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The COVID-19 pandemic continues to shape the Industrial market as owners and contractors adapt and shift priorities to deal with its effects.

The COVID-19 pandemic not only caught the world off guard with its rapid spread, but it also exposed vulnerabilities in the country’s supply chain and ability to react quickly domestically. Balancing the need for increased production of supplies with the safety of employees, manufacturers had to pivot to maintain operations while looking at the challenges ahead and assessing the changes the pandemic could bring to the industry. These changes also affect construction of future facilities—from speed to market to design changes to account for a socially distanced work environment.

Though owners learn more about the virus and the potential lingering effects on the economy with each passing week, manufacturing companies continue to grapple with myriad of challenges and disruptions as a result of the ongoing pandemic. The focus on both enabling the health and wellness of employees but also the sustainability of business operations remains at the forefront of discussions. Emphasis is emerging on what strategies and actions must be taken to recover and strengthen vulnerable areas of the organizations.

Discussions about resilience is already a hot topic in boardroom meetings and leadership strategy sessions, but the pandemic has shifted these conversations and priorities. Protecting the core business, minimizing risks, and maintaining continuity through more efficient operations are critical near-term objectives. In a recent survey of over 200 companies, over 90% expect the COVID crisis to fundamentally change the way to do business over the next five years. The crisis will be a catalyst for change in manufacturing, requiring companies to rethink how they compete and reach their customers.

Acceleration

Artificial intelligence, Internet of Things, and Industry 4.0 had started to change the landscape of manufacturing well before the pandemic. The merger of manufacturing things (building, equipment, robotics, etc. ) with data ( PLC, ERM, social data ) is driving the digital transformation. Manufacturers must leverage these advancements to become more agile, so they can pivot quickly and spin up changes to meet demands of consumers and the market. Unfortunately for many, the pandemic highlighted how far behind emerging technology many plants and supply chains really are.

Innovations with the built environment will continue to emerge as well. The ability to fast-track new construction, expansions, and retrofits through integrated design + construction solutions will be increasingly important. Manufacturing companies are increasingly shifting away from traditional slow and fragmented design/bid/build delivery models and utilizing Early Contractor Involvement ( ECI ) to maximize value and tighten the timescale.   Investment in intelligent building solutions will rise as we advance in the efforts to integrate people, place, process, and technology. To meet the demand for more agile factory infrastructure, buildings and their smart systems must become more adaptable, automated, and digitally connected to other critical facets of the broad manufacturing ecosystem.  JE Dunn engages their internal Smart Building Solutions group to provide a single point of ownership and design-build fully integrated systems, offering end to end solutions determining the best technologies to maximize the buildings role in the digital ecosystem.

Supply Chain Resilience

Factory shutdowns, logistics disruptions, and global shortages of many essential raw materials necessary for manufacturing has rocked this industry.  Over reliance on distant suppliers has exposed vulnerable areas of business and forced companies to improve access to critical supplies. Supply chains that were developed over the 90s and 2000s were primarily focused on meeting a number one goal of cost efficiency through lower labor costs. Companies are now seeing more overall economic value in keeping a smaller geographic footprint to keep supply sources closer to the end markets, even if there is a slightly higher cost to do so. Government intervention and incentivization of re-domesticating essential manufacturing and its critical supply chain is necessary to help promote and accelerate this movement. Leveraging value-added solutions and innovations in the development of facilities will be critical to helping drive down cost and accelerate the process from project launch to start of production.

Developing a Digitally Savvy Workforce

The increased rise and demand for smart building and manufacturing technologies, automation, and robotics will require a more technology advanced workforce. The hopeful return of off shored manufacturing will not replace many of the lower-paid jobs being replaced by automation, but opportunities will emerge for a workforce that can meet the more technology-focused environments that exist now from concept design, through building, and into production. The merger and integration of digital technologies across solutions in both construction and manufacturing is rapidly developing. Companies must continue to invest in the training and development of a workforce that will meet their needs through tailored internal workforce programs plus the investment and support of outside STEM education solutions.

Looking Forward

History suggests companies that continue to invest in innovation, technology, and talent through the crisis will outperform their peers in the recovery. As things begin to normalize and organizations can see more clarity, innovation-led growth will be a focus again for years to come. As builders, we are particularly interested in how the design, construction, and manufacturing sectors can converge to solve challenges and collaborate more effectively in the post COVID era. Although the pandemic has brought a multitude of challenges for most the last six months, we must now start to look forward and seize the opportunity to introduce transformational change in our organizations. Together we can emerge smarter, better, and more resilient.