14 Things Manufacturers Can Do While Business Slows from the Coronavirus Pandemic
These times are turbulent. Most of us are trying to deal with serious situations that involve how our employees will work and if we have enough work for them. Will backlog hold up or will customers push their demand for products out? These are the near-term points of chaos that each business must deal with. But at some point, after getting your plan in place there may be a slower period of activity that, while not financially good, may be a good time to get some other business things done.
Synergy has reached out to several of our customers and found many things that manufacturers are doing during this downturn. We have assembled the list below which we continue to add to as we find more. You can also get more information on each at the Synergy Covid-19 Resource Center.
Review your remote access model and policies:
Virtually every business has had to quickly adapt their workforce to the world of working remotely. For some companies it may have been business as usual, but for others it may have been a hurried change that required the fast implementation of new hardware and new ways to do things. Once the dust settles it may be time to re-look at your remote access capability. Is it the best that it could be? The most cost effective? What really needs to be improved? How about virtual conferencing as well? Is the cloud in your future? There are free 180 day software trials that you can take advantage of to allow anyone working from home simple access to your software tools that they need to do there work.
Find out what funding is available to you:
As you already know, these are challenging times for businesses. Governments in both the US and Canada are responding with a variety of new funding programs in addition to well established ones. Make sure that you stay up to date with not only the new “emergency” funding but also learn about existing funding or sources for tax credits (such as the R&D tax credit). Here are a few resources to look into:
- Mentor Works Canadian Manufacturing Funding
- US Small Business Association Disaster Assistance
- NAM’s COVID-19 Policy Action Plan Recommendations
- R&D Tax Credits
Upgrade your system
No one really likes to spend the time upgrading any software, but bigger and better functionality is what you have already paid for with your maintenance dollars. So why not get the advantage of it? If resources are more available during this period it may be the perfect time to install, test and roll out new software.
Make those shop floor changes that you always meant to do
If your shop floor is not being used to its full extent that means you may have more freedom to redesign areas that have always hindered the flow or efficiency of the plant. Now is a great time to take a hard look at that and physically change it. In the current environment you may find yourself running multiple smaller shifts with a need to ensure everyone is working on the right job at the right time. Have you thought of running smaller staggered shifts, breaks, meals during this pandemic? You may also have to ramp up quickly and use overtime more than you have in the past, when pent up demand returns. Do you have the ability to provide real time priorities to each shift when the time comes?
Production scheduling and shop floor visibility
Taking a proactive approach to optimizing your shop floor will provide immediate benefits and ensure a competitive advantage when pent up demand returns. If you are producing products that are designated as essential, you may be able to ship more with the same resources. Today’s scheduling tools can help provide visibility to where jobs are and predict:
- When to release WIP for optimized shop flow
- Which jobs will be late, and do so early enough so you can action
- Where best to deploy your valuable human & equipment resources
You should also be able to work remotely and monitor the shop floor from your tablet, phone, or laptop. Many manufacturers are using this time to improve their delivery performance with expected outcomes of reduced lead time, increased on time delivery, and ultimately position themselves to improve their competition position.
Update and uplift your sanitizing practices in the plant
Many manufacturers in the medical field already practice very thorough sanitizing processes. These, or some form of them, may be adapted to your plant practices. Find out what these are and how they are implemented. They could help any lingering effects of COVID-19 as well as promote a general higher level of health at the plant.
Learn new things
Each of us never have time to learn all the things we’d like to. Should there be idled time, take advantage of online training tools to learn new skills or sharpen the ones you have. This could be a new feature of your ERP system, a new way to integrate data, or a Smart Factory improvement for the shop floor.
Clean out your data closet
When things are busy we spend time putting a lot of data into our systems. We know that much of the data from years past is old or inaccurate. This may be customer, part, vendor, marketing, sales, or organizational information. It may be a great time to review this data and clean it up. And don’t forget product data like Bills of Materials and Engineering masters. All of this data drives material and production planning and has to be accurate.
Get serious about your Supply Chain
The current situation has probably put some strain in your supply chain. Traditionally reliable vendors, or their supply chain, may not have the capacity they once had, and you may need new options to source those parts or services. The old ways of sending and receiving information may not be working very well now. There are simple and effective solutions that can quickly change this. Now is a great time to research. Synergy has close to 1000 manufacturing customers, if you need help with sourcing a part please let us know if we can help you and our customers.
Do the research that will help you on the rebound
Get to know your industry better. Get to know what your competitors are doing. Use whatever you can to update your website. Start charting the course of your innovation projects (especially Smart Factory initiatives) that must be done to keep the business competitive when the recovery comes and well into the future.
Many of our customers are learning which essential services they can transition to manufacturing during this crisis. You may have heard stories of breweries retooling to manufacture hand sanitizer, and there are other examples such as automotive customers retooling to manufacture ventilators and canvas/fabric companies retooling to sell surgical/face masks. Is there something you can offer to help with the current pandemic, keep your staff busy, and perhaps add a new line of business on the rebound?
Dust off those Standard Operating Procedures (SOP’s), including your Employee Handbook
If you are like most businesses, your SOP’s always need some updating. This need is even greater after an event like the COVID-19 outbreak. Employees working from home might have been new for the company, the increased use of email because meetings could not be had may have occurred. If fundamental changes in the way things were done changed, they need to be documented. Some will supersede the old way of doing things. Some just need to be documented in case there is a future emergency such as this pandemic. It could be time to review your SOP’s for processes that you only do when you can such as physical inventory/cycle counts or preventative maintenance.
Connect with your Customers
We are often too busy to reach out to our customers and have meaningful discussions. The time you have now can be used to see how they are faring. Perhaps you could help them in some way. You will also learn what their plans are and that may help you. Even if you don’t reach out directly, do your homework on their businesses and update your systems now. Updating or starting a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system now will be a big advantage when the recovery comes.
Start that Continuous Improvement Program
If you are like most companies, you never have time to set up a true Continuous Improvement Program (CIP). Using proven methodologies, it’s easier than you think and will be a great asset when business picks up.
Plan for the long term
Dealing with the near-term effects of COVID-19 will no doubt require reactive actions and often hard decisions. But as you get through this phase, perhaps there will be more time to step back and think, look at what the future may be, and develop the longer-term plan. It should be one that addresses your employees, customers, suppliers, business associates, and of course, business disruptions like COVID-19.
As you had to adapt to the effects of COVID-19, what worked? What do you wish you had done better? What should be carried forward. For example, if you used remote access for your employees, should it be continued? If you were not ready to use it, what can you do now or in the future to be better prepared? Where did risk show up during this period? With certain staff positions? With certain vendors? All the bad things that typically happen can teach us valuable lessons.
At Synergy we believe that manufacturing is the heartbeat of our country’s economy and is required for the health industry to have the items they need. We are here to help our customers during this challenging time. Please reach out to our Customer Care team to discuss your needs and how we can help.