There’s been plenty of discussion about desk jobs and their transition to the home office but manufacturing has embraced an increase in remote work too. John Young recounts lessons learned from a year of working from home.
Having been forced to work remotely due to COVID-19 restrictions, many employees and companies are acknowledging that things will likely never return to the pre-pandemic status quo. In countries and sectors that have embraced high levels of automation, businesses can save money and employees can enjoy greater flexibility through hybrid models that mix working on site with more frequent and flexible remote working.
In the Asia Pacific region, Singapore is one country that is expecting to see a higher level of remote working. Trade and industry minister Chan Chun Sing has argued that there is a high potential for more people to work remotely, especially as 57 percent of jobs in Singapore are done by professionals, managers, executives and technicians.
However, the debate so far has focused mostly on office working. Here’s three key things manufacturers in the Asia Pacific region have learned from a year of working remotely.
1. Accelerating automation?
For office jobs, there is little doubt that a year of remote working has accelerated the uptake of digital technologies and automation. According to Teo Lay Lim, South Asia market unit lead for Accenture, the pandemic effectively consolidated ten years of digital transformation efforts into a mere six months.
In manufacturing, the picture is less clear, but the early evidence suggests more manufacturers turning to automation. At the very least, the crisis has shone a spotlight on automation technologies and the benefits they can offer. Automated guided vehicles (AGVs) are one of many examples of technologies that have enjoyed a period of growth throughout the pandemic and look set to enjoy a strong uptake in many sectors, particularly food and beverage.
2. Cyber gaps exposed
Although digital transformations have allowed greater levels of remote working, they have also exposed cyber vulnerabilities. The manufacturing sector is no different to others in this regard but the stakes could potentially be greater. Just imagine the consequences of an industrial robot being hacked.
One problem is employees using vulnerable devices when working remotely. A recent study from LogMeIn found that 31 percent of people globally are using ‘vulnerable devices’ when working remotely and for the APAC region specifically, the figure was 45 percent.
In another study from AT&T, which surveyed 500 IT decision makers in Singapore, Hong Kong and Australia, almost half of the respondents said they anticipated the volume of cyber attacks to increase.
3. Remote condition monitoring
The possibility of remote working varies greatly in the manufacturing sector. One interesting area of development that has been given a fillip in the past year is technology that enables remote condition monitoring.
Remote condition monitoring is the ability to view the performance, status and behaviour of a machine from a distance in real time. This is achieved with a combination of Internet of Things (IoT) technology and cloud computing that allows an on-site machine to be tracked by maintenance engineers wherever they are.
Having automated sensors removes some of the need for human intervention. The data gathered via these sensors can be accessed remotely via cloud services and data visualisation tools allow engineers to identify and diagnose a fault while working from home. Using these solutions, maintenance engineers can order components from reliable parts suppliers like EU Automation.
Many companies have learned a lot after a year of WFH. Manufacturing too has learned lessons from this experience. The challenge has encouraged the uptake of those technological solutions that reduce the need for human workers on site. However, manufacturers are also discovering that WFH is opening up greater cyber vulnerabilities and necessitating a more effective strategy to respond to this threat.
John Young is APAC sales director at EU AutomationPhoto by cottonbro from Pexels