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Supply chain disruptions were the cause of significant chaos during the early stages of the pandemic. Product shortages and price hikes made shopping for things like cars, appliances, and even some grocery items next to impossible.
It seems that the worst of the pandemic is behind us, and yet the lessons it taught remain crucial for avoiding future disruptions. In this article, we look at what the pandemic has taught us about supply chains.
Global Supply Chain Management
Global supply chain management is the responsibility of overseeing raw materials as they transition into products and make their way onto store shelves. The job of the global supply chain manager is to reduce costs, eliminate risks, and increase efficiency.
During normal times, the overwhelming number of variables that go into the process of product development make global supply chain management difficult. Covid, however, completely changed the world’s understanding of how vulnerable supply chains were.
Supply Chains are Endlessly Connected
A look at the numbers shows that supply chain disruptions occurred across the board following the first wave of the pandemic in 2020. It’s true that supply chain disruptions were up almost 700%–a startling though not particularly surprising statistic.
However, some of the stats aren’t as easily explained. For example, factory fires went up almost 150%. Prices soared. Almost 30% of businesses said they needed to find new suppliers altogether.
When one thing goes wrong in a supply chain, it’s very easy for others to get out of sync as well. Factory fires rose because of employee shortages. An absence of one raw material, or, for that matter, processed goods, can have significant ramifications for a wide range of different industries.
To that end, the pandemic showed just how vulnerable supply chains really are.
Does the Made Just in Time Model Still Work?
For decades, manufacturers have worked to be very precise in how much product they generate, creating just enough at exactly the right moment to supply immediate needs. This is done mostly to guarantee that they achieve their bottom line and avoid waste.
From certain perspectives, including a focus on sustainability, it is a good model of production. But what about in times of crisis? Covid-19 showed that unexpected supply chain disruptions can lead to shortages that last months, or even years.
While producing a significant surplus is not practical, manufacturers need to consider advancing their strategic sourcing and SIOP methods. Minimizing waste and improving efficiency is the key to it all. That way, they can protect their margins in the future and avoid shortages.
Think Small Picture
While the pandemic was a big picture problem, many supply chain disruptions are very local. A strike in one village, power outages, bad weather. Highly localized Covid spikes. In the world of supply chain management, it is very possible for something small to have major ramifications.
Supply chain managers are now equipped with technology that makes it easier to anticipate even minor disruptions, pivoting quickly into solutions that will provide relief.
Not only is this beneficial for future situations, but it can also help businesses navigate what is left of the pandemic. While the proliferation of vaccines has significantly diminished the worst Covid-19 outcomes, there continue to be spikes and variants that can lead to worker shortages and other forms of supply chain problems with potentially debilitating consequences. The right technology makes these situations easier to anticipate and react to. Speaking of which…
Data is King
Data processing and implementation can have a significant impact on the future of supply chain management. Data-driven technological solutions can be used to anticipate probable disasters, and help supply chain managers find solutions quickly.
In the context of a pandemic, data might be used to predict viral spikes which then result in employee shortages and subsequent supply chain disruptions. Even in run-of-the-mill operations, however, data implementation can have a significant impact on how products find their way onto store shelves.
Fleet management technology is a good example of this. Using IoT sensors and data algorithms, fleet management technology can analyze routes, economize fuel, and improve vehicle maintenance automatically, making it easier for manufacturers to guarantee on-time deliveries.
Not only does this save money, but it can also improve the efficiency of the entire manufacturing process.
Finally, the Covid-19 pandemic illustrated the importance of having alternatives for our supply chains. To ensure minimal disruptions, supply chain managers should consider multiple streams of production, ideally finding localized or nearby solutions for manufacturing that can be tapped quickly when the need arises.
Globalization has allowed manufacturers to shop around anywhere, looking for the most affordable option for their production needs. While this remains appealing, having contingencies, even if they come with a higher sticker price, can be an invaluable component of avoiding disruption.
* This article is written by Andrew Deen. Andrew has been a consultant for startups in almost every industry from retail to medical devices and everything in between. He implements lean methodology and is currently writing a book about scaling up business. You can follow him on Twitter @AndrewDeen14
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Reshoring, or the idea of bringing manufacturing services and supplies back to the United States from overseas, has been bandied about in manufacturing corner offices, at political rallies and around workplace water coolers for decades. The general thought is: bring those manufacturing jobs back home. In an ideal world, everybody wants that, right?
