Even though the Coronavirus is expected to continue infecting people at least into next year, many areas are beginning to reopen in the name of preventing more economic harm. As these areas do open up, companies will be faced with some significant hurdles, as well as a constant need to balance productivity vs safety.
It will likely be impossible to predict all of the new challenges faced by the manufacturing industry in the next 1-2 years, but there are still some potential problems that every manufacturer should be aware of, and be planning for.
1. Supply chain disruption
Simply put, the right time to start looking for alternative sources for parts and supplies is yesterday. The Coronavirus hit global supply lines hard, and it will be months or years before everyone is back up and running at full capacity. Some areas may never recover quite to their previous high, particularly in China.
It is almost inevitable that re-opening manufacturing centers will have difficulty maintaining their supply lines, and work done now to find alternatives early will pay off in the long run.
2. Finding and training workers
Supply lines aren’t the only thing disrupted by the virus; regular human travel is being severely restricted as well. With the wide variation in policies from state to state, and country to country, manufacturers won’t be able to rely on the same free flow of workers they previously enjoyed. Again, this disruption will likely last throughout 2020, and into 2021.
This would be an excellent time to invest in e-learning and online training options, while also looking closer to home for replacement manpower. You may need to get creative to find all the workers you need!
Be aware, travel restrictions may also inhibit your ability to remotely monitor overseas work.
3. Keeping workers safe
This will be the big challenge, in terms of productivity vs safety. Ideally, people should be standing roughly two meters apart, while wearing personal protective gear, to reduce transmission of the disease. How can this work when many factories and assembly centers have people standing nearly shoulder-to-shoulder? Additionally, certain manufacturing centers – such as those dealing with small electronic components – may find that gloves inhibit fine detail work with these parts.
This isn’t merely an issue for the safety of your workers. In some cases, there could even be a risk of the disease being transmitted via the products made. Food industries will be especially challenged in this regard.
Automation is one possible solution, but it’s slow and expensive to implement – and will be impacted by all the same factors inhibiting manufacturing in the first place.
4. Prioritizing and implementing solutions
Finally, there’s the cumulative effect: how to prioritize solutions for all these competing and overlapping challenges to overcome. The key here will mostly be in detailed thought and planning. Don’t simply re-open a factory, and deal with problems on an ad-hoc basis. Get teams together to really discuss the problems you’re likely to face, and find fixes for as many of those problems as possible ahead of time.
Get as much as possible done before the lines re-open, to reduce confusion and regain productivity more quickly.