Crisis Sparks Opportunity for Manufacturing Reset

Crisis sparks opportunity for manufacturing reset

ISE Magazine August 2020 Volume: 52 Number: 8

By Charles Sandiford

The entire state of manufacturing has been affect-ed by the COVID-19 pandemic and has hurt businesses and workers throughout the world. During this time, we can either let it destroy us or begin rebuilding. This can be a chance to begin a reset that is otherwise impossible during normal operation due to cost of shutting down.

It’s time to rethink 5S, green initiatives, lean principles and processes. It’s time to consider the preventive maintenance schedules, the capital investments and the plant layouts. This is when we look at how we use automation, where robotics can be input and what kind of new work in process movement and staging can we devise to reshape how we handle fabrication of our products.

The idea that this situation has been detrimental to our economy and workforce can be turned around and used as a time to do the things we always wanted but could not afford to do. The foundation to any lean or Six Sigma system is, of course, 5S (sort, set in order, shine, standardize and sustain). We all know how difficult it can be to clean an area, tape and label it out all while the work cell is in normal operation. Having workers either away from the job or spread out enough due to social distancing guidelines creates a perfect time to do this project. Just as spring cleaning can help give you a fresh start to a year, this opportunity can as well.

This can be the springboard to doing more lean initiatives once things get back to normal or time to create the new normal for your facility. New and old continuous improvement ideas can be brought back from the graveyard or parking lot to be reviewed and put into practice. Training with these new processes can be done as a fresh start when the workers return.

Green initiatives and environmentally friendly manufacturing are always listed on posters put up throughout a facility but rarely taken seriously or as far as they can be due to the tremendous cost of interrupting the work. LED lighting with sensors, water reduction kits, smart power grid solutions, solar panels, electric car charge stations, air/gas savers and recycling programs can be installed and launched. This can be a time to come out of this to get your plant at or above industry standards in this movement and save money right out of the gate when reopening.

This is the time to invest in your future. Whether or not we agree on the ideas of green manufacturing, it is coming and coming fast. Public opinion on the matter has turned and is being pushed in all sectors. People are paying more for more environmentally friendly services and are conscious about how and where their products are made. Most of these initiatives have moderate return of investment rates that are less than the cost of the new technology needed to increase productivity or quality but will give you a return in the social factor as well.

A review of value stream maps and current processes can be done to find redundant and wasteful activities to be changed now for the better. We can look at how we do things now and be satisfied with status quo or truly go after the continuous improvement philosophy we preach and print on banners. This reset can allow us an opportunity to see where we have too high of head count and where we don’t have enough. Cross-training for flexible situations can be identified and started to help this process. Ideas for automation or robotics can be identified and plans put in place to implement them. Machines that are worn and badly maintained can be fixed or replaced during this time and preventive maintenance can be added to the regular schedules.

Speaking of schedules, this is also the perfect time to fine-tune your scheduling procedure and make tweaks that are hard to do on the fly. So much of what we do is based on just in time, safety stocks in inventory or other processes we have wanted to change to better react in all situations. This has taught us that we must be able to modify what we are doing based on the supply chain struggles of today. With the current situation putting a public spotlight on our supply chain functions, we should do the same in our own houses to ensure we are doing right by our investors, customers and employees.

The challenges we all saw coming but have never had the gap in time to experiment or change can be handled now. We can implement those figures that have been modeled or written about in textbooks and journals that we have envied but never had the availability to try.

Instead of looking at this situation only as a bleak and unrelenting time for manufacturing, let’s look at it as a fresh start. This can be our time to bring the ideas we have always wanted to move forward in our organizations to reality. Whether you are a plant manager or a junior level process engineer, let’s revisit old ideas and think of new ones to help bring us out of this stronger than ever.

This is the time where creativity will not only allow you to swim with the rest of your competitors but to rise above and become the company you have promoted in the well-worded goals you ensure all your employees memorize. As my favorite author Ayn Rand states in her greatest work, Atlas Shrugged: “Live and act within the limit of your knowledge and keep expanding it to the limit of your life.”

References: IISE Magazine July 2020 (