But for many manufacturers, the economics were just too tough to get around. The ability to purchase supplies or get the job done for pennies on the dollar overseas in places like China meant bottom line stability and growth here at home. It simply wasn’t possible to afford to produce those goods at home.
Enter the chaos of COVID-19 and reshoring got a reconsideration. A serious reconsideration.
Every person and nearly every industry in this country has been impacted by the supply chain disruptions caused by the pandemic. Manufacturing, perhaps, most of all. Manufacturing slowed to a crawl and even ground to a halt because overseas supply chains snarled and closed. Layoffs happened, and once-busy shop floors became eerily quiet. And even when supply made it out of places like Asia, hundreds of cargo ships idled off shore here because they couldn’t enter our ports. As a result of those bottlenecks, consumers found nothing on the shelves, waited months for items like new furniture, books or electronics and — let’s all admit it — hoarded toilet paper.
Now, for manufacturers, the question isn’t whether they can afford to reshore their supply and, in some cases, operations, it’s whether they can afford not to. With the pandemic, climate disruptions, and current international instability, it is plainly crucial to locate closer to home.
The New York Times highlights these recent reshoring developments:
- General Motors announced in December that it is considering spending $4 billion to expand its production of electric vehicles and batteries in Michigan.
- Toyota announced plans to build a $1.3 billion battery plant in North Carolina.
- Samsung is building a $17 billion semiconductor plant in Texas, its largest-ever investment in the U.S.
Other factors contributing to the reshoring resurgence
While the supply chain disruption is clearly the driving force of the reshoring discussion, other factors are increasingly coming into play as well.
Sustainability. Customers are increasingly committed to buying goods that are manufactured with sustainability in mind. They want transparency and to know where and how products are made. It’s also important to reduce the carbon footprint of manufacturing, transportation and pollution. Knowing a product was sourced and manufactured in the U.S. rather than transported across the ocean is becoming more and more important to consumers.
Trade tensions. The trade and tariff war with China started by the Trump administration has been percolating for a while now, but the current international instability is making it poised to bubble over. With China leaning support towards the side of Russian in the invasion of Ukraine, we can expect to see trade sanctions imposed.
Subsidies. Both sides of the political aisle agree on the desirability of manufacturing more goods at home. Subsidies for manufacturers seeking to reshore are leveling the playing field.
National security. During the height of the pandemic, supply chain disruption caused panic among consumers and real hardship among health care workers who couldn’t get the PPE they needed to do their jobs. That kind of nationwide instability isn’t simply an inconvenience; it’s a matter of national security.
A big boost to the economy. Twenty-five years ago, U.S. factories employed some 17 million people. In 2010, that number had dipped to 11.5 million, and today has crawled back up to 12 million. More manufacturing at home means more manufacturing jobs. And for the economy, that’s a great thing. We don’t have to tell manufacturers this truth: Manufacturing is one of the only industries where people without a four-year degree can make great money. More manufacturing jobs will mean a big shot in the arm for the middle class in this country.
With more and more companies bringing manufacturing and supply back home, they will need help optimizing their processes to ensure efficient operations. At USC Consulting Group, we have more than 50 years of experience helping manufacturers find opportunities for greater efficiency and productivity. Call us today to talk about how we can help.
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Every industry on the planet was impacted in some way by COVID-19, but pulp and paper really had a wild ride. Disruptions in the supply chain caused slowdowns and headaches. Manufacturing facilities hustled to make changes due to social distancing, causing more disruption and slowdowns on throughput. That’s not too different from what other manufacturing industries experienced. The difference for pulp and paper was demand.
While demand for many other products dried up, it skyrocketed for pulp and paper, including personal hygiene products (including masks), food packaging products, corrugated packaging and other paper-based materials. The surge in demand was partly due to changes in consumer lifestyle because of the pandemic. Fewer people were shopping in stores, many of which were closed, so Amazon deliveries spiked and along with that, the demand for boxes. Customers weren’t eating out in restaurants, but food delivery went through the roof, and along with that, the demand for delivery packaging. Sometimes the industry kept pace with the rising demand, and sometimes it didn’t — as anyone who tried to get toilet paper during the first months of the pandemic will attest.
As the nation, and the world, returns to normalcy, what’s ahead for pulp and paper? What are the lessons learned from the industry’s wild ride?
