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Manufacturing After COVID-19: Uncertainty and Productivity

NOTE: This is Part 2 of a 2-part series focusing on restarting manufacturing after COVID-19 shutdowns. Read Part 1 — which covers health and safety, maintaining quality, and using an MES solution — in the PINpoint Blog.

If you experienced a plunge in demand during the earlier days of the pandemic, you’re not alone. U.S. manufacturing output in March experienced its steepest dropsince 1946. And that was just the beginning.

But, now things are shifting toward reopening, and manufacturing is ramping up again. So, let’s address more common challenges of restarting manufacturing — demand uncertainty, cash flow stress, and productivity — and the most effective ways to tackle them.

And who knows when another slowdown may occur? So, this article also helps you make smart moves now that can make the next restart less stressful.

Adjusting Schedules Amidst Demand Uncertainty

Our first bit of advice: be patient. That’s not easy, though, is it?

Ramping back up in manufacturing after COVID-19 isn’t as simple as flipping a light switch. But, it’s also not a smooth and steady warm up, either. The fact is, demand is uncertain, sketchy, and volatile, and businesses are forced to deal with that.

You need to adjust your production schedule based on demand, whatever that may be when you return. Manufacturers generally ramp up production systematicallyduring the start of any program, so you can think of this situation as being no different.

One defense for managing demand uncertainty is knowing (really knowing) how much you can produce, over what duration, and what staff and shifts are required. Bring back too many workers, and it’s a waste; bring back too few, and you can’t meet demand (which is not the impression you want to make during uncertain times).

This is no time to throw darts at the wall! You need to know exactly how many people to bring back to work and for how long. That level of confidence comes with an MES solution.

The right MES:

  • Lets you establish a reliable plan, and helps you keep on schedule
  • Provides tremendous agility in setting production targets and balancing work based on staffing levels
  • Empowers you to set your schedule on a shift level as you see fit; even make changes throughout a shift based on what you’re experiencing at the time
  • Lets you move process tasks from station to station to match your desired output or staffing level
  • Makes it easy to shift your work instructions and error-proofing criteria with process tasks

During ramp up, you’ll likely have to answer supply chain questions with more thought than ever. An MES solution helps provide answers when you’re asked: “Can you meet the demand?” “How confident are you?” “What recent data are you using to answer these questions?”

Dealing with Cash Flow and Budget Concerns

It’s not pretty. Manufacturing after COVID-19 has thrown many budgets out the window with all the uncertainty and shutdowns!

The initial mantra of many companies during the crisis? “Freeze all spending!” Now, manufacturers know they need to ramp back up, but there’s scrutiny about where to deploy precious capital funds. It’s understandable that securing funds is tougher than ever.

At this point, a high-return initiative that offers quick benefits is welcomed, if not demanded. That’s what makes an MES solution so attractive: it’s implemented relatively quickly (on day 1 you’re creating production schedules), it’s one of the fastest ways to realize efficiency gains, and it’s relatively inexpensive compared to many other spends. Many MES implementations that we’ve seen have very attractive ROIs and less than one year paybacks!

Knowing that “must spend” items are few and far between, you can easily argue that an MES solution should make the short list.

Ensuring that Productivity Still Matters

Perhaps these days more than ever, productivity still matters! It’s a challenge (along with many others you now have), but you need to keep a watchful eye on efficiency. That may mean finding new ways to compete or focusing on product enhancements that can have a long-term impact.

This is how the rich data set of the right MES solution really shines. As we discussed in a previous article, data analytics helps you quantify issues that you couldn’t without the MES.

Here’s an example: during manufacturing, a product was built to spec yet fails an end-of-line test and goes to repair. Soon, this becomes a regular occurrence. Instead of guessing on a cause, data analytics shows you how that problem correlates with when a supplier shipment was received. Now, you have something to chase in the upstream process, and you can root cause the failure (not to mention the benefits of having data to approach that supplier with!)

Continuing Your Digital Transformation

Even a global pandemic that affects everyone can’t stop Industry 4.0. Nor are your company’s fiscal pressures slowing down the ongoing digital transformation. In fact, these challenges may be raising the stakes by making how you respond today vital to your successful future.

Make your first steps be the right ones. An MES solution is the best way to start  your journey into Industry 4.0. The relationship between humans and machines continues to evolve no matter what hits you, and you need to stay on top of that.

When experiencing a crisis, which we are certainly doing now, some large companies’ knee-jerk reaction is to overspend to fix it. The fear of falling behind is so great that throwing money at the problem is rarely questioned.

Thankfully, that’s not the case with an MES. When its affordability is combined with capabilities that check all the boxes…

[ X ] control health and safety issues
[ X ] handle demand uncertainty
[ X ] calm budget concerns
[ X ] plan schedules
[ X ] protect product quality
[ X ] tackle ramp up challenges
[ X ] continue your future digital transformation

…the answer is clear: invest in an MES. To find out more about PINpoint’s V5 MES solution, contact us!

If you enjoyed this article and haven’t yet read Part 1 of this series, we recommend checking that out. Thanks for reading and stay safe!

4 Big Benefits of an MES Solution
for discrete manufacturing