Even though coming to the end of 2020 has not at all meant the end of the impact of Covid-19, manufacturers are pushing forward to make sure 2021 is not marred by the setbacks of this year. This has not been a normal economic downturn and the ways to remain resilient in the past are not enough to make sure companies make it through.
At this point it’s clear that the struggles that manifested or increased in 2020 have created a set of circumstances that manufacturers will not be able to ignore in the future. There truly is a “new normal.”
It’s been a common observation this year that the pandemic has accelerated or exacerbated trends that were already happening. From increased automation in manufacturing processes to an extraordinary jump in remote working, subtle changes to how business is conducted became rapid shifts seemingly overnight.
There are a lot of ways manufacturers are modifying their processes, expectations and protocol to keep their employees safe, keep production rates and quality high, and to adjust to a reality we didn’t know we had to plan for 12 months ago.
Many industries have seen facility shutdowns due to infections raging through companies. Manufacturing plants are open again but they can look and feel quite different than they did before shutting down. Physical distance protocols, sanitization requirements, and workforce variance has made manufacturing work a unique experience, to put it mildly.
Regardless of whether manufacturers had to close up shop for a little while or not, they need to know what they must do right now in response to these changes, what permanent alterations are necessary and what are the unforeseen challenges that this transformation will inevitably bring with it?
It’s crucial to our world’s financial infrastructure that we figure out how to move forward not with business-as-usual but with an eye to the future as molded by our extraordinary times. What’s more, we need to absorb the lessons of how to react to unforeseen events and remain flexible and viable all at the same time.
There are often costs to flexibility but the price manufacturers will pay if they are not able to adapt quickly and make choices based on the best available data will be much more severe and may not be a setback that they can recover from.
To learn more about how manufacturers can find the path to resilient cleaning and adhesion processes through predictive analytics, download our free eBook: The Manufacturer’s Roadmap to Eliminate Adhesion Issues in Production
To give some insight into the ways manufacturing has changed and the challenges and questions that have come along with that change, we’ve gathered thoughtful and useful articles from various publications that speak directly to this moment. For manufacturers that are working through big institutional changes, major workforce transitions, or those who want to position themselves to better navigate future upheavals will gain a lot of actionable information and wisdom from these articles.
There have already been so many changes put into place in the last few months to help manufacturing facilities run smoothly and safely. Even with a vaccine in our midst, practices such as frequent hand washing, hand and surface disinfection, and various forms of personal protective equipment being worn while technicians complete their work.
All of these changes raise some questions about how these new variables might affect the manufacturing process. Introducing new substances into a manufacturing setting can have unexpected effects on outcomes and it’s very important to understand the impact of something like hand sanitizer being transferred from someone’s hand onto a surface that will need to have paint, ink or glue applied.
To understand this relationship between adhesion strength and some of the substances manufacturers have had to bring into their facilities in higher volume, we at BTG Labs conducted a study to examine how easily molecules of these materials can transfer to surfaces and what that might mean for part cleaning and adhesion processes.
“We began by flame treating chrome-plated steel coupons, or ferrotype plates, that we would be subjecting to unwashed, sanitized and washed hands, respectively. In order to get a picture of what was on the surface of each sample we used a surface analysis method called reflection absorption infrared spectroscopy (RAIRS) that can detect substances on surfaces as thin as a few molecules. Analysis done using RAIRS is expressed in spectra with peaks at certain wavelengths indicating the presence of particular substances.”
Manufacturers are positioned in some key ways to overcome safety concerns since that is a daily interest for companies that often utilize massive machinery that could easily harm workers in the plant. But there are also many obstacles and vulnerabilities manufacturing companies face that aren’t as prevalent in other industries that are also deeply affected by the pandemic. Starting back up, hiring back staff or continuing with new restraints in place while maintaining high productivity, product quality and a new level of employee safety relies on an interrelated web of decisions that must be made which can lead to more difficult choices for manufacturers in the near future.
