June 12, 2020

How the Coronavirus Pandemic Will Shape the Future of Manufacturing

Across industries and regions, the coronavirus pandemic is disrupting life as we know it. Its effects will echo through our economy for years to come. At Miller-Valentine Group, we are using this opportunity to BUILD CERTAINTY. We are studying industry projections, researching market trends, and applying evidence-based best practices to help our clients navigate the unknowns and plan for the future.

From commercial office space to the hospitality sector, the coronavirus pandemic will reshape the U.S. and global markets in ways that will be both obvious and surprising. One outcome we foresee is the acceleration of reshoring or the return of manufacturing to U.S. shores.

Even with the slowdown in overall economic activity, we are seeing continued demand in the industries that supply “essential business operations.” The strong influx of manufacturing and warehouse distribution to the U.S. before COVID-19 will continue over the next several years in pharmaceuticals, corrugated boxes, consumer goods, cold storage, and related industries.

This is a welcome development for developers, manufacturers, and employees alike. But a surge in demand—combined with social distancing requirements that may be necessary for some time to come—could prompt some manufacturers to find that their facility footprint is suddenly too small.

Planning for a Post-Pandemic Future

Aside from the typical considerations when planning a project—such as location, access, budget, schedule, and financing—one challenge for every owner is future-proofing their facility. This is an even more fraught decision right now, regardless of whether you intend to expand on-site, renovate an existing site, or build new. There are simply too many unknowns about COVID-19.

So what will the future of manufacturing look like, post-pandemic? Here are three areas where we think the pandemic may have a lasting effect:

  • Smart technology: The rise of industry 4.0 technologies by far predates the arrival of the coronavirus. But the pandemic will likely trigger a higher demand for automation, internet of things capabilities, and voice-activated and other touch-free functionality. Even if you’re not ready to integrate these technologies today, including the infrastructure in your design drawings will make it easier to bring them online when you’re ready.
  • Social spaces vs. social distancing: Recent trends to improve recruitment and promote collaboration through the built environment will need to be calibrated against the potential for prolonged social distancing. This doesn’t (necessarily) spell the end of outdoor patio spaces or breakout areas for teams to meet. But it may require design adjustments to breakrooms and conference rooms, cafeterias, and other public spaces. Design elements that promote more space between employees and production areas that can quickly pivot from high employee density to low could also become the norm.
  • Energy-efficient lighting and HVAC systems: There are tremendous savings to be gained by incorporating energy-efficient lighting and HVAC systems. Better lighting can also improve productivity, which further helps the bottom line. Going forward, HVAC systems that improve indoor air quality, such as positive pressure systems, could gain a foothold beyond the healthcare setting.

Integration as a Key to Success

Time is one commodity that we never have enough of, which is especially true when speed-to-market is a driving factor. Owners can count on a minimum of two months to complete the up-front design work on a standard project. Focus and time are essential during this period; this is when you make all of the decisions that relate to everything from current space needs and equipment layout to potential future expansion.

Working with an integrated team—that is, both the designer and the construction manager—from the outset will ensure owners are asking the right questions and making the most informed choices. A team that brings a resume of similar facilities to the table and that offers a single point of contact will further streamline the decision-making process.

Manufacturers and developers have a lot of uncertainty to grapple with, but we are here to help you plan for the future. We enjoy collaborative relationships with many project partners, including designers, engineers, consultants, and local sub-contractor trades. These relationships enable us to pool our expertise to deliver greater long-term value to our customers.

Ready to discuss your next project? Contact Denny Whitehead directly at denny.whitehead@mvg.com, or call 877.684.7687.


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