No two manufacturers are alike. Every company has its own assembly line configurations, floorplans and logistical challenges. It stands to reason that each employer has had a different experience adjusting and adapting to the coronavirus pandemic. But one thing that manufacturers have in common is an inability to go 100 percent virtual.
We can learn from the experiences of manufacturers to determine the best ways to deal with common problems tied to COVID-19, including absenteeism and line shutdowns, while gaining a better understanding of what adjustments are temporary — and what changes are here to stay.
What Are Manufacturers Doing?
Social distancing, particularly in older manufacturing facilities, is a big issue. Spacing issues have forced a number of employers to be creative with the design of their assembly lines. The key has been to balance personal space and employee safety with business continuity. For many, it is easier said than done.
Some manufacturers had to prioritize the production of certain products to make their layouts work. Processes and routines have been adjusted to account for illnesses. Coronavirus testing has been increased to limit coronavirus spread.
Technology has changed how manufacturers interact, along with how they handle information, production, and inventory. Virtual salesfloors, showrooms and summits are concepts were extremely rare just a year ago. People are coming up with new and better ways to use technology — that should continue to influence the production side of manufacturing for years to come.
Changes and Challenges to the Supply Chain
COVID-19 exposed a number of weaknesses within the American supply chain, including delays getting overseas goods into the country. Some companies have reported issues that include shortages of shipping containers, fluctuating shipping costs, and bottlenecks at ports.
Such issues have proven problematic for many manufacturers and retailers, particularly those where margins were already tight. Manufacturers that had perfected just-in-time production found themselves short on supply at a time when it was beneficial to have extra inventory to meet a spike in demand and consumer expectations of instantaneous delivery.
Home ordering was an initial boon for some manufacturers, but frustration set in as more people, feeling increasingly shut in, wanted faster delivery of goods but were forced to wait as manufacturers and retailers coped with inefficient processes. Many faced a perfect storm of instability on the supply side and lofty expectations on the demand side.
To be sure, creative companies find ways to fill the gaps whenever a system shows signs of weakness. Technology is one way manufacturers have addressed these shortcomings.
We expect changes to how U.S. companies visualize and design their supply chains. One potential solution involves bringing more production to the western hemisphere, given the length of time it takes to ship items made in Asia or Europe. Other manufacturers are increasing the size and location of inventories, including the use of “safety stocks” of key materials.
Many manufacturers are talking about establishing facilities in North America — and encouraging their suppliers to do the same. A revival of backyard manufacturing is a possibility. Manufacturers could also look to double or triple the size of their distribution facilities or trucking fleets to compress time of delivery.