What do a car-parts maker in Germany, a chemical plant in Singapore, a mine in Latin America, and the American health-care industry have in common? Due to the global pandemic, all of them are automating their systems more than ever before.
A recent article in The Economist, Bearing fruit: After years of dithering companies are embracing automation, recounts how the pandemic has pushed many companies to take the plunge and automate their plants, warehouses, and internal systems. Sales of robots have doubled for some popular models, and remote connectivity has gone from luxury to necessity.
“Bosses have boasted of automating their operations for years without an awful lot to show for it,” the article says. “Covid-19 has spurred them to put their money where their mouths are.”
Automation goals are changing
The fact that this is a pandemic-driven response is illustrated in a Bain Automation Survey of 500 companies, showing that goals for automation have changed dramatically. Before the pandemic, the leading reasons for automating were to lower costs, increase performance, and grow revenue. Since the pandemic, improving business resilience, lowering risk, and generating business insights are at the top of the list.
Projected adoption rates have doubled for sensors, Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity, and Artificial Intelligence (AI), according to another survey of 1001 supply-chain professionals. A third survey quoted in the Economist article shows that a full 80% of companies surveyed had accelerated their adoption of digital employee interaction and collaboration.
Beyond automation, and expected to be even a bigger wave, is the resulting data, and how it gets used. The article says, “The pandemic’s bigger long-term impact may be a fuller embrace by firms of data their operations generate, and predictive algorithms to help guide real-time decisions.” Major automation companies like ABB, Emerson, and Rockwell are racing against smaller start-ups and consultants to turn the real-time and archived data from their systems into actionable intelligence. The resulting efficiencies have led to a prediction from Allied Market Research that process-automation product sales will rise from $1.6 billion two years ago to just under $20 billion by 2027.
Connecting the data
All this data must be connected. Data from the sensors, devices, and automation systems on the plant floor has to be connected securely, in real time, to the managers, analysts and decision-making executives in corporate HQs. Factories spread across the globe need to share data seamlessly and securely. Workers staying at home require remote access to processes in the field. For all of this to work, robust data communication is crucial.
This explains why, despite the pandemic and economic slowdowns in major world economies, our customers have been hard at work building and expanding their systems. Management in these companies are embracing automation, as a hedge against uncertainty and an investment in data-driven solutions. Our job is to ensure that they get the data they need, easily, rapidly, and securely.