Anticipate continued supply chain disruptions
Pulp and paper may continue to see weak or broken links in their supply chains. It’s truly a global industry, and whether its shipping, logistics or other transportation issues snarled by travel bans, supply shortages, rising prices or anything else that affects your ability to get what you need when you need it, those problems aren’t going away quickly. The key is developing alternative supply lines and having the ability to pivot quickly. Maximizing efficiencies can minimize supply chain disruptions, as well. To read more about that, click here.
Focus on core products
Many industries are using this tactic during this still-uncertain time. Divesting, or slowing production of new products or ones that aren’t performing as well as others, allows you to focus your resources on your solid tried-and-trues. Getting back to basics is a powerful way to keep the line running with less supply, fewer people and more disruption.
Take a hard look at your operations as a whole
At USC Consulting Group, we specialize in helping companies find efficiencies. We’re suggesting to our clients across many industries to take a step back and re-evaluate during this time. Have you laid off workers? Even closed plants temporarily? Has your front-office staff been working at home? Now is the time to look at your business through the lens of what you experienced during the pandemic, and think about the practices you can carry with you into the future, including:
- Staffing levels. Do you really need to staff up to pre-pandemic levels? If you’ve gotten the same or similar throughput with fewer people on the line, it might be time to re-evaluate how many people you need to get the job done.
- Facilities. If you’ve closed a facility during the pandemic, does it need to reopen, or can you do the same or more with fewer facilities? Looking at and eliminating redundancies across all of your plants is a great way to boost your bottom line.
- Business travel. Many industries, not just pulp and paper, are reconsidering the necessity of the in-person meeting. Surely they won’t disappear altogether, and perhaps your road warriors won’t be too happy about the decline in their frequent flyer miles. But with everyone now being old pros at Zoom and other videoconferencing platforms, the expense of business travel will be increasingly hard to justify.
- Front office staff. Do you need two accountants in the office 40 hours per week? Does your sales department need to return full time? Even in a traditional manufacturing industry like pulp and paper, people are realizing that front office staff working at home, well, worked. Consolidating job functions or allowing people to continue working from home can shave dollars off of your overhead budget.
Use the SIOP process for forecasting and planning
With changing demand and continued supply chain disruptions, getting the best, clearest look at your operations and creating better strategy decisions is the key to staying agile. Many companies use sales and operations planning, or S&OP, as it is commonly known. We think that process misses a critical piece of the puzzle: inventory. Adding inventory into the mix is just one additional step, but we find it can be the key to the whole thing. When you’re focusing on inventory, it requires more careful planning and elevates the entire planning process up a notch. We like to tell our clients that the purpose of SIOP is making sure you’re having the right conversations about the right things at the right time. And getting what you need when you need it. Core components of a successful SIOP process include:
- Sales forecasting and accuracy measures
- Strategic inventory considerations
- Consistent operational capability analysis (capacity and efficiency)
- Cohesive plan with stakeholder collaboration
- Ability to execute the plan or pivot
- Report and review plan versus actual
- Analyze and implement corrective actions
At USC Consulting Group, we’ve been helping clients improve their operational efficiency for 50-plus years, through all kinds of economic weather. If you’d like to learn more about how we can help you ride out this storm and emerge more effective than before, contact us today.
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Most of the challenges supply chain players face in today’s market are related to the pandemic and economic shutdowns. Even so, they’re no different than what companies have dealt with in the past, or what will come after.
Understanding what those challenges mean for the greater market calls for a brief look at current events and existing obstacles.
1. Improving Resilience
The only thing constant in the market and supply chain operations is, interestingly enough, a wave of change. Whether it involves the shifting demands of consumers, raw material and supply shortages, or a global pandemic, something is always changing or evolving.
Despite this, many trends have skewed towards lean processes and a boost in agility. The problem is that in eliminating excess, many of the redundancies that would boost resilience have become less of a focus.
Until now, the tradeoff has been lucrative. By cutting many of those redundancies, operators have been able to conserve funds, reduce operating costs, and speed up mission-critical processes. If there’s less inventory on hand, there are fewer goods to sort, worry about, or waste. Unfortunately, the pandemic stomped hard on the entire economy, and not having those extra resources compounded all of the other problems.
