Automation and digitization were already spreading to more factory floors and job sites. Then the pandemic hit.

“It was trial by fire as we went through Covid,” said Mark Bulanda, executive president of automation solutions for Emerson, a manufacturer of systems that automate factory processes.

“Not because of Covid, but because the exodus of people forced the adoption of tech.”

The latest jobs report shows the manufacturing sector grew at its fastest level since the pandemic began, jumping by 50,000 positions. However, there are still about half a million fewer employed manufacturing workers than there were a year ago. The question is how many of those jobs will come back — and how many have been permanently disrupted by digital processes.

Since the pandemic hit, food manufacturers ramped up their automation, allowing facilities to maintain output while social distancing. Factories digitized controls on their machines so they…

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