourth industrial revolution. Some are further along the journey than others. With the plethora of connected devices now available, it is a better time than ever for companies to invest in these devices, and in cybersecurity. The use of soft-starts, variable-speed drives, motors and switchgear capable of monitoring data usage or being controlled remotely, will help to propel the UK manufacturing industry going forward. While, at the moment, these technologies are being implemented to help businesses to “carry on”, eventually they will reap their reward and, hopefully, many will ask: “Why didn’t we do this before?”

We need to ensure that we can continue to work under circumstances which mean we may not be able to travel into our usual workplaces. We should use this opportunity to escalate our digital working capabilities.

We have supposedly lived through the hardest part. No one could have predicted the outcome of the pandemic, but we have tools that can help us to prepare better for such circumstances should they arise again. By adopting preventative maintenance and other digitalisation technologies, we should be able to foresee, or at least prepare for, external shocks that may arise in the future.

* Gambica is the trade association for the automation, control, instrumentation and laboratory technology sectors in the UK.

For more information, please contact Nikesh Mistry on 020 7642 8094 or via nikesh.mistry@gambica.org.uk




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