The entire supply chain has learned an invaluable lesson about proper balancing, as opposed to leaning heavily on a single paradigm or strategy. Going forward, everyone will be focused on building strong supplier relationships, with multiple access points and opportunities. The goal is to bring some of those redundancies back, without destroying agile processes.
2. Building Out Flexibility
To keep up with market changes, supply chain operations need to be flexible. They need strong alternatives, with clear processes and sourcing adaptations.
How does this differ from resilience? Resilience involves creating a more secure operation, while flexibility is about developing alternatives and fostering relationships to support them.
If one supplier is experiencing delays, then an immediate shift to another, with a reliable supply, may be necessary. Taking that a step further, if that shortage is impacting an entire lineup of suppliers, then it’s time to find alternative resources — like a comparable raw material. A move like that cannot always happen quickly or in-the-moment.
Having those avenues in place before an event is the proper solution. The same could be done with regular operations, like a spike in product demands.
3. Unprecedented Visibility
Long before COVID-19, consumers were growing more aware of the environmental impact of their actions, and of the companies they’re doing business with. This has led to many operators moving not just to more sustainable practices, but also making more transparent moves in the market, and sharing them. The pandemic has certainly amplified that need, to ensure safe and healthy practices.
But end-to-end supply chain visibility is challenging, to say the least. That’s where modern technologies come into play, thanks to Industry 4.0. IIoT devices, supply-related blockchain applications, machine learning, and big data all have a role to play, and they’re already being used in the industry to great effect. They also provide a host of benefits, which affect even some of the other challenges like resiliency, flexibility, security, and so on.
More visible practices will become commonplace as supply chain operators work together to create a sustainable, open, and secure network.
4. Data-Driven Operations
The supply chain has always been powered by data, but digitization takes it to a whole new level. Successful management improves planning in operations, materials-sourcing, production, and distribution.
Machine learning and advanced analytics will highlight new trends, opportunities, and decisions directly related to the market. A predictive model might help account for a demand shift or shortages, before signs of change rear their head. Similar data might empower leaner processes that don’t sacrifice mission-critical redundancies.
That’s what Industry 4.0 is all about: smarter and contextually driven processes that utilize real-time market details to bob and weave with incredibly precise actions. It’s safe to say that no industry has ever seen anything like this before, which is why these technologies have taken root so deeply and rapidly in the modern world.
Many operators have already adopted and deployed data-driven practices in regular operations, so it’s more about discovering new ways to leverage the related solutions. Digital twins have become almost pervasive in the industry, but with the help of artificial intelligence, they can become so much more valuable.
5. International Relations and Trade Agreements
Without touching upon specific events, political or otherwise, the past few years of tumultuous global relations and trade agreements have posed some unique challenges.
In November 2020, 15 countries came together to ratify one of the largest free trade agreements in history — the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). While the United States and India withdrew, the agreement still has a significant impact on foreign trade and the supply chain. It should help strengthen the economies in North and Southeast Asia.
Supply chain operators must remain mindful of these changes, along with any on the horizon, and how they might impact the market, relations, and partnerships. Parsing some of these events is a challenge by itself. There is no straightforward answer, unfortunately, but it does highlight the need to maintain a team of experts for understanding and dealing with them.
6. Trade Disruptions
Despite being a mission-critical component of the modern supply chain, the trans-Pacific trade lane has been disrupted in various ways. From ocean rate spikes due to trade tariffs to physical disruptions, much like the Suez canal mishap, there’s an ever-growing need to plan for these events and make up for when they do happen.
It’s impossible to predict some of these events, which is why resilience and flexibility are so important. Supply chain operators will need to form strong partnerships to resolve issues quickly and create new opportunities.
Looking to the Future
The entire supply chain faces formidable challenges, and there are no guaranteed solutions. But that doesn’t mean there’s no way forward. Modern technologies like IIoT and advanced analytics, alongside data-driven operations, can certainly alleviate some of the growing pressure. So can the improved resilience and flexibility of all parties.
Preparing for the future will keep everyone on their toes. But the good news is that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. As the pandemic hopefully winds down, many challenges will become more manageable, as well.
This article is written by Devin Partida. Devin is a tech writer with an interest in the IIoT and manufacturing. She is also the Editor-in-Chief of ReHack.com.
