• Digital Transformation
  • Supply Chain
  • Manufacturing

Why a Digital Supply Chain is a Necessity in the Age of COVID-19

Written by Robert Brice
April 9, 2020


  • In the era of COVID-19, remote work and social distancing, investing in a digital supply chain is a necessity, not an option.
  • Many manufacturers may only operate at 50-60% capacity, despite steady or increasing sales orders, with current worker shortages.
  • The automation of even the most basic supply chain processes, like issuing to raw materials and work order completion, can build resilience into the supply chain and help secure your operational future.

The mobility aspect of the project allowed the team to abide by the guidelines and keep the employees safe while keeping production steady.

-Charles Ho, Director of IT, Meggitt Defense Systems, Inc.

Those companies that invest in building a digital supply chain now will be better positioned to ride out the effects of COVID-19.

Those companies that invest in building a digital supply chain now will be better positioned to ride out the effects of COVID-19.

With the prolific advance of COVID-19 around the world and its subsequent impact on the supply chain as we know it, it’s becoming quickly evident that a digital supply chain is no longer an option, but a necessity.

To recap, the digital supply chain allows for real-time tracking of materials and goods as they move through every stage of harvesting/mining, manufacturing, maintenance and distribution. Data is captured and recorded digitally at each step, creating a true and timely record of movements and empowering users with complete visibility and oversight.

However, a surprising number of manufacturers still rely on manual and paper processes to handle inventory. While this may have hurt your bottom line in the pre-coronavirus era, it now affects the ability of your business — and our essential supply chain — to remain operational.

The companies that failed to digitize before COVID-19 are already behind as inefficient, manual processes become untenable. That’s why many businesses are now fast tracking digital transformation projects they’d previously tabled. Those organizations that make the transition to a digital supply chain a priority will be the ones who stay competitive, or simply operational, over the upcoming months.

The Manufacturing Supply Chain During the Coronavirus

Because of the shift to a new supply chain paradigm, many essential businesses, like those in defense, food and beverage and medical manufacturing, are adjusting to a new normal in their day-to-day operations. Enhanced safety measures, social distancing and remote working are causing significant disruption.

Even those with steady or increasing demand are afraid of the unknown the future will bring. And the ones that are still relying on manual processes are falling further and further behind.

Manufacturers still operating in a pre-digital age don’t have a sales problem, they have a manufacturing problem. In other words, even though they have plenty of sales orders coming in, they’re having a difficult time fulfilling them.

The problem is twofold:

  • Administrative staff are now working from home to encourage social distancing. A recent Kardex survey indicated that 44% of workers are currently working remotely while 35% are rotating between working at home and being onsite.
  • And fewer manufacturing employees are coming to work for fear of getting sick, even with social distancing and other safety measures in place.

The end result is that these manufacturers may only be able to operate at 50-60% capacity.

Manufacturers need to find a way to fulfill work orders more quickly and efficiently to keep up with demand.

Manufacturers need to find a way to fulfill work orders more quickly and efficiently to keep up with demand.

This places additional stress on the workers who do show up each day. They have to take on a larger workload that can’t be accomplished remotely. So manufacturing workers are not only pulling the materials, they’re also producing it and then keying the transactions into a shared computer workstation. Or, worse, they write down information on a piece of paper that is scanned and emailed to the remote administrative staff.

Not only does this create numerous opportunities to spread germs or COVID-19 on shared surfaces, it’s time intensive, often inaccurate, and keeps these line-level workflows moving at a crawl.

In addition, many of these companies are facing lower cashflows as well, making it even more difficult to procure the raw materials needed to complete the work orders building up in the queue.

How Automation Creates a Resilient Supply Chain

The digital supply chain is based on data, so how you collect that data is the foundation of your digital transformation. The most basic building blocks of that data collection process are software and hardware solutions that equip your operation with automated data capture (ADC), also called automatic identification and data capture (AIDC), such as with mobile barcoding.

Because workers can transact with mobile devices at their point-of-work, they no longer have to type transactions into a shared computer workstation or write, scan and email inventory flows to their remote administrative staff. This eliminates unnecessary paper transfers and touching of shared keyboards that could easily spread COVID-19.

By supporting long-range barcode scanning from up to 70-feet away, workers can also better adhere to social distancing measures and reduce unnecessary entering of shared physical space. Mobile barcoding also increases accuracy to 99.5% or higher while vastly improving worker efficiency, so a short-handed workforce can accomplish more in less time and with less effort, even with reduced numbers.

READ MORE: How We Can Keep Our Essential Supply Chain Workforce Safe »

Most importantly, a digital supply chain is a resilient supply chain as operations are better equipped to accomplish more with less, even in the most unanticipated, dire circumstances, like the COVID-19 pandemic. Even prioritizing the automation of one or two basic, but essential, processes like issuing to raw materials and work order completion can empower your stretched workforce to weather these challenges.

For Struggling Manufacturers – We’re in This Together

Together, we can build an essential, resilient supply chain.

Together, we can build an essential, resilient supply chain.

At RFgen, we’re proud of how our customers have risen to meet the COVID-19 challenge to move mountains and safeguard the American public. The resilience among American manufacturing is nothing short of awe-inspiring — and we’re honored to be a part of it.

Even with limited staff, IT and admin working from home, they’ve taken on and succeeded in tackling this massive challenge. With the help RFgen’s digital supply chain processes, these companies are able to operate their manufacturing plants and warehouse distribution facilities without facing the same degree of impact as those businesses using antiquated processes.

With RFgen’s help, a leading food manufacturer has been able to meet its extreme surge in demand, despite its entire administrative staff working remotely. Its use of RFgen’s mobile barcoding solution has also empowered its essential onsite workforce to perform transactions and replenish production while maintaining important social distancing measures.

Charles Ho, Director of IT at Meggitt Defense Systems, Inc., has seen similar benefits from RFgen when modifying their processes during COVID-19. “The mobility aspect of the project,” he explains, has “allowed the team to abide by the guidelines and keep the employees safe while keeping production steady. This is an additional benefit…that we had not planned for.”


Investing in a Digital Supply Chain for a Secure Future

RFgen knows you are going through considerable uncertainty. It’s a journey we share in intimately as we navigate this unprecedented time together. But we’re here to help. We’ve built our success and reputation on the strength of our customer relationships and now is the time to lift each other up even more.

If you make it a priority today, you can still help mitigate the impact of COVID-19 by going paperless and introducing mobility throughout your workflows. Starting the journey to create a digital supply chain that strengthens your operations today and invests in future growth and security.

This is part three in a three-part series on enterprise mobility and COVID-19.

READ PART ONE: COVID-19 Crisis and the New Supply Chain »

READ PART TWO: How We Can Keep Our Essential Supply Chain Workforce Safe »