My Thoughts on the Effects of Covid-19 on the Industry 4.0 Process

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Avatar for jamesmichelea
2 years ago

The global virus outbreak has drastically changed the world's agenda. Measures taken against the virus and health overwhelmingly took the lead. One of the effective agenda and discussion topics before the epidemic has been Industry 4.0 for nearly a decade. With the reduction of the effects of the disease, the world will begin to return to the previous agenda topics. With the drag of the wave created by Covid-19, Industry 4.0, related technologies and digital transformation will be very intense areas of interest.

The Industry 4.0 vision emerged as a result of the convergence of newly developed or evolving technologies with operations depicting work and life. Different economies have different levels of technological and industrial development. This situation is also changing in terms of the goals set by economies and companies for themselves. In addition to discourses such as Industry 5.0 or Society 5.0, the number of economies or sectors that have not yet completed the Third Industrial Revolution is not small.

Regardless of the current situation; Those who follow trends and developments in the world share similar views that we are on the verge of a major transformation. On the other hand, Covid-19 caused significant changes in business processes around the world. While some business areas were narrowing, there were also more 'lucky' ones. But how the Industry 4.0 process as a whole will be affected by the Covid-19 outbreak remains an interesting and possibly urgent question in terms of response.

We can think of Industry 4.0 as a vision or a roof. There are a lot of basic, new or evolved technologies that keep this framework alive. These create combinations among themselves, causing the emergence of new technologies and innovations. When we look at it in terms of business-business ecosystem; some concepts - in terms of their association with Covid-19 - attract more attention. We can count these as smart manufacturing, smart factory, dark (no light) factory and Industrial Internet of Things. All of these phenomena are related to high-level automation.

Another development that enables a new kind of high-level automation continues to occur in the area of ​​sensor technologies. We can think of the concept of sensor as measurement, hence data. When new data collection possibilities are integrated with the Internet of Things, it opens the way for a new type of automation that will enable data-based business and manufacturing processes. In addition to collecting data, becoming fluid at high speed over local networks and the Internet, processing them with Big Data and Analytics technologies does not require much human intervention. Intelligent and connected looms, devices, and machines in the most general form, and data-based management over the network enable the replacement of human beings with smart machines or smart processes. This new situation is the rationale behind smart factories and dark factories.

The dark factory represents the technological peak that automation has reached today and where we will see more different stages in the near future. The dark factory is a manufacturing environment where close to zero people work. All processes are carried out by smart and connected machines. The decrease in the number of people working means the disappearance of many tools and activities that people benefit from in the factory environment. On the other hand, the smart factory is a transition state between the current situation and the dark factory where full automation takes place. The vast majority of operational work is done by smart and connected machines, and much less human employees are "needed" compared to the traditional situation. In the smart factory, people and machines work together in harmony in a new kind of ergonomics.

The fact that Covid-19 directly affects (restricts and limits) human life and activities has begun to create an "attraction" in working environments where people are less common. Because the machines are not restricted, limited and sick for a reason like Covid-19. When viewed from this angle; The idea of ​​a fully functional manufacturing environment that does not require permanent human personnel means uninterrupted production output. Smart factories will significantly reduce the number of workers needed as most simple jobs and tasks are automated. Currently, many companies; He seems reluctant to this level of automation due to the lack of sufficient knowledge and experience on the subject, or the necessity of technological investment in digital transformation or due to general insecurity. Is this reluctance and indifference the position to stand against transformation? This point is a matter worth opening up and questioning.

The number of people working in small and medium-sized enterprises, called SMEs in short, varies between 1-250. A comparable number of people work in retail companies that market consumer products and services, as well as industrial enterprises. Even if it is industrial or commercial; One of the characteristics of SME-type businesses is that employee-employee or employee-customer interaction is usually face-to-face. Contagious diseases such as Covid-19 make working in such environments risky. The global epidemic process creates a perception that smart production tools and services will have mitigating effects of such risks.

As one of the consequences of the epidemic, in addition to the use of technology, especially in industrial enterprises, reducing the number of employees in shifts is among the possibilities that will come to the agenda. Again, in terms of worker health, interpersonal interaction and working distance may also be suitable for the distance imposed by Covid-19. All of these can be interpreted as new layout plans and an understanding of ergonomics in workplaces.