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The majority of businesses, especially manufacturers, have been experiencing among the worst supply chain disruptions they’ve seen in a long time, courtesy of COVID-19. It seems that nobody has been immune to disruption whether you’re getting your supply from China or just down the street. When your supply chain slows down, your production slows down, and that means product doesn’t get to your customers on time. In the end, it eats at your bottom line, creates frustrated customers, and generally makes life difficult for everyone up and down the chain.
Let’s talk about supply chain disruptions, what causes them, and what you can do to minimize their impact in the future. (One highly effective way to do that is by maximizing your operational efficiencies. But more on that later.)
4 common causes of supply chain disruption
It doesn’t take the worst global pandemic humanity has seen in a century to disrupt your supply chain. Here are a few common causes.
- Global health crises. COVID-19 is the worst-case scenario, but other global health crises like SARS, H1N1, malaria, Ebola and other conditions have wrought havoc with supply chains throughout the years. It’s about the impact the condition has on people, the regions where they live and work, and whether you’re getting your supply from that region. This past year, it was also about lockdowns and travel moratoriums.
- Political crises. Political unrest and strife in different parts of the world, or political ill will between this country and another, can throw a wrench into your supply chain.
- Natural disasters. Does anyone else notice that floods, fires, earthquakes, tornadoes and other natural disasters seem to be on the rise? The World Economic Forum did. According to the WEF, we’re experiencing triple the number of natural disasters today than we did 30 years ago. Last year, there were 820 major events that caused loss of homes, businesses and life. That’s enough disruption to cause severe problems for manufacturers even without COVID-19. Natural disasters can cause transportation slowdowns or stoppages, making it difficult to get goods from one place to another.
- Cyberattacks. Look no further than the lines at the gas pump all up and down the east coast in May 2021 after the cyberattack on the Colonial Pipeline to see supply chain disruption taken to the extreme.
Risk mitigation tactics
One important thing to note is, you can’t control many causes of supply chain disruptions like pandemics, natural disasters and cyberattacks. But there are pieces of the puzzle you can control. That means minimizing risk and maximizing efficiencies. Putting plans in place long before you need them can go a long way toward lessening the impact of the elements you can’t control. Here are a few ideas we’ve been suggesting to our customers.
Develop a strong Plan B. One of the lasting effects the pandemic will leave behind when it is finally a thing of the past is the knowledge that disruption can happen in the blink of an eye. Having a strong emergency backup plan needs to be job one. What this looks like for you depends on your business and your industry, but it could mean things like developing a strong network of second- and third-tier suppliers. That way, if a disaster happens in one area, which you cannot control, you’ll have a Plan B (that you can control) to get your supply when you need it.
Identify and strengthen the weakest link. What’s the weakest link in your supply chain? One way to find out is by conducting a wide variety of scenario tests, sort of an “if this happens, that will kick in” exercise. It will allow you to see where your vulnerabilities and risks lie and shore up that weak link before it causes your chain to fail.
Maximize operational efficiencies in-house. What if one of those weak links is on your own production line? You can’t control the weather, or the next pandemic, or political unrest. But you can certainly control the operations in your own house. Maximizing your efficiencies, getting lean and mean, ramping up your output and doing more with your current assets are powerful weapons in the war against disruption. When the product arrives, you can process it and get it out the door as quickly as possible.
Don’t let poor demand planning be part of the problem. Demand planning is vital in any economy, but it is elevated to an art form in the economy we’re living with right now. We recommend a SIOP system (sales, inventory and operations planning) for the most accurate, up-to-date way to calculate your inventory based on forecasted demand. Read more about it in “Did your company plan for the pandemic to end? If not, it’s not too late.”
With many businesses and industries struggling to find enough resources to handle their demand, USC Consulting Group is uniquely qualified to help businesses open up capacity with existing resources, thereby, allowing companies to more quickly satisfy customer demand. We’ve been helping companies do it for more than 50 years. If you’d like to talk about how we can help mitigate supply chain disruption risks by increasing your operational efficiency, give us a call today.
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How do you plan for the future when you’re just trying to get through the present? A present filled with crisis, uncertainty and wildly fluctuating demand, complicated by severely disrupted supply. If that situation sounds familiar, you’re not alone. We’ve all just lived through it.