“Social distancing is one practice that may be difficult to implement at a manufacturing operation. Often, the layout of a plant is generations-old and revolves around maximizing efficiency. As a result, these layouts can be very expensive and complicated to change. This situation can cause some competing concerns, though...it’s important to place both objectives on the table, and realize that, in many cases, they aren’t mutually exclusive.”
In the second and third quarters of 2020, many manufacturers pivoted from their normal products to begin building devices and items that there was suddenly a much higher need for. This had the double-barreled effect of helping meet the demand for things like personal protective equipment, virus test kits, and even household items like toilet paper, while also allowing for manufacturers to retain their workers and utilize their factories during a time when the market for their normal products may have shrunk.
Taking a look at how manufacturers were able to flex their staff and facilities in this way can offer a lot of insight into similar versatility and quick maneuvering other manufacturers may have to do in the future. The need for particular medical devices is not diminishing soon and manufacturers may need to continue to expand their capabilities.
“In late March, Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Corp. shut down car production, and redeployed their Detroit factories and workers to produce ventilators. Ford was expected to achieve a production level of about 1,500 ventilators by the end of May. GM brought its first group of 100 project workers into training in early April, and is capable of producing 10,000 units per month.”
The only true way to combat uncertainty is to gather as much predictive data as possible and make thoughtful decisions based on those analytics. Having quantitative facts to rely on makes communication between all departments, vendors and teams much easier, and this coordination is vital to business continuity, this especially includes teams that have had to go entirely, or even partially, remote.
Getting everyone on the same page means implementing more transparency and more analytical tools than manufacturers might be used to. But the return on these investments will mean that leaner teams can be more agile and responsive - exactly what manufacturers need to be during a pandemic and beyond.
“A recent report from McKinsey & Company, highlights three core operational areas that manufacturers need to focus on regarding plant operations in response to the coronavirus crisis. These include protecting the workforce with proper social distancing measures, managing risks to ensure business continuity, and finding new ways to drive productivity even with large parts of the workforce working remotely.”
The most obvious change that manufacturers will have to contend with is the changes that are occurring as a direct result of being in the middle of a global health crisis. There are a lot of new regulations from local and federal governments that need to be complied with and discussed to make sure employees understand what they are and what the implications are for their job.
This is potentially fraught territory but there is a lot of guidance available to help figure out the best ways of implementing new protocols and health guidelines. These safety regulations are a starting point for how we can all help each other stay healthy and able to do our jobs.
“Making the matter more difficult are the large number of federal, state and local regulatory bodies responsible for imposing and enforcing these laws and declarations. This is especially problematic for multistate employers who have to deal with wildly varying restrictive environments. While some states seem to be rushing to reduce their restrictions, others are making little or no change.”
Manufacturers are in need of a new business continuity plan because the risks and opportunities that have presented themselves this year were almost impossible to plan for. But they can be clearly seen now and they must be accounted for in future risk management plans.
There is guidance offered in ISO 9001:2015 for what actions manufacturers can take to incorporate our current moment into their risk and opportunity management plan. The upheaval we’re all going through can no longer be classified as “an unknown”, so we can use this experience to recognize gaps in our quality management systems and increase the collective organizational knowledge around what needs to be done during a pandemic or any disruption of comparable scale.
“Now that the pandemic has occurred organizations must take action to ensure that current actions are effective and wherever possible they are avoided in the future. When considering how the requirements in ISO 9001:2015 can help manage unanticipated risks such as the pandemic, there are several clauses that an organization can focus on to assist them.”
The pandemic has changed many things both temporarily and permanently. The reality for manufacturers is that they need to adapt, remain flexible, find the opportunity in the emergency and look for ways to adopt new technologies and processes that the need for became much more clear in the past several months.
To learn more about how manufacturers can find the path to resilient cleaning and adhesion processes through predictive analytics, download our free eBook. This guide outlines the biggest problems facing manufacturers today and how they can bring their processes into the future by implementing smart sensors that quantitatively measure surface quality directly on the factory floor. Read The Manufacturer’s Roadmap to Eliminate Adhesion Issues in Production to find out how this approach can lead your company to zero defect manufacturing.