When COVID-19 began to spread, manufacturers were some of the first to feel the impact. A tsunami hit the whole industry. Many manufacturers ran into major challenges: A good portion of the manufacturing industry had to halt their operations as a result of restrictions that left them with a reduced workforce while others were unable to effectively handle an increase in demand as many off-shore manufacturers became inaccessible. Additionally, the scarcity of raw materials forced manufacturers to reorganize their process. A vast majority of the industry also had to rethink their processes as customers went digital and employees were transitioned to working from home, or in some cases furloughed or even laid off, significantly disrupting previous operations.

Although COVID-19 has had a large impact on the manufacturing industry, not all of the changes were bad. Some manufacturers were actually able to expand their business to PPE production and convert their supply chains to address the increased demand for certain products. Others leveraged e-Commerce to move to a direct-to-consumer model, enabling them to still keep in contact with their customers.

Regardless of each brand or manufacturer’s specific situation, it’s clear the pandemic has acted as an accelerator for change across the manufacturing industry and has made it clear to manufacturers that they need a resilient supply chain and agile processes to be prepared for any eventualities. The new reality of unpredictability and change is forcing manufacturers across the globe to evaluate their weak points and reorganize their business so that they can continue to grow and successfully compete in the new era.

Opportunities as the World Reopens

As the world reopens, significant uncertainties remain and the manufacturing industry is going to look very different. Many employees will be working from home, new facility regulations will be put in place and more companies will opt for new sourcing options, such as nearshore or onshore manufacturing, to balance cost, risk and availability of products.

On the consumer side, with up to 50% of e-Commerce sales ending in returns and fitting rooms being closed due to social distancing, fit is now more important than ever. It is critical for manufacturers to produce perfectly fitting garments in order to improve the customer experience, which means they need to digitally transform in order to get the agility, quality and fit they need when producing thousands of units or just one.

For manufacturers, it is also clear that data will be key in overcoming the new challenges that lay ahead. They’ll need to leverage digital technology and fully integrate their supply chains so they can have the data and collaboration capabilities they need to both efficiently and quickly deliver on market demands.

How Can You Leverage Technology to Your Advantage?

Whether you’re looking to digitally transform your entire supply chain or take it one step at a time, you need to understand how technology can help you conquer the challenges and uncertainties of the new digital era.

Challenge #1: Nearshoring

For many companies, the pandemic has shown that they need to balance cost and efficiency with product availability. When lockdown restrictions made facilities overseas inaccessible, many companies were left without product because they had no way of producing. However, if these companies had a manufacturer closer to home, they would have been able to get the products they needed. The economics of on-demand near- or onshore manufacturing are much more favorable than many companies think they are, especially when you consider that short lead times allow you to produce to demand thereby avoiding costly inventories, minimizing discounts and ideally returns. This is leading to increased interest in nearshore and onshore production.

While we are not going to see the complete end of traditional offshore production, we can expect to see more companies adding nearshore or onshore sourcing to their sourcing strategies, depending on the product mix and specific needs of each individual company.

Nearshoring will allow companies to be more in control of their products and enable them to produce for demand rather than having to keep stock. Nearshoring will also improve the overall customer experience by allowing manufacturers to easily keep up with the current trends. Nearshoring reduces lead times and offers world-class service for your customers, ensuring they’re able to get the right products to market at the right time to keep their customers happy. Combined with sustainable technologies, such as digital printing on greige goods, inventories can also be kept to a minimum while ensuring sustainable production.

For many companies, nearshoring will mean they need to invest in new, innovative technology that will automate their supply chains and streamline their processes from design through production so that they can keep their costs low and profits high by delivering their end consumers a superior product experience. Whether it’s setting up your own nearshore production capacity, or identifying new sourcing partners, setting up a new more flexible supply chain is a key imperative.

Challenge #2: New Facility Regulations

Facilities are already starting to roll out regulations and procedures regarding visitors and travel, which means that retailers, brands and manufacturers are going to have to find new ways to get the support, service and training they need to remain competitive. IoT-enabled technology and data sharing will be key enablers to working at peak performance even when the service team is unable to make regular visitors to their facility.

With visits to facilities being limited, it’s important to invest in technology that offers remote support and service, such as GERBERconnect™. These solutions will be vital in diagnosing problems, performing upgrades, and providing frequent performance metrics on your machine so that you can reduce downtime and optimize performance.

With travel restrictions in effect for the foreseeable future, companies will also need to start getting creative with how they train their employees. Many will start relying on virtual training sessions, webinars and virtual events so they can stay up to date with industry trends and gain valuable skills that will keep them successful in the new digital era. The good news is that many new critical capabilities can be acquired remotely, such as setting up virtual product development capabilities with 3D simulation and product lifecycle management.

Challenge #3: Need for Flexibility

While the spread of COVID-19 is slowing down, social distancing and other preventative measures are likely to be in effect for the unforeseeable future. For manufacturers, this means they are going to have to work with a smaller workforce, which means they’re likely going to look for automated solutions that will allow them to reduce the amount of human labor required in developing products.

In addition, companies will also likely see a fluctuation in demand or be asked to produce new products, such as personal protective equipment (PPE). For manufacturers to deal with irregularities in demand, it’s important for them to have a flexible and agile solution that will allow them to handle an increase in demand while minimizing the amount of human labor needed to produce products of the highest quality. A digitally-integrated production line will give you the flexibility you need, and should be a major part of your new supply chain strategy.

Challenge #4: Working From Home

During the pandemic, many companies transitioned to working remotely and, with the threat of COVID-19 still lingering, will continue for the foreseeable future. For companies to have the level of collaboration and communication they need to successfully work remotely for a long period of time, they need to be able to quickly pass data throughout the supply chain. Solutions like, YuniquePLM® fashion product lifecycle management software and AccuMark®, Gerber’s CAD pattern making software, promote collaboration and provide insight into your supply chain to enhance collaboration amongst your team, no matter where they are located. As you are working remotely, you also want to make sure that you don’t end up with a “sea of disconnected tools and processes.” As such, we expect partnership and “pre-packaged” integrated solutions to play a more significant role. The challenge for technology providers is to ensure much simpler deployments of their tools that can be driven remotely, and will ensure seamless workflows through existing data integration.

While COVID-19 has dramatically changed the day-to-day operations and imposed a variety of new challenges for manufacturers, it is important to understand that technology plays a critical role in remaining successful. At Gerber Technology, we are passionate about providing you with the technology and support you need to digitally transform your supply chain with an integrated platform from product concept through production, along with a strong ecosystem of partners to help you retool your supply chain for the new digital reality. We are the trusted partner you want for the innovation you need, today.

About the sponsor: Gerber Technology delivers industry-leading software and automation solutions that help apparel and industrial customers, including over 100 Fortune 500 companies, improve their manufacturing and design processes and more effectively manage and connect the supply chain, from product development and production to retail and the end customer. With customers in 134 countries, Gerber Technology has a global team of passionate experts to support companies in apparel and accessories, personal protective equipment, home and leisure, transportation, packaging and sign and graphics industries.

Based in Connecticut in the USA, Gerber Technology is owned by AIP, a New York based, global private equity firm specializing in the technology sector and has more than $3.0 billion assets under management. The company develops and manufactures its products from various locations in the United States and Canada and has additional manufacturing capabilities in China. Visit www.gerbertechnology.com and www.gerbersoftware.com for more information.