Powering ahead: The future of manufacturing in 2021

Dec. 8, 2020
Thomas Wilk says industry is adjusting to COVID, but a familiar challenge awaits in 2021.

Welcome to the final 2020 issue of Plant Services! We’re pleased to offer our annual look back at all that industry and our contributors have achieved this year, while keeping a watchful eye on what’s coming next.

From the Editor

This article is part of our monthly From the Editor column. Read more from Thomas Wilk.

A few things stood out while the Plant Services editors were pulling together the 2020 Year In Review features. The first is that usually it is difficult to identify a single story that dominated our industry all year long – the world of maintenance and reliability is just too broad and deep.

Enter COVID-19. As I write this column, several vaccines are emerging as possible tools to fight the virus, although none are yet approved by the FDA. Yet our industry has been fighting all year long, using the tools at hand to maintain productivity and combat pandemic-driven business uncertainty. It seems clear, for example, that this prolonged crisis has spurred the adoption of wireless sensors and remote collaboration and support tools at a more rapid pace than might otherwise have happened in a non-COVID world.

Back in June, Doc Palmer captured the moment in his column “The Importance of Planning During a Crisis”, reminding us that maintenance and reliability workers are extremely well suited to function in the uncertainty of a surprise crisis: “Note that with all our experience with maintenance, there is significant disagreement in industry about what is the right amount of maintenance. We still don’t know for sure. I’m glad we have even less experience with viruses such as COVID-19 and any associated suffering. Of course we will have even more disagreement about what amount of proactive activities is correct.”

Several industry speakers this month connected this concept of resilience to the supply chain. Aamir Paul, Country President (US) at Schneider Electric, framed the issue as a shift in approach in 2021 that will balance “just in time” methods with a “just in case” mentality. And Ernest Nicolas, SVP Integrated Supply Chain for Rockwell Automation, identified a shift from “mostly agility” to a balance of “agility and resilience.”

However, I think it is Peter Garforth’s column from May, “Managing Two Crises at the Same Time: COVID-19 and the Climate Emergency”, that pinpoints what is in store for us in 2021. He reminds us that, although our own work processes may have slowed down due to the pandemic, climate change has not: “Now is the moment to incorporate deep energy efficiency measures into the contingency planning for the restart or retooling. There will inevitably be other pandemics, but we may only get one shot at managing the climate emergency.”

With that new challenge waiting for us, let me close by thanking you for your support during this one-of-a-kind year, and I look forward to our conversations in the new year. May we all continue to rise to meet our challenges.

About the Author

Thomas Wilk | editor in chief

Thomas Wilk joined Plant Services as editor in chief in 2014. Previously, Wilk was content strategist / mobile media manager at Panduit. Prior to Panduit, Tom was lead editor for Battelle Memorial Institute's Environmental Restoration team, and taught business and technical writing at Ohio State University for eight years. Tom holds a BA from the University of Illinois and an MA from Ohio State University

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