Observations of Manufacturing During the Pandemic
Data can reveal some interesting trends, and this is certainly true in manufacturing, where the aggregated data from approximately 100 factories equipped with FreePoint’s ShiftWorx system reveal some very interesting things over the course of the response to the pandemic.
The first thing we saw was fairly obvious. We saw total “value adding activity” (productive activity) drop 43% from March 9th to April 5th, with the steepest decline between March 23rd and March 30th.
The second thing we saw was that it was not a unilateral 43% decrease across all manufacturers. Some manufacturers shut down, some slowed downs significantly, but many were able to continue through the period without any indication of a slow down. This too is understandable.
The third thing we noticed was very interesting, and something that will certainly cause some contemplation.
Notice the difference?
Of the companies we saw that were maintaining their overall productive activity, we often saw improvements in the productivity of the day shift, consistent levels in the afternoon shift, and a reduction or elimination of production activity on the weekends. Total productive activity, or “value adding activity” as we measure it, was the same for the whole week, with less or no time scheduled on the weekends.
This required some further digging.
Pre-covid, we have often noticed that afternoon shifts in these companies regularly run more consistently day to day than the day shifts. In discussions with management and operators, the most common explanation offered is “simple, management’s not here on the afternoon shift”; there’s less interruptions, less schedule changes, less scheduled maintenance. In short, the work that needs to be done is scheduled for them to do, and then they are left to do it. The other suggestion offered is that different types of people are going to gravitate to the different shifts; those that like to be left alone to their work will gravitate towards the afternoon (or night shift), and those that require a more dynamic work experience (more things to do, more interaction with other people) prefer the day shift. The result though is the same – there’s more distraction and opportunity for disruptive activity on the day shift.
During the crisis respond period however, those distractions were reduced or eliminated. There were no visitors allowed in the plants, be they customers, suppliers, contractors or salespeople. Administration, sales and support staff, and many managers were asked to work at home, and they did. Problems that needed to be solved on the floor were solved by the people on the floor, which makes sense because companies best able to cope with trying times such as these are the companies with the best people.
But, the requirement to work more outside of the plant presented an opportunity not wasted on many managers. After a short time of anxious adjustment (perhaps adrenaline withdrawal), when it became clear they could manage remotely and the sky wouldn’t fall without them there 50+ hours per week, they started to set their attention on larger thoughts and planning. Every good manager has a list of things they wished they had the time to really focus on, and now they have that time.
Strong manufacturers are going to come out of this stronger. I’m convinced the accelerated adoption of technology will be part of that (remote machine monitoring and paperless workflows), but its still a company’s people that make them strong, and will make them stronger yet. The benefit of removing distraction from the plant floor and letting good people focus on their job showed up in our data right away. The benefit of giving good managers the time needed to really concentrate and focus a bit more on the list of things they’ve always wanted to get around to will take a little longer to show up in the data, but I’m sure it will. Strong, resilient companies are built by strong, resilient people.
The data doesn’t lie!
Founder and Chairman
FreePoint Technologies Inc.