Navigating Manufacturing During COVID-19

Sales and Marketing Insights

“All things are a-flowing,” Heraclitus said about change. But, what he didn’t say is how fast that river could be flowing. COVID-19 and the reactions to it created a tsunami of change that has rocked our world. In sales and marketing, regardless of the type of business you are in, you will never do anything the same. Ever.

No where is this more evident than in the manufacturing industry.

So when Nick Goode, the executive VP at Sage wrote, “new skills in artificial intelligence (AI), the internet of things (IoT), machine learning (ML) and automated tools” were the technologies needed to succeed in the 21st century in January of 2020[1], unfortunately COVID-19 smashed into that thought and put that in an entirely different perspective. In fact, COVID-19 smashed pretty much all thoughts.

In March when COVID-19 broke in the US, 35.5% of respondents from a NAM survey said they are facing supply chain disruptions, with 64.5% saying they are not.[2]  However, Deloitte rightly concluded as we have seen subsequently that, “The magnitude of these disruptions increases as the time to recovery lengthens.”[3] Furthermore, “The impact on the industry will be far more significant if the spread of the virus impacts other key industrial countries beyond China. In the long term, the manufacturing industry should get back on track.”

The question has always been, what does “get back on track” mean?

PwC is a global accounting practice originating in London well over a century ago and migrated into a global network of over 276,000 people in 157 countries. Today, their services include audit and assurance, tax and consulting, cover such areas as cybersecurity and privacy, human resources, deals and forensics. They put it this way: “The COVID-19 outbreak is likely to result in longer-lasting reconfigurations of supply chains to build resilience, and this is already under way as some US companies diversify Asia operating models in response to shifting trade policies.”[4]

In other words, no one is really certain. My interview with Sylvia Moore reflected these ideas.

Sylvia Moore, Director of Technical Development, Shintech, Houston, Texas

I met Sylvia at the Vinyl360 meeting last year when I delivered a presentation entitled, “Where Should We Go, Now That We Know? Uncovering Strategies from Research.” The presentation was the result of a survey Accountability Information Management, Inc., a leading B2B research company, conducted to 14,782 architects, interior designers, and facility professionals about their uses and specifications of vinyl.

Shintech Inc. is the world’s largest producer of polyvinyl chloride (PVC). PVC is a general-use resin that is finding wide application in goods used in daily life and a significant number of industrial materials. Her role since she has a background in manufacturing, is a key ingredient in communications between Shintech and the customer.

“The impact of COVID-19 was actually seen when the air conditioning season came on,” she explains. “People relaxed. We had a few cases here and there, but nothing we did not control prior to June.” Through the summer people have become much more diligent about following CDC guidelines in all of manufacturing.

Moore believes that air conditioning had something to do with the big jump of COVID-19 cases nation wide. “With air conditioning and air flow, you have to have certain filters not to carry the virus from room to room,” she explains.

Shintech sales people are getting out some, but only driving short distances and only if the customer wants to see them. Her team has become very good at “virtual.” She notes: “For years we’ve been meeting virtually between plants, so we didn’t miss a beat.” Shintech has locations in Houston, TX, Freeport, TX, Addis, LA, and Plaquemine, LA.

Chit chat

As COVID-19 settled in, Moore says there was more and more “chit chat” – people communicating with nothing specific except to talk. This seems to have replaced the face-to-face in the office that everyone took for granted pre-COVID-19.[5]

Gensler, one of the leading architects in the world, conducted a study recently that bears this out.

The study, U.S. Work from Home Survey 2020, spawned a number of other findings. Gensler worked with a third party to conduct an online, anonymous survey of 2,300+ US workers across 10 different industries. Most want to go back to the office, but everyone expects to return to a better workplace than the one they left.

One of their articles, Planning for the Future Workplace and a Distributed Workforce, noted: “The overall effectiveness of virtual collaboration relies on a critical factor: human connection. Our recent work-from-home experiment has shown how important virtual collaboration platforms and management tools can be. But nothing can replace face-to-face time with colleagues. Those interactions build social capital and personal connections that can keep you connected outside of the office.”[6]

Moore’s customers are working. “I would say building construction which is 70% of the business, is doing well; the market is flexible.” Some customers switched their operation over to making the needed PPE.

The latest report from ConstructConnect™ the database people noted that 35 “mega projects” is the difference year over year for the August -43% difference. They also noted:

  • Their adjusted upward numbers month over month they say is from warehouse, bridge power and marine work.
  • And the word settled on to describe what’s going on: “uneven.”

Moore says that before COVID-19 business was doing well, but now there has been foreseen and unforeseen obstacles to overcome. The PVC resin market is very tight in September and October.

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[1] “Three trends that will change the manufacturing industry in 2020″, by Nike Goode