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The Spirit of Innovation Will Lead Manufacturing Through This Crisis and Into a Bright Future

The COVID-19 crisis created a remarkable burden for manufacturers far and wide, but we are seeing evidence that the industry has weathered the storm, and there are indeed reasons for optimism.

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The COVID-19 crisis created a remarkable burden for manufacturers far and wide, but we are seeing evidence that the industry has weathered the storm, and there are indeed reasons for optimism.

As the state’s manufacturing sector now begins the slow process of returning to some semblance of “normal’ business and production, these companies see this as an opportunity to once more emerge as national leaders. The COVID-19 crisis created a remarkable burden for manufacturers far and wide, but we are seeing evidence that the industry has weathered the storm, and there are indeed reasons for optimism.

This unprecedented time has naturally caused great concern for a manufacturing sector that has been at the heart of Connecticut’s economy for more than a century. Most have seen workforce reductions and supply chain disruption, not to mention a heavier financial strain. Yet despite these challenges, many maintained levels of productivity due to necessary and creative solutions, including a shift to remote work sites for those who didn’t need to be in the building or on the factory floor, and more reliance on automation to meet customer deadlines. Safety remained a top concern and manufacturers throughout the state took the critical steps of developing new protocols to protect their employees’ health—and these measures allowed employers to limit employee exposure to the virus.

A good number of the state’s manufacturers were deemed “essential” by the Governor due to the products they make, and they responded impressively by getting the job done. They created new work schedules, they supplied the workforce with the technological tools to help them do their jobs from home, and some even shifted their focus to manufacturing vital personal protective equipment (PPE) to contribute to the overall public health efforts in Connecticut. As a result of these steps and more, the industry has largely endured—extreme challenges and all—and now stands poised to begin the gradual process of “reopening.”

As manufacturers emerge from the pandemic, the key once again centers on the spirit of innovation to help them thrive once more and to help the industry rebound. As one manufacturer recently stated in a Forbes article, “We’re looking at five years of innovation over the next 18 months.”

This means a greater incentive to explore avenues of automation, to both increase production and decrease worker density. Manufacturers have made amazing strides for the past generation in supporting human knowhow with modern automation in areas such as Artificial Intelligence, machine learning and augmented reality. Further advancements in those areas and more can help set the pace for the next phase in modern manufacturing. From the largest of manufacturers to the smallest of suppliers, technology and automation can continue to work hand-in-hand with human intelligence, in even newer and better ways.

This will also mean new innovations and more “outside the box” thinking when it comes to the vital supply chain, which is essential to manufacturing success. Digital enhancements to the supply chain—cloud-based technologies that allowed for quicker communication and more streamlined collaboration during the crisis—brought some success. Enhanced use of big data also proved valuable, using AI to create predictive analytics helped suppliers better forecast what was coming their way.

These steps and more could be taken on the fly by the manufacturing industry during this crisis, because they really had no other choice. And the rapid response allowed manufacturers to remain vital despite the extraordinary disruption. The spirit of innovation helped them adapt in real-time, and while challenges and concerns will naturally continue for at least the short-term, that same spirit can lead them through recovery and into a bright future.

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