When the subject is considered in terms of large industrial enterprises; Before the epidemic, efficiency, productivity, quality, agility and so on. there were reasons. Today, the global epidemic creates a comprehensive motivation to make the digital transformation and return to the smart business (smart factory). Global studies show that the organizations least affected by Covid-19 are those that currently have the best automation practices and digital workflow.

The effects of Covid-19 on business-business processes should also be considered in terms of office-type spaces. The situation of teams working in units such as design, accounting, planning, finance, sales and marketing is not much different from crowded shifts. Although different, employees in both environments have to work together interactively to realize a certain product or service.

If you look at the past experience, office spaces have progressed before in terms of digital transformation compared to manufacturing environments. On the other hand, office life with work cells separated by low-height practical walls in a large space became popular over time. Due to the epidemic, it was understood that; This type of application, which is made with the logic of bringing together all the functions of the business or unit, also creates potential in terms of the spread of Covid-19 type risk.

We started to get the first hints that the corporate office order would change. Comparing the low costs of working together with the risk we are experiencing today can bring the spatial decomposition of the different functions of the business and the unit. Functions that differentiate as different spaces will use remote working tools and services much more intensely to ensure cohesion. In terms of Industry 4.0, this can be called cloud computing, horizontal integration and augmented reality.

When large and collaborative office environments are replaced by a distributed order, different questions will arise. We can say the first of these is how the performance control will be in distributed spaces in return for the convenience in the traditional office environment. Latter; It can be how the office environments where smaller teams (teams) work will be organized and the management of the different cost items that will occur in these areas. We can expect Industry 4.0 technologies and digitalization to be the solutions it will offer in the face of such questions.

Commercial businesses that produce services suffered significant losses in the Covid-19 process. The stagnation of any business causes stagnation and damage to the businesses from which it receives goods and services. When social life slows down, social or individual service businesses lose income as the needs in this area are limited. It continues to teach a solid lesson about what a general recession experienced by restaurants, barbers and hairdressers, cinemas, theaters, cafes, print publishers during the epidemic period will cost. Considering that the transition to normal life will not be rapid, the effects of Covid-19 effects will continue to be experienced for a long time.

Many businesses operating with low profit rates depend on their cash flow performance. The weaknesses in the cash flow prepare the bankruptcy of the business. It is possible to witness serious losses of small retailers and SMEs in the landscape that will occur after Covid-19.

One of the striking developments in the current period when the epidemic forces people to live at home, markets, home delivery and restaurants, etc. This is because the convenience food sellers focus more on take-away activities. Based on this observed example, it can be said that industries will tend to find new revenue streams in response to Covid-19. Technologies such as the Internet, cloud computing, and augmented reality will be the driving force in this. For example, it is expected that software platforms and applications that will provide consumers or customers with a virtual “user experience” where they are located will become widespread. To sum up; Covid-19 "pushes" businesses to innovate and improve their business model by taking advantage of new technologies.

Among the differences that the Covid-19 process brings to social and economic life, one of the first to come to mind is remote work. Although it is adopted as a temporary 'solution' in terms of the current situation; For many businesses, working from home remains a question mark in terms of performance and efficiency. The results of this type of study will emerge with the evaluations to be made after the epidemic. Is remote and flexible working a real option or a cheap popular chatter? The first data on the answer to this will be seen after the epidemic.

Remember that schools are also closed when adult workers are forced to work from home. This means that working parents have more time with their children and are forced to deal with their daily problems. Undoubtedly; Although the rapprochement of the family as a whole is an important emotional development, it is another fact that parents will have difficulties in concentrating on work and work. Another question is whether the parents will be successful in substituting the school and teacher in home conditions. Because the home environment is not really ready for such an education system yet. One of the results of the Covid-19 process will be the development of technologies, tools and applications that will make home education more possible for businesses and for families to invest in the home for this purpose.

Businesses were not ready for a 'vice' of the Covid-19 type, just like families. While some were skeptical of Industry 4.0 technologies and the digitalization mindset, those who approached the subject more warmly did not have the time or resources. Nowadays, while businesses are trying to be alive and sustainable, they also have to strategically consider what to do after the epidemic. With slow or fast, normal or new-normal, the business-business ecosystem will somehow come to life after the epidemic.

It is necessary to prepare for the future. Perceiving the current situation as a 'waiting game' means carrying the problem to the future and deepening it.

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Avatar for jamesmichelea
2 years ago