• External Contributor

New Normal Could Represent Digital Enabled Opportunities

As manufacturers work through uncharted territories, digital technologies and the latest connectivity advances could enable new pathways.

Responding quickly to the pandemic was as crucial to manufacturers as the pandemic hit as their inherent ability to continuously evolve will be as businesses jockey for position within the new norm. Simply put, now is the time for manufacturers to leverage nimbleness  and find new ways to continue adding value. Understandably, doing so is not an easy task as many manufacturers try to operate with limited teams, but it is definitely the persistent mandate guiding today’s manufacturers.


“Innovation is no longer a luxury, it’s a necessity. Manufacturing companies can accelerate digital transformation and move to agile and flexible network platforms by adopting new technologies like 5G and edge computing to drive innovation and operational efficiency,” says Tami Erwin, executive vice president and CEO of Verizon Business Group. “Agility and flexibility are increasingly important for survival and differentiation – just think of how some manufacturers switched to making masks or sanitizer or ventilators during the pandemic.”


Not only are connectivity and digital readiness  key drivers in a data-rich environment, they are an intensified reality when adding remote and skeleton crews to the mix. 


Read on for more of Erwin’s insights into how the new normal is challenging and prompting businesses to behave differently.


IW: Where have you seen COVID-19 having a significant impact on manufacturing?

Erwin: COVID has impacted almost every industry in terms of safety and security; manufacturing is no different. We’ve also seen operational losses arising from a reduction in production operations, supply chain shortages (specifically raw materials) and corresponding financial losses that delay or eliminate capital investments. These challenges illustrate the need for faster digital transformation to eliminate technology debt and to provide the foundation for agile, flexible innovation that can meet known and unknown macro trends. Our clients are looking to Verizon to provide software-defined infrastructure, network virtualization as well as a higher degree of orchestration and visibility secured from end-to-end.


These technology components are essential to the business outcomes we are being asked to deliver, such as near real-time data analysis, more automation on the manufacturing floor, connected transportation and distribution, and drone delivery. In addition, the pandemic has accelerated the need of those in manufacturing and other industries for more fiber-based service, and opened their eyes to how mobile edge compute and 5G to help solve some of these problems. To meet that need we have increased our CAPEX estimate for 2020 from $17-18B to $17.5-$18.5B in order to accelerate our investments across the board, including in fiber and 5G. We continue to build our 5G Ultra Wideband network to support meaningful 5G innovations in manufacturing.

IW: What steps can manufacturers take to lessen the impact? Erwin: Manufacturers can accelerate their investment in digital transformation now. Investing in software-defined services and tools that improve visibility and automation, as well as utilizing a combination of fiber-based services, 4G LTE and 5G—all components necessary for building factories of the future--will allow companies to have smarter, more efficient operations, safer conditions for workers and higher-quality products, along with all-new conveniences for consumers.

IW: Do you see the new normal opening up opportunities for manufacturers? Erwin: The changing environment will open opportunities for manufacturers to be more innovative on both the production side as well as the product side. Utilizing the power of fiber, network slicing, mobile edge compute with 4G LTE and 5G, factories of the future should be able to take advantage of massive IoT deployments for automated guided vehicles (AGV), intelligent manufacturing logistics and automated material movement for more efficient production and predictable output. Automated robotic processes can be integrated into near real-time workflows. Products can be embedded with 5G functionality that communicates with other products, people and the environment in a way that increases the product’s value. Additionally, manufacturing facilities can benefit from predictive maintenance, robotic control, remote equipment configuration, intelligent video, AR job aids and assembly inspections.

IW:What role can 5G and digital investments play as manufacturers navigate this new normal? Erwin: With any change comes opportunity and as 5G helps to usher in a Fourth Industrial Revolution, the benefits of a next-generation network should have an immediate impact on the factory floor. Just as the refinement of mechanical processes led eventually to the assembly line, the combination of 5G and manufacturing has the potential to bring about another radical breakthrough, enabling companies to benefit from things like near-real time insight and response across the digital supply chain, intelligent automation and predictive maintenance and quality control.

The potential benefits of 5G include smarter, more efficient operations, safer conditions for workers and higher-quality products — along with all-new conveniences for consumers.

  • Intelligent automation: Industrial robots could use 5G to become more task-intelligent, and factories could replace inexact, time-consuming manual procedures with more precise, efficient digitized processes.

  • Quality assurance: With Verizon 5G and mobile edge compute, massive amounts of data could be analyzed in near real-time, potentially enabling new methods of AI-driven inspection and testing, minimizing human error, increasing productivity, saving money and ensuring higher-quality products.

  • Supply chain tracking: From shipment to stocking, 5G could mean a vastly improved chain of custody, so manufacturers maintain closer tabs on their products throughout their journey.

  • AGV functionality: Armed with 5G, AGVs could maintain constant sensor contact with their surroundings, adding precision to the path and potentially reducing the likelihood of accidents and product damage.

  • Worker safety: Combined with MEC, 5G could enable industrial robots to shrink in size, as complex compute functions are offloaded to nearby servers — with minimal impact on responsiveness. 5G could enable all-new types of AI-driven solutions for preventative robot maintenance, machine learning techniques for safer floor layouts and sensor technology that warns when workers drift into potentially dangerous situations.


THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED BY INDUSTRY WEEK BY PETER FRETTY ON AUGUST 4, 2020.