How a Pandemic Promoted Innovation in Manufacturing

Two women wearing hard hats discussing information on a laptop.

Like all industries, manufacturing has seen many changes during the COVID-19 pandemic. In just a few short months, supply chains were cut off, and manufacturers were forced to innovate or close their doors.

Surviving businesses need to create an innovation strategy that aligns with new and existing goals. Here are examples of how a global pandemic is promoting innovation in manufacturing.

Manufacture Parts 

Many suppliers and factories shut down as a result of COVID-19. This left companies without the raw or processed materials needed to manufacture products.

Companies like Resource West figured out a way to make the parts they needed. This Grand Junction, CO business makes evaporators that reduce wastewater, and consequently, cost. Their technology can also be used to sanitize large spaces such as gas stations, arenas, and other public spaces.

After developing a sanitizing equipment line, Resource West solved its problem of a parts shortage by hiring engineers just out of college. These new hires began designing parts that could be made of composites using 3D printing technology. This brought much of the supply chain in-house and decreased unit cost.

If Resource West had not taken these actions, they would have lost a lot of business. Instead, they managed to maintain their annual 20% increase despite a global pandemic.

Innovate for the Future

COVID-19 is challenging companies to innovate for the future by creating economic hardships. Organization leaders must plan for unknowns brought about by the pandemic. A recent survey reveals 80% of manufacturers expect to be negatively impacted in 2020. Top concerns  for leaders include:

  • Potential for a global recession, 71%
  • Workforce reduction, 64%
  • Decreased consumer confidence, 40%
  • Reduced product consumption, 41%
  • Disruption in supply chain, 40%

During the pandemic, supply, demand, and availability in the workforce were simultaneously affected. Manufacturers who deliver paper, personal care, and pharmaceuticals are producing personal protective equipment (PPE). Examples include how Nordstrom is manufacturing face masks, and Bacardi’s alcohol is used for hand sanitizer.

Technician.

Other companies, like Medtronic, doubled their efforts to manufacture ventilators for patients of COVID-19, while 3M is producing more N95 masks. Ford is working with General Electric and 3M to increase the production of PPE and 3M’s air-purifying respirators.

It’s hard to plan for the unknown, but adjusting to current situations will improve the future of manufacturing. Adapting materials to produce essential products is one trend that helps companies quickly address demand.

Prepare for Change

Many manufacturing companies in the United States are seeing a decrease in demand. They are looking for ways to cut operational costs and become more efficient.

All major manufactures have experienced significant disruptions across the supply chains. Raw materials and parts are hard to come by. Availability, social distancing, and additional safety measures in the workplace make it difficult to perform certain jobs.

The COVID-19 pandemic also necessitates changes in how companies work. For example, organizations are creating staggered shifts and flexible work hours to maintain production and keep employees safe.

These changes promote innovations that will increase focus and efficiency in the workplace. In time, these innovations will strengthen the supply chain and improve production.

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