Tony Uphoff worked in Manhattan during 9/11. He ran a San Francisco Bay Area business during an earthquake in the 1990s. Despite these experiences, he says that the current pandemic is truly an unprecedented time.
While devastating, some of the impact of 9/11 was regional. Businesses in California were not as impacted as those in New York. But today the pandemic is global, affecting countries around the world. This can be cause for alarm, but it also can be a reason for hope, Uphoff says, since it means that countries around the world are working on a vaccine.
Uphoff, now the president and CEO of Thomas, recently spoke to Quality about the latest in a series of Thomas surveys regarding the pandemic. The first one began in February and the latest one was conducted in late June and early July. The research found that 90% of respondents reported a negative impact on their manufacturing operations.
At the same time, 91% found reason for optimism and thought that North American manufacturing would come back stronger.
The survey received responses from 746 North American manufacturing and industrial suppliers, and yielded some encouraging results. Interest in reshoring, advanced manufacturing technology, and automation was already there, but the pandemic appears to be accelerating these trends, he notes. The survey covered also topics such as the value of apprenticeships, the future of work, and domestic sourcing trends.
Uphoff offers this advice for manufacturers.
“This is a time to really think about how you run your operation,” he said. “We really encourage companies to stay current with the technology. This is a remarkable time to reevaluate your supply chain.” He recommends going back to companies where you didn’t get the project and seeing if there are any opportunities now. Checking in with previous customers is another good bet.
Companies that are agile, willing to pivot, and—although it’s difficult—able to stay calm during a crisis, are in a much better position, he notes.
In addition to the ongoing surveys, Thomas has also responded to the pandemic with a COVID-19 Resource Hub to provide business leaders with up to date information. For a copy of the most recent survey, visit https://business.thomasnet.com/covid-19-survey-reports.
State of Manufacturing
“I think that’s appropriate right now,” says Fictiv COO Jean Olivieri. “It’s phenomenally complicated for companies struggling how to get their supply chains to be more robust without being very expensive and difficult to control. It’s a big opportunity to improve. Everybody has similar challenges.”
The report found that “Supply chain resilience is important to 99% of respondents, with 96% working to increase supply chain agility.”
Looking ahead, she says supply chains will continue to be a top challenge. Companies are considering the risks of offshore suppliers and their appetite for risk. If they are interested in shifting their supply chain, it’s important to consider how quickly it can be moved. And even for domestic suppliers, how robust is the supply chain and can this be changed if needed? She notes that there are a host of questions along these lines, as companies strive to make supply chain more resilient and reduce risk.
Much like other macro events, this pandemic forces companies to move forward and adjust to the disruption. She says some went through this with SARS, while other companies did during the 2008 crisis. In times like these, people are “averse to risk and want to protect their companies to stay open to live another year. It happens every so often and it does force us to leapfrog to solutions.”
According to Fictiv’s report, “Nearly all (97%) said COVID-19 has created new opportunities, with 87% making digital transformation a high priority.”
Along those lines, Olivieri offers this advice for manufacturers. “I just don’t think there’s room for inefficiency anymore. There has to be more creative thinking.”
She suggests that companies remain lean, invest in growth and intellectual property, and better manage collaborations, and whenever possible, move more efficiently. This, as she points out, is not a simple task. “It’s not easy to be an automotive company and transform and start doing ventilators the next day.”
For manufacturers, this could involve retooling, addressing health regulations, and certifications. “It’s not a quick, make cars today, make ventilators tomorrow process,” she notes. “It’s a Herculean transition.”
For a full copy of the Fictiv 2020 State of Manufacturing Report, visit www.fictiv.com/resources/2020-state-of-manufacturing-report.