January – February 2021 Commentary

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future hospital illustration
Illustration by James Yang

Technology – The Future Is Here

By the time we reach 2030, advances like 5G, artificial intelligence, and machine learning will boost green energy sources, bring greater efficiency to transportation, and expand access to locally sourced food, health care, and consumer goods. The evolution, already underway, has gathered added steam since the outbreak of COVID-19 highlighted our dependence on foreign-made products.

Inside The NumbersBusinesses and organizations that have relied on production and supply chains developed in the industrial age must embrace the information age and all of its advanced tools to drive on-demand manufacturing systems utilizing robotics and other leading technologies. Manufacturing isn’t only moving back to America; it’s coming to a 3-D production facility near where people live and work. The advances can’t come soon enough.

For weeks following the outbreak of the virus in March, health care professionals, we learned, struggled to keep pace with an unprecedented influx of affected patients. The surge in demand depleted the supply of masks, gloves, gowns, bedsheets, and medicines, while exposing a lack of medical equipment like respirators and ventilators.

At the same time, a shortage of doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals exacerbated the problem, while government officials tried to control where affected patients could seek treatment. When hospital leaders let it be known that micromanaging acute care operations was hand-strapping their ability to accept and treat those people infected with the virus, the government stepped aside.

Other challenges arose, many of which could have been better mitigated with emerging technologies like predictive analytics. Consider that, in a bid to replenish their inventories in the early weeks of the virus, health care organizations had to navigate a vast logistics network that has its share of unscrupulous players who fleeced some buyers or charged exorbitant rates for needed supplies.

At the same time, shortages developed in the retail industry as people rushed to secure everyday items like food, over-the-counter medicine, cleaning supplies, paper goods, and hand sanitizer. Flipping the coin, retailers suddenly found their e-commerce operations flooded with orders. Adding more shippers and drivers to meet demand proved problematic within a logistics sector marked by aging workers and low morale.

Learning from mistakes to improve upon future outcomes will alleviate some of the damage caused by the virus. For example, Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit is expanding its use of neighboring suppliers like Cardinal Health and plans to expand production of other medical supplies nearby. Once built out, the hospital will be better prepared for unexpected health crises.

Let’s go invent tomorrow instead of worrying about what happened yesterday. 

— Steve Jobs, Founder, Apple Inc.

Huge advances in technology, propelled by faster and smarter systems communicating over high-speed fiber lines, local networks, and 5G, will untap untold wealth for humanity. Rapid access to key data will bring about better decision-making for businesses, health care administrators, governments, and citizens.

Perhaps the most visible example of an onshoring revolution comes from the industrial real estate sector. There’s little vacancy — 3.5 percent in metro Detroit — and more development is underway. The smarter we make new production facilities by embracing the principles of Industry 4.0, where factories can switch between products based on real time demand, will greatly enhance our quality of life.


Manufacturing – Tariff Wins

As more manufacturing moves back to the United States, recent tariffs have helped to boost the production of American-made goods. Moving forward, the tariffs should continue, as they assist in expanding the domestic economy, add jobs, and drive the development of production centers, high-tech spaces, and logistics centers.

In early 2018, the federal government placed tariffs on more than half of all U.S. imports from China, for example — ranging from 10 percent to 25 percent. Tariffs were imposed in Europe and other global markets, as well. As a result, domestic manufacturers gained protection against heavily subsidized foreign imports. Already, the tariffs have helped drive the construction of new and renovated factories in the U.S. that produce steel, machine parts, medical devices, and transportation equipment.

Consider that between 2016 and 2019, the U.S. added 510,000 manufacturing jobs, based on figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s the first time the production sector has added more than half a million jobs over a three-year period in more than 20 years. The growth in jobs helped boost family income by 6.8 percent, to $68,703, in 2019 over the previous year. What’s more, the unemployment rate was 3.5 percent at the start of 2020 — the lowest level since 1969.

Moving forward, those tariffs will help the economy recover from the outbreak of COVID-19. While the pandemic has led to thousands of job losses, predatory foreign output hasn’t shut down. The tariffs, in essence, act as an extra incentive that assists domestic producers in making new investments in facilities and equipment, while helping to lower shipping costs and prices.


Communications – Zoom, Zoom

Business travel, one of the main drivers of the transportation sector, isn’t about to come roaring back following the introduction of an effective COVID-19 vaccine(s). In the old days, meaning pre-virus, businesspeople routinely jumped on passenger jets to meet face-to-face with their customers, as a means of showing their seriousness and gratitude for placing an order or selling a product or service.

With the outbreak of the virus, futuristic predictions of videoconferencing as a force in business suddenly came to the forefront, literally overnight. According to Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, the spike in virtual meetings has “opened up maybe 12 years of progress” over the span of 2020. That progress is expected to continue. People won’t soon forget that a pandemic like COVID-19 will take years to overcome.

Peering into the brave new world of cyber relations, onscreen meetings will be enhanced by larger, high-definition computer screens, new virtual reality offerings, and holographic projections (made famous in the 1977 film “Star Wars,” where Luke Skywalker views a 3-D image of Princess Leia beamed from the robot R2-D2).   

Online shopping also will be augmented. New services will spring up where one or several computer cameras will scan your body and recommend the size and color of a business suit or dress shoes. Design sessions, meanwhile, will become much more collaborative, movie premieres really will be on demand, and avatars will become more prevalent.

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