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SMX panelists witness focus on innovation caused by pandemic

By Karen Haywood Queen Contributing Editor, SME Media

THE BEST OF SMX — Manufacturers working to keep grip on resiliency, agility with regard to the supply chain

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Protolabs CEO Vicki Holt: “You’ve got to train all your employees about cybersecurity and cyber risks. With the pandemic, the bad guys are coming out in force.”

Manufacturers are increasingly analyzing their supply chains to mitigate cybersecurity and environmental risks with the goal of building more secure, resilient, agile organizations, keynote panelists at the Best of SMX virtual event said in October.

COVID-19 brought the supply chain issue into even sharper focus as manufacturers were surprised early on at the impact of China shutting down, said moderator Berardino Baratta, VP of projects and engineering at the public-private partnership MxD. “The pandemic forced them to evaluate their whole supply chain,” he said.

“Cybersecurity is one of the key areas when you’re working across a supply chain and going digital,” said Marilyn Gaska, logistics and sustainment fellow in the chief technology office at Lockheed Martin. “You want to make sure that digital data is secure. And as you go into distributed supply chain and things like manufacturing at the point of need, you need to work with your customer partners to make sure the supply chain is secure for everybody for both production and sustainment.”

To secure their data and avoid cyber risk, manufacturers need to look at both IT and OT to make sure they have an integrated strategy covering equipment of varying ages and know what the cybersecurity risks are, she said.

Investing in cybersecurity training, services and software is critical, too.
“You’ve got to train all your employees about cybersecurity and cyber risks,” said Protolabs CEO Vicki Holt. “With the pandemic, the bad guys are coming out in force. I get several phishing attempts a day. As you become digital, manufacturers large and small must invest in cybersecurity to protect their customers, their employees and their own intellectual property.”

As more people work from home, it’s important that employees know how to and the importance of setting up a cyber secure remote workplace, Simba Chain CEO Joel Neidig said.

For example, “small and medium sized enterprises are having to set up virtual private networks—VPNs—and they never even knew what this was,” he said.

Meantime, Neidig said, people on the OT side of an enterprise must ensure the safety of their programmable logic controllers (PLCs), computer numerical control (CNC) machines, and other assets. Some of these machines and controllers are likely to be legacy equipment and difficult to integrate into current security protocols.

“Some of these PC-based controls may be [Windows] XP-related and retooling for security could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars for a CNC machine that’s not worth that anymore,” he said. “We’re looking at an application layer to secure legacy equipment where the security is not capable of being upgraded.”

In addition to cyber risks, manufacturers also must manage and lessen environmental risks, such as rising tariffs, geopolitical turmoil, climate change and the pandemic, Holt said.

To mitigate these issues, manufacturers are analyzing their supply chains and identifying areas of risks that could impact their ability to serve customers.
The pandemic acted as an accelerant to fuel innovation, especially in additive manufacturing among small- to medium-sized companies and universities, Neidig said.

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Simba Chain CEO Joel Neidig: “Everybody is wondering, ‘What’s the magic behind additive manufacturing and how do we build resilient supply chains?’”

“With additive manufacturing, we’ve been able to build PPE and different things,” he said. “It’s been exciting to see. Everybody is wondering, ‘What’s the magic behind additive manufacturing and how do we build resilient supply chains?’”

For example, Holt’s company worked with University of Minnesota scientists on commercializing a respirator and iterated the device three times over a three-day weekend, she said.

“That’s how quickly you can move using digitization and an end-to-end digital thread in a manufacturing process,” she added.

Beyond additive, Protolabs moved fast at the beginning of the pandemic to solve supply chain problems, Holt said.

“We put in place a COVID-19 customer response team very quickly, back in March, to help innovators and manufacturers deal with supply chain to get their products to market quickly,” she said. “As a digital supplier, we were able to do that very rapidly in injection molding, CNC machining, and 3D printing. To date, we have produced over nine million parts for COVID-related applications to over 250 different customers. The way manufacturers were able to come together and make the supply chain work the medical community was amazing.”

Companies are looking at two issues as they respond to pandemic-related problems, Holt said. Creating supply chain redundancy by adding more local partners is one response to better manage a long supply chain, but such a move requires time and investment in capital infrastructure. For a nimbler response, manufacturers are looking for better digital connections with suppliers to help help mitigate risk and streamline their supply chains.

“Supply chain leaders are learning that e-commerce and digital connections throughout their supply chain, from commerce all the way to quality control, help them manage and become more of a model-based enterprise, help them handle quality, help them handle revisions, and take out risk,” Holt said.

In this increasingly remote-work world, people are connecting digitally with others they may have never collaborated with before, Neidig said.

“What’s interesting is you can go on LinkedIn and connect with people that may have capacity because they’ve had to reinvent and do different things,” he said. “You don’t always have to necessarily live where you work. It doesn’t always work that way for manufacturing, but from the digital side of things, it’s pretty amazing to see how things are shifting and people are realigning. You’re seeing amazing things happening on LinkedIn, Teams and those kinds of collaborative tools that people are able to be a force multiplier and work through the crises in supply chain that we’re experiencing.”

Increasingly, manufacturers are looking at their product lifecycle all the way from original concept ideas through commercialization—practicing what is being called agile supply chain, Holt said.

“As they go through cycles, they’re constantly updating their product to better serve their customers as they learn how their customers use their products and services,” she said. “Product lifecycles are getting shorter, and companies are iterating as they go. You need to have suppliers who have that type of agility and can move with you as you begin to optimize your product through its lifecycle.”

Beyond moving quickly, agile also means starting with an 80 percent solution and then partnering along the entire supply chain to continuously improve the product, Gaska said.

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