There’s no question that times are weird. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to rethink our “normal” as we’ve all had to adjust our daily lives to stay safe and healthy.

In the era of digitization, being secluded in our homes has been manageable thanks to mobile devices and video communications. However, essential employees and businesses have had to remain on the frontlines of the pandemic to keep life on the outside going. 

American manufacturing has experienced both setbacks and opportunities during the outbreak, causing the industry to retool itself so operations can continue and workers can stay safe, healthy, and happy. 

A few ways that manufacturers are remaking themselves in the new economy include:

  • Rethinking Sanitization Processes
  • Expediting Projects
  • Reassessing the Value of Online Tools
  • Repurposing Business Strategy and Operations

Rethinking Sanitization Processes 

COVID-19’s highly contagious nature has forced manufacturers who remain in operation to rethink their sanitization processes. 

Some businesses have enforced mask requirements for their employees when they cannot properly social distance themselves from others or are regularly face-to-face with customers. 

Mike Payne, President and Owner of Hill Manufacturing & Fabrication, uses a bleach water recipe from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to spray and sanitize all workstations, machines, bathrooms, benches, doors, etc. several times a day. “We also require all of our employees to practice regular handwashing,” says Payne. “They are required to wash their hands upon entering the building and throughout their shift. Once their shift is over, it is mandatory for them to wipe down their work areas before they leave.”

The rearrangement of workstations and the incorporation of staggered shifts and breaks are becoming common practices to help increase the physical space between employees and limit the amount of group gatherings and physical touch. Some businesses are also checking their employees’ temperatures as they enter the facility as an extra precaution.

Expediting Projects 

Some manufacturers are taking advantage of the current situation to review their growth strategies. 

“We’re expediting projects we’ve ‘not had time’ to do,” says Payne. Payne has been dedicated to keeping his workforce intact by developing projects with the extra freetime that the pandemic created for his business. “We’ve been reorganizing and cleaning our warehouse and tool cribs. We’ve also taken steps to improve our workholding components and fixtures, as, well as our 5s-light work cells.” 

Other things Payne is focused on include: 

  • Updating job set-up instructions for more efficient workflows.
  • Changing quality department procedures to better serve customers.
  • Acquiring measuring equipment to develop high-quality products. 
  • Working on and obtaining new certifications and training to establish and expand leadership in the industry.

“Basically, I am rescheduling the bigger projects that have been part of our goals and pulling them into our workflow to start them immediately,” explains Payne. “Even simple things like some walls that needed to be painted. Essentially, we want to be well positioned to stay on top of our legacy business, but also capture growth through efficiency coming out on the backside of this…however long that might be.” 

Reassessing the Value of Online Tools

A lot of industrial manufacturers are reassessing the value of online tools and how they fit into their daily operations. 

Due to the stay-at-home orders across the nation, businesses like Air Gaging, LLC have had to rely on cloud-based peer-to-peer software platforms such as Zoom, Google Hangouts, GoToMeeting, Microsoft Team, and Skype to conduct meetings, customer sales, and training. 

“I really enjoy traveling and visiting our customers/distributors, but during this time, we have utilized [such platforms] to do some additional training,” says Christopher Koehn, President at Air Gaging, LLC. 

“A lot of our distributors are very busy during normal business hours, so this has been an opportunity for us to do some additional training that wouldn’t have been available before. Once this is behind us, we will be in a better position as a business because of it.” 

Repurposing Business Strategy and Operations

The increased demand for protective gear and life-saving medical equipment has caused some manufacturers to switch gears and repurpose their business strategy and operations to help fight COVID-19. 

Multiple distilleries and breweries have switched gears and started producing hand sanitizer and alcohol-based disinfectant for essential workers. 

Ally Marotti of the Chicago Tribune reported on the Illinois Essential Equipment Task Force that coordinates the efforts of Illinois manufacturers who have retooled their production lines to make ventilators, masks, and parts for test kits and other medical equipment.

Brett T. Evans, Senior Editor of reported on Ford testing out color-coded wristbands that vibrate when employees get too close to each other. The bands, supplied by Samsung Electronics, “incorporate Radiant RFID technology using short-wave Bluetooth to detect the proximity and clustering of other devices.” Once another wristband is detected, the device vibrates and sends a color-coded message to the screen that “alerts the employee to maintain appropriate distance.” 

As states start to revoke stay-at-home orders, it will be interesting to see how manufacturing will change and what sort of innovations will be developed post COVID-19. 

*This article originally appeared in the Rockford Chamber of Commerce’s newsletter “The Voice“.