This month’s Shoplogix “Ask the Experts” fireside chat examined how manufacturers are being forced into a new operational reality focused on safeguarding their workforce while adapting operations to changes in the economy and supply chains. As manufacturers continue to deal with shutdowns, retooling, and ramping up production, their plants also need to take into consideration the new health and safety and social distancing guidelines and how those guidelines will impact their employees and business.

Joined by our group of panelists from Magna International and Samuel, Son & Co., we explored how these leading manufacturers are driving change management across their operations to optimize production output and engage employees during these unprecedented times.

Watch the full Manufacturing Restarts: Production Best Practices in COVID-19 Fireside Chat below. 

Here are some of the highlights of the conversation. 

Nick Marchioli (Shoplogix Smart Factory Expert): 

As you restart and because you had a complete or partial shutdown, what do you see as the biggest challenges around your own internal labor, safety, and uncertainty, and the costs of impacts? 

Diego Castro (AGM, Magna International, Cosma Division, Modatek Systems):

Magna put in place what we call  Smart Startup playbook, which defined standards. We had a head start with China because our Chinese plants were the ones that hurt when coming online. We had some learning from them, and their European counterparts came after. They all trickled down their experiences to us and in this book. The biggest challenge was figuring out how do we make sure our people were going to feel safe. Everything was going to be in place and what would happen if we had a case that was paramount? What happens, how do you do contact tracing? How are we going to keep supplying your customers, in that case, how you’re going to? the people? There was a lot of working from home, trying to rotate people in.  

Nick Marchioli:

If you had to summarize your own internal labor uncertainties, was there a bit more of an impact there than to the supply chain?

Diego Castro:

Yes, we spend a lot of time going through protocols. The first day was all about understanding what is conflict traceability? What are the protocols you have to follow. All the protocols, all the tagging of shifts, even as far as to learn how to use the locker rooms. We created divisions in the cells and changes to working in production. So there was a lot of work and a lot of training and presentations to get team members to feel comfortable and to keep the say social distancing.

Nick Marchioli:

Louis then your side, because your operations never really stopped, how did you cope with labor shortages and employee uncertainty. Obviously, there’s an impact on that, even with your workers still being there. How big, or how important part was communication in getting employees comfortable with being in this environment?

Luis Ponte (Vice President & GM Samuel, Son & Co.):

I would say the communication piece with the most significant one. We didn’t shut down our operations but obviously, we saw decreased demand. So we were actually rotating people week over week.  Everybody basically worked from home. We had very sparingly people in the office, communication became the key component for us. We were already in the practice of doing daily talks in terms of shift by shift, they shifted to COVID talks. We, as a company from our CEO, were getting daily communication on what our new PPE protocols, where we were sharing that with everybody. 

We increased sanitization and even the workstation staggering people for shifts to control flow in and out of a building. We were very open in terms of employee questions. 

Nick Marchioli:

Luis, are you requiring your vendors and supply chain providers to document their safety measures for COVID  preparedness in any way?

Luis Ponte:

Yes, that was one of the things that started to happen right away with some of our suppliers and vendors were asking that because they realized we’re going to remain open. One of the other things that we felt was really important through this is that we immediately banned all travel, even while before the government clothing, most of the borders are, or even at one point, it’s still allowing some trade to occur. We stopped travel, and we also stopped any interaction with customers, or suppliers both, from our external approach, as well as people coming into our facilities. We got out of that real quick, and we felt that that was really important to do, in terms of protecting our own employee safety, as well as protecting.

And I think there will be some positives that come out for businesses to really look back and ask themselves do you really need the amount of face to face communication that maybe historically you thought you did need? And you’re almost proving out over the last three months that you don’t need it. Business will continue, the volumes are increasing and you’re dealing with that period where you still don’t have that face-to-face interaction, and the work is getting done.

Nick Marchioli:

Do you see the safety procedures and protocols as long term, short term, or there’s gonna be some kind of hybrid as you get eight months into it, a year into it? 