Companies in just about every industry are riding the same supply-demand roller coaster, fueled by the ultimate disruptor of this century, COVID-19. Just a quick snapshot: The construction and furniture industries are now suffering from shortages of everything from lumber to foam, but demand is high as people, shuttered in their houses for the past year-plus, looked around and decided to spend their dollars on home improvements rather than vacations. Filling that demand, not so easy. Finished products like sofas and appliances are delayed because of shipping snafus. And that list goes on. Cars, chlorine, chips for video games, chicken, bacon (say it ain’t so!), and aluminum cans.
Not helping the problem: peaks and valleys in employment, with companies laying people off only to see demand for their products soar again.
It boils down to a whole lot of disruption, leading to long delays getting product to customers. Everyone is frustrated. The culprit, in the broad sense, is the pandemic. But closer to home, within your own company, it might be the result of lack of planning.
Many companies are in the same boat. Employees, managers and the C-suite alike have been focused on simply getting through the pandemic with the doors still open. We were dealing with work slow-downs because of new ways of working. Employees had to go through a dance of protocols (temperature checks, questionnaires) to even get onto the shop floor. Social distancing resulted in fewer people at work at one time, slowing it down even further. Supply chain disruptions ground businesses to a halt, or at least to a crawl. Demand in many industries dried up. For other industries, demand dramatically lessened as customers were put out of work and stopped buying much of anything that wasn’t a necessity.
We get it. Companies across all industries were just trying to keep their heads above water to get through the crisis. What they weren’t doing was planning for it to end.
Planning is the key
Now that there is an ever-growing light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, companies are scrambling to figure out what comes next. Dealing with current shortages of supply and, frankly, employees, as customer demand begins to creep up, it has been a struggle for people to define, forecast and plan for what comes next. The good news? We can help companies ramp up to meeting the demands of the coming months and beyond. It’s about efficiencies, planning and forecasting.
Here are some strategies we’ve seen to help companies ramp up for increasing demand in uncertain times.
Focus on efficiencies. If there was ever a time to throw out the “this is the way we’ve always done it” mentality, it’s now. It’s vital to focus on doing more with your current assets, even doing more with less. It’s about looking at your processes and procedures with a critical eye to determine if you can do things better, faster, leaner and more efficiently.
Implement a rolling forecast calendar vs. a yearly calendar. We recommend a flexible, rolling forecasting process, going 24 months out. When you’re finished with one month, it drops off and you add another at the end. Unlike a yearly forecasting and planning calendar that is written in stone once a year, this is flexible, requiring frequent refining, tweaking and amending, based on current market conditions. That concept, flexibility, is important here. If this past year-plus has taught us anything, it’s that the ability to be flexible, change plans, pivot and otherwise react or anticipate market conditions is vital to survival.
Sales, Inventory and Operations Planning. SIOP is a planning process that meshes demand forecasting with production, sourcing and inventory plans. Most people are used to this as the S&OP process, but at USC Consulting Group, we believe that leaves out the critical “inventory” piece of the puzzle. We feel SIOP is a more holistic approach that leads to greater efficiency.
Adopt an agile, lean mindset. Lean manufacturing is nothing new, and people think of it as optimizing inventory on the basis of demand. It’s about having enough, but not too much, inventory on hand. It’s also about carrying that mindset throughout your organization, with the goal of maximizing value for your customers while minimizing waste. It can also include things like employee cross training to make sure there are people on the job who can step in at critical moments.
At USC Consulting Group, we’ve been helping companies ramp up their operational efficiencies for more than 50 years. If you’d like to talk about how we can help you position yourself for a post-pandemic world, give us a call today.
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In 2020, business as usual was thrown out the window. Companies in all industries needed to make changes on a dime.
For manufacturing, that meant slowdowns in production caused by various factors including delays in getting workers on and off the shop floor due to COVID-19 protocols, and socially distant spacing resulting in fewer people on the floor at one time. COVID-closed borders disrupted supply chains industrywide, forcing manufacturers to look outside the box for new supply sources and causing further delays getting product to consumers. Outright shutdowns. Layoffs.
There were other sorts of changes that didn’t involve production. People who could work at home, did. Business travel ground to a halt. And companies started thinking more and more about automation.
As 2020 drew to a close and the COVID-19 vaccine became a reality, we began to see light at the end of this socially distanced tunnel. It’ll be awhile until we can get out from under this pandemic, but manufacturers are already looking at what the landscape might be once the dust settles and the pandemic is over.
