On this videocast, Women of Today’s Manufacturing (WOTM) president, Jaclyn Kolodziej, speaks with Dean Harms, Regional Director of IMEC for the Rockford region. 

IMEC is a privately and publicly-funded organization connected to the U.S. Department of Commerce. As a Nist MEP (Manufacturing Extension Partnership) approved center, IMEC is the official representative of the MEP National Network in Illinois. 

It’s mission: Helping small to midsize manufacturing companies in Illinois to achieve more profitable futures across areas of leadership, operations, strategy, customer support/engagement, and workforce so they can improve and drive their business forward while sustaining a competitive future. 

Manufacturing During the COVID Pandemic

A lot of manufacturers have continued operations with the COVID-19 pandemic, but to be prepared for potential risks, businesses should consider their current situation, goals for their future situation, challenges they are facing or might face along the way, and their main priorities. 

Current and Future State of Manufacturing Business

To get started, Dean recommends asking yourself about your current state:  

  • What are you dealing with? 
  • What are the challenges that you are facing? 
  • Where can we improve? 

Then talk about your future state: 

  • Where do you want to be?
  • What are your goals? 
  • What do you want to accomplish?

Once you have an idea of where you want to be, IMEC takes that information to create a gap analysis, which helps determine how you get to where you are now to where you want to be. 

The solutions could be a single program, multiple programs, or a transformational program or process that focuses on your priorities. 

Workforce and Workforce Safety

Most manufacturing businesses are considered essential workplaces, so they need to reassure their employees that workforce safety is a priority. Some strategies include: 

  • Letting employees work from home if they have the resources to. 
  • Setting up areas that follow social distancing guidelines. 
  • Increasing cleaning processes and procedures.
  • Checking on employees and sending folks home when they are sick. 

“We have to work and pull together,” says Dean.

Adjusting to the New Norm

With policies varying across the states, companies have to adjust to what their new norm is. 

“Once the shelter in place order was made, we at IMEC suspended all field operations and started working from home,” explains Dean. “We had to refocus by converting all onsite work to online work, and started offering free webinars that helped with the decision making process.” 

Dean also discussed how IMEC shifted the way they communicate with customers, trying out video and other platforms to maintain that face-to-face relationship and staying engaged during a time of social distancing.

Opportunities for Growth

With so many unknowns, business leaders can expect a change in supply chains. It is important that they communicate with their suppliers on a regular and consistent basis. With the influx of online orders, everything is delayed, including deliveries between suppliers and manufacturers. 

IMEC’s supplier matchmaking portal helps companies with their supply network by finding alternative options to receive their materials from. 

They also have a dashboard that provides the latest events and updates across various media channels. 

“It’s about sharing good quality information,” says Dean. “I’m a firm believer that you get the best information you can to make the best decisions that you can so we can continue helping the manufacturing community, because when we do that, we’re really helping the entire state.”