Diego Castro:

Yes, absolutely, It will become a new way of doing business. This is challenging, the way we design equipment, and the interaction of people in the line, because now, we’re thinking, OK, we need social distance, and how we determine the barriers, how we reduce the interaction. It’’s challenging because lean principles go hand in hand of sharing work, and now you’re trying to say, ok,  how are we going to share work and be safe at the same time in terms of not spreading the virus. But it’s possible. And it will become a part of our operating playbook, absolutely.

They’re not short term, These things are here to stay like safety glasses, like safety issues, masks are here to stay. 

Luis Ponte:

I think the use of hand sanitizer and simple things like that I think are going to be long term measures that will say whether masks are gonna be something that’s going to be long term, I’m not sure about that. I think that there’s a lot of uncertainty today, because there really is no vaccine yet. I think once the vaccine comes in, I think people’s views on it will change.

I think that the long term impact, that we’re going to realize as a society, if there’s a risk out there we don’t know what it is, look what COVID did to the world. We need to be a little more responsible in terms of how we approach our lifestyle day-to-day.

Nick Marchioli:

I think we can all agree that manufacturers increase their level costs to deal with this because of all the safety protocols in place. Where do you see people offsetting that cost? Your own internal organizations are going to be focused on more automation.

Diego Castro:

Yes, there will be some increased costs, especially, for example, the time they take to do the disinfection, each team member will have to go on this inside the station. We’re losing those 5, 10, 15 minutes, depending on the complexity. So we’re going to have to offset that with efficiency. Those parts that are lost, we need to recover, run, a little bit better. Automation will play a role. Not in the short-term, but we’re going to start looking at more.

Suppliers?  Every year you’re trying to become more efficient, and you’re, you’re trying to think their suppliers are doing continuous improvement. And they can afford to reduce costs. So, in all areas, I truly believe labor utilization will increase but that doesn’t mean labor is going to be paid less. I mean, the market is there and we’re going to have to try to utilize the labor much better, being safe, but at the same time utilize. Extra costs? Yes, all of the added disinfection.

Luis Ponte:

It’s the  annual supplier, vendor, customer processor, debate about cost and everybody’s always trying to drive the cost of, I think that’s just a regular part of business practice. I think from an efficiency perspective, if I separate the question this way, and the approach we’re taking, you always look at your efficiency at a plant and find improvements there and sometimes through automation, that helps. I think, in the time we’re in there is definitely a capital constraint only because of the uncertainty in the economy, but, if it makes a lot of things, then obviously, automation will work. 

The other approach we’ve taken is, one that is sometimes, not always at the forefront, and that process efficiency in the office. And, you know, how long does it take you to process in order how many people are touching it. Can you feed the amount of time it takes you or the approval process? And that’s something we started to do now, and with our plan of coming back to work with the office staff is actually looking at that area.

Nick Marchioli:

What advice would you give others to safeguard their operation in a post pandemic world? What’s like some of the key things they should think about in making sure they go forward in a safe way so that their business can be maintained?

Diego Castro:

I would say, first of all, post-pandemic try to avoid anything if the requirement of face-to-face is not necessary, just don’t have it. You can do it through the computer, anything that can be done through the phone, over the computer, just go that way. Secondly, I think the protocols are useful, even to stop spreading the normal, regular flu, or cold. I could keep protocols in terms of wearing masks, especially when people I haven’t seen in terms of flu, stay at home, and work from home and try to avoid spread.  

Then, of course, safe distance for now, here to stay until we have a vaccine. 

Luis Ponte:

I think the one I would focus on is more plant related, and when you look at the environment in an office and you see who occupies a cubicle, typically, that cubicle is defined, in most cases, to one person, if that one person touches that area all the time. I think, what made me really realize something here, is, when you run an operation, five days a week, 24 hours a day, seven days, a week, 24 hours a day, you’d  have janitorial staff that basically takes care of common facilities.

The buttons that are touched by multiple people, hours, and hours on end. What, what are we really doing there? And I don’t think the industry was really prepared for that, or the industry really did anything with those regards. And when you want to look at contamination, there it is. So I think one of the insightful things is that we’re gonna walk away with from this situation.

Watch the full conversation, here.

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