By Michael Ford, Aegis Software
How many of us used to complain about flying, being away from home on business trips, and yet now, enough is enough, we want to get back on the road or in the air. This global glitch in our lives brings with it some society-changing consequences that we need to be prepared for. Applying logic from past experience is not going to cut it this time.
Imagine your next international flight. Stuck in a tube next to hundreds of other people. No matter what they say, there is no social distancing in an airplane, as it is a closed environment. Rules formed out of open space behavior, do not apply. But wait, all airplanes have oxygen masks, right? Built-in PPE! What if everyone wore their oxygen mask all the time? A quick spray of disinfectant throughout the cabin before take-off, as is already done in flights from certain areas, and we are all safe, well, as safe as we can be, given the airline food.
Taking this idea into the world, there would obviously be those who are for the idea, and those against. Some people would accept the inconvenience of wearing the mask throughout the flight if it meant that they could make their journeys safely, and thereby fulfill their aspiration to resume their lives as if nothing had happened. At the other end of the spectrum, there will be those who deep down, no longer want to travel. Spending time at home has a greater effect on people than simply forcing the resolution of close family conflicts. We are staring at stuff in our homes, things that we used to see fleetingly now and again, but now we see all the time. Is this something of interest, of value, or is it a burden? The cost and consumption of space is a key topic in manufacturing sites. We are now all becoming domestic manufacturing engineers, wanting to maximize the value of the space that is around us. We need things, we want things, but tastes change.
De-cluttering our lives during the pandemic is natural for those who are flexible and want to evolve the quality of their lives, and for many, they will not go back. The buying patterns of goods and services is likely to be immensely affected in ways that are difficult to predict. It is frustrating having a home crammed with stuff that you no longer want, but you cannot get what you now would like.
The obvious result from the pandemic is for manufacturing to be relocated so as to reduce dependencies on distant resources, and to retain an element of control for key products. We now all should know that benefits from decisions that yield short-term gains can be made totally irrelevant if these kinds of global events take place, which they do, and will continue to do so. The less obvious effect is to look deeper into what consumers ultimately want. A new phone, laptop, TV or car every year? This used to be the case for many people that could afford it, but going forward, after seeing the somewhat positive effect that the pandemic has had on the environment, personal investment is likely to be more strategic, going for greener products and sustainable solutions. We are each learning a new sense of value.
Manufacturing will need to adapt, again obviously in terms of location, but less obviously in terms of the way in which manufacturing is performed, originating with how the product is designed, including the intent and choice of technologies utilized, as well as personalization options. The idea of an increasing mass-production model to meet endlessly expanding market needs has, I expect, been dealt a serious blow. We are going to be wanting more environmentally friendly and sustainable products, with options that satisfy the need for personalization, as humans seek to differentiate themselves in a way that is not based on the quantity of things they own or use.
What we have been getting used to in recent years in manufacturing, with high-mix, small lot size production, is going to soon jump to the next level for a greater number of product types. Terms such as “making to order”, “configuring to order”, “engineering to order” and “automate to order” are all values that should feature at the top of the list of “must haves” when it comes to your next manufacturing solution. Not quite sure what all of these terms mean? I suggest it is time to check it out, especially since you are not spending all your time on an airplane right now.