Production in a Pandemic - Challenges and Innovations
Rarely in our world has so much changed so quickly. In Q2 2020 many manufacturing businesses experienced completely unexpected scenarios nearly overnight, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
As companies return to operations QLS is back out in the field helping our customers meet these challenges. This is the first of a series of articles sharing views and experiences from the trenches in a Q&A format. In today's installment, three QLS team members comment on recent experiences.
- Terry Tidwell is president of Quality Liaison Services. He’s Six Sigma Master Black Belt certified with over 30 years of manufacturing experience.
- Tito Gonzales represents QLS in Texas. He began 10 years ago as an inspector, and is currently site leader at an OEM facility, serving a diverse supplier base.
- Jason Smith has worked with QLS for the last five years and represents the company in Mississippi. Jason is site leader at a large Tier-1 supplier where he works across several industries.
How have you had to work differently onsite or offsite in this COVID-19 environment?
Terry: We've adapted to working in our offices and not holding group meetings in conference rooms to avoid direct contact. The use of MS Teams, Zoom, and other video conference software platforms has been extremely valuable in this environment.
Tito: During these difficult times we've had to robustly consider the safety of all our co-workers and colleagues on worksites and ensure we keep them socially distant during operations. The good news is I feel that we've gotten used to it which makes it easier to cope with.
Jason: When cutbacks began to happen, there were some days I had to pull the workload alone. When things started to slowly pick back up, you saw some people starting to take this virus seriously by wearing masks and gloves. On the other hand, you have most people thinking that they can’t be affected by the virus until it hits home with someone they know. Now plans have been implemented where you have to wear masks inside of the plant, there are spacing signs on tables, in the break room, and mandatory temperature checks before entering the building. Taking all of these extra steps to keep everyone safe is very time consuming, but very necessary.
What challenges stand out to you during this pandemic business climate; either something you yourself have been facing, or something you see at customer sites, i.e. operational, financial, technical, etc.?
Terry: The biggest challenges have been adapting to the “new normal” in terms of PPE and CDC best practice personal care. Keeping 6 feet apart while working in a production environment is difficult to overcome. There have also been impacts from the supply chain, especially suppliers in countries where many companies were not designated as necessary. Prolonged shutdowns have prevented OEMs from operating at full capacity.
Jason: The biggest challenge that I’ve seen at my facility is when our customers had to cut back on their employees. It was hard to see people losing their jobs, at the drop of a hat, and not knowing when or if they’ll have a job to come back to.
Tito: The hardest challenge has been communicating in face masks. Facial expressions account for 55% of our communication between others and play a vital role in interaction with customers, suppliers, and co-workers. We have relied on electronic communications to improve day-to-day interactions.
Have you made or seen any changes onsite which you would say might be “here to stay”? Has the crisis actually given way to efficiencies which work well in any business conditions?
Tito: The biggest onsite improvement due to COVID requirements has been the cleanliness and sanitation of workplaces. Also, the ability to rotate on a work-from-home schedule in some positions. Many companies have realized a certain percentage of staff can work from home and keep operations running effectively. This can help significantly reduce workspace, company cost, and help increase productivity.
How has your life changed over the last several months personally, or when it comes to helping customers?
Jason: With staff cutbacks [at our customers’ facilities], there are less people to talk to when working with the client. So, instead of talking to the secretary or an intern, you can call or walk in and talk directly with the decision maker.
Tito: The biggest challenge that has affected us personally is limited time with family members we love. It has been several months since we were able to enjoy large family gatherings and traditions. Also being able to relax on a beach somewhere in the Caribbean.
What has been your biggest surprise working with QLS customers under current conditions.
Jason: Honestly, you find out a lot about the process of how things get done on a daily basis from start to finish. Once you see the whole process up front, you’ll have a newfound respect for a person's position or career.
In what ways are things “returning to normal” out in the field?
Jason: I’m starting to see more of our customers pick back up on their orders, and more people are being called back to work.
Terry: Regarding healthy protocols, I don’t get a sense that “returning to normal” is going to happen anytime in the near future. Working with masks, barriers and other means of keeping people at a distance is the new normal.
How has working with QLS benefited customers and their suppliers in this current business environment?
Terry: Because we are already incorporated into many OEM locations and have been a part of their new protocol for COVID-19 mitigation, we have access to plants where many suppliers are being prohibited from coming in if they have a quality spill. The fact we are there and approved to be on site in the facility eliminates a situation where the assembly line could go down because there was no one from the supplier that could validate inventory.
Tito: During the pandemic several companies and corporations limited their operations and experienced travel restrictions. QLS has been able to help execute projects for suppliers to keep quality levels high at our plant despite setbacks due to the pandemic.
Do you have any business “takeaways” from this first half of the year that you’d like to share?
Terry: You and your company must be adaptive and flexible to change, sometimes radical change, inside the industry. The quicker you are to adapt to the “new normal”, the better your opportunity to be successful in this business environment.
Next: Q&A interviews from OEM and Supplier professionals. Watch this space for the next installment, coming soon in September.