Some of the changes brought about by COVID will surely be permanent. In our whitepaper, The State of Manufacturing Operations: Then, Now and What Comes Next, we analyzed where manufacturing is today, and where it might go in the future. Here’s what our crystal ball, based on our half-century in the business, found:
If companies brought in automation, it’s here to stay. The efficiencies realized by automating manufacturing tasks will boost companies’ bottom lines. AI will help speed production and guard against the downtimes and downturns that manufacturing experienced because of COVID if another pandemic hits our shores. These changes aren’t just affecting people on the production lines. Office tasks will increasingly be automated, too.
Less business travel
Why take days to travel across the country for a meeting, incurring expenses like gas or plane fares, hotel rooms and meals on the road, when you can accomplish the same thing with a Zoom meeting before lunch? The savings companies will realize by limiting or eliminating business travel are enormous and will have a substantial effect on their bottom lines. We can see the end of the “road warrior” era on the horizon.
More working from home
People’s lives and structures have changed because of COVID-19. Employees who never worked at home before were suddenly forced to do so because of the lockdown, and it opened a lot of eyes. Employers who previously required “face time” in the office found that employees were just as productive, or even more so, at home. And employees found they like working from home. The lack of the daily commute alone is a great benefit, reducing people’s stress levels, giving them more time in their day, and increasing happiness. Working at home increases work/life balance. Why go to the office if you’re not physically using a wrench?
Changes in operations
COVID has forced everyone to put a laser focus on safety and efficiencies. Many of the new safety protocols arose from the need to find new ways of doing the same processes, with new efficiencies emerging as a result.
We will see a resurgence of brick-and-mortar transactions, to be sure. But now that people have been used to buying online, why go back to the old way? The effect is cutting out the middleman.
New sources in the supply chain
Manufacturing has lived through the disruption of supply chains caused by COVID, found new partners, new sources of materials and product, and new ways of meeting the demand. Where can you source products if the borders close again?
Permanent changes in manufacturing after COVID:
- More automation
- Less business travel
- More working from home
- Changes in operations
- Less brick-and-mortar
- New sources in the supply chain
At USC Consulting, we’re boots on the ground for the manufacturing industry, before, during and after this pandemic. Get in touch to find out more.
For more information on The State of Manufacturing Operations, download our free whitepaper here.
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Vaccine rollout is well underway in the U.S., painting a positive picture for the future. Still, it will take time for everyone to be fully vaccinated, and even then, COVID-19 safety protocols could linger for a while. In the meantime, workplaces can turn to automation to improve their anti-COVID-19 measures.
Temperature checks, social distancing, and mask mandates have become standard across many businesses. While necessary, enforcing these protocols can limit facilities’ productivity, as they rely on staff who could otherwise work on value-adding tasks. Since many companies had to reduce their active workforce by 39% on average, they need to improve productivity wherever possible.
Automating COVID-19 safety protocols also further removes employees from situations where they could contract the virus. Automation minimizes or eliminates close contact between workers during things like temperature checks.
Here’s how you can automate COVID-19 safety measures to stay safe and raise productivity.
1. Install Body Temperature Cameras
Temperature checks are one of the most common anti-COVID-19 measures, but they typically require close contact. Some businesses have found a way around this by installing thermal camera systems by employee entrances. These systems, which resemble metal detectors, scan worker temperatures as they walk, alerting relevant parties if they’re feverish.
Setting these systems up may be expensive at first, but you gain productivity in the process. The employee who would’ve performed temperature checks can instead work as usual, making your workplace more productive. Since these cameras can scan 30 people at once, they’re also more efficient than human-run checks.
Similar cameras throughout the workspace can detect if an employee develops a high temperature at work. You can then investigate further to determine if they need to go home or not.
2. Distribute Wearables for Social Distancing
Maintaining at least a 6-foot distance between workers is another crucial step in preventing COVID-19 outbreaks. Instituting a social distancing policy by itself isn’t enough to ensure people stay distant. It’s not economical to have managers monitor employees, either, so automation is the ideal solution.
Many warehouses and factories have turned to wearable technology to facilitate social distancing. These devices alert employees when they come within six feet of one another through noises and vibrations. These alerts are particularly helpful in areas with limited visibility where workers may not see each other.
You can’t expect to enforce social distancing by having managers roam the workspace. They can’t feasibly cover enough ground, and they could be working on more valuable tasks instead. Using wearables to maintain distance lets you keep employees safe without sacrificing productivity.
