This year, the omnipresence of the COVID-19 virus has affected nearly every dimension and aspect of the manufacturing industry. The influence of the pandemic is revealed in the words, some new and some old, of our collective vocabulary. Words and phrases such as new normal, social distancing, resiliency, agility, flexibility, virtual, and pivot are now part of our daily conversations.

The vocabulary reflects a focus and emphasis that translates into business priorities. And one of the most significant priorities for manufacturers this year is advanced technologies – software, systems, and communications technologies that manufacturers need to not only make it through the disruptions caused by the pandemic but also enable them to reposition for a digital future.

This issue of the Journal, devoted to Transformative Technologies, one of the MLC’s Critical Issues facing manufacturing on its journey to Manufacturing 4.0, provides an array of perspectives on the technology priorities of companies large and small at a time of unprecedented disruption. And a new MCL survey on advanced technologies puts the current situation in context.

In “COVID-19: An Unlikely Inspiration”, a significant percentage of survey respondents report that their companies plan to accelerate their investments of digital technologies as a result of the pandemic. And most notable among planned investments are artificial intelligence and digital twin technologies.

Council member Sath Rao, of Hitachi Vantara, takes it a step further, arguing in “The Three Rs for the Next Normal” that manufacturers’ ability to harness digital technologies to reimagine workspaces, create more resilient operations, and better enable innovation will determine winners and losers in a post-COVID world.

And with regard to AI, author Jomit Vaghela, from Council member company Microsoft, says, in “Enabling ‘Tech Intensity’ in AI”, that the use of AI has become a fundamental part of many digital transformation projects, but that its successful application depends upon a disciplined use case approach.

All in all, 2020 in shaping up to be a watershed year for advanced technologies in manufacturing. Although many manufacturers were already moving ahead with their digital transformation plans before the pandemic hit, the crisis has lit a fire under them, setting the stage for a race for digital advantage. Write to me at dbrousell@nam.org   M