3. Use AI Cameras to Detect Masks
Masks are one of the simplest yet most effective ways to minimize the spread of COVID-19. Like with other regulations, though, mask mandates are only effective to the extent that employees comply with them. AI-enabled camera systems can detect if workers are wearing masks or not.
Machine vision systems can analyze video footage to see if anyone isn’t wearing a mask when they should be. You could deploy these with facial recognition to identify non-masked employees, but you may run into privacy concerns. An alternative would be a system that alerts managers when someone isn’t wearing a mask so they can look into it.
No matter what type of cameras you use, you should make sure your employees know about it. Privacy laws forbid employers from placing hidden cameras in private areas, and workers must know if and when you are recording them. Keep these factors in mind so you can protect employees from COVID-19 while preserving privacy rights.
4. Employ Sanitation Robots
Sanitation has found itself in the spotlight throughout the pandemic. Many businesses have adopted new cleanliness standards to eliminate cross-contamination and disease spreading through shared surfaces. Most companies pursue this by hiring cleaning crews or requiring workers to clean more frequently, which isn’t efficient.
A more cost-effective measure is to use sanitation robots. These automated cleaners are typically expensive but represent savings in the long run. Some take just 12 minutes to disinfect an area that would take a human worker more than an hour.
When you factor in how much it would take to pay a cleaning service over several months, the robots are more cost-efficient. Automation in this area also keeps people away from potentially contaminated surfaces, improving workplace health.
5. Implement Access Controls
Knowing where all employees are at any given time facilitates easier and more accurate contact tracing. Partitioning a workspace into separate zones can also help enable social distancing. To enforce these protocols more efficiently, you can use electronic access controls.
You can install locks that only open when workers scan their IDs. When employees have to scan into an area, you have a record of who was where if an outbreak occurs. You can then alert any other employees who might’ve contracted the virus so they can quarantine.
You could post workers by the doors to record who goes in and out, but that would be highly inefficient. Automatic access controls help ensure everyone working that day is adding value to the company.
Automation Improves Safety and Efficiency Amid COVID-19
Automating COVID-19 safety protocols lets you stay safe and maintain productivity. These solutions may come at a higher upfront cost, but their safety and efficiency benefits are impossible to ignore. They will also continue to help after the pandemic fades, ensuring productivity while preventing diseases like the flu.
COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on many businesses, but you can take measures to mitigate it. These five automation options will help keep your employees safe and efficient.
This article is written by Devin Partida. Devin is a tech writer with an interest in the IIot and manufacturing. She is also the Editor-in-Chief of ReHack.com.
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“Never let a good crisis go to waste.” — Winston Churchill
Churchill said this famous line as World War II neared its end. It’s inspiring for many reasons, chief among them the optimism that comes from looking for a silver lining in the darkest of clouds. The manufacturing industry, and indeed our world, has been engulfed by a different type of dark cloud during the pandemic. Some businesses have closed. Others have had to pivot in response to COVID-19 challenges. The supply chain has been disrupted. Production has slowed. Demand is all over the place. Employees are wondering if their jobs are safe. What would Churchill say now?
At USC Consulting, we’d like to think he would have retained that sense of optimism. Yes, we’ve been through a trial by fire. And it’s not quite over yet. But great opportunities may arise from the ashes. Changes made on the fly in response to COVID might actually lead the manufacturing industry to bounce back stronger, leaner and more efficient than before.
The subject matter experts at USC Consulting Group have analyzed and explored the state of manufacturing operations today in search of a silver lining to our current landscape. From our findings, we have compiled a detailed white paper “The State of Manufacturing Operations: Then, Now and What Comes Next.” In this white paper, we provide an overview of our research as well as identify the challenges and issues manufacturers are facing now. Plus, we shine up our crystal ball to take a look at what might be coming down the pike in the future. No doubt that 2020 was a bumpy ride. But we just might be happy with the destination.
Download White Paper
No doubt, 2020 was a trial by fire for the manufacturing industry. But out of that crisis, opportunities for positive change have emerged. Many manufacturing businesses are rethinking everything from their supply chains to employees working at home to business travel. Change is coming to this traditional industry, change for the better.
If your business is ready to adopt to positive change and become more efficient, please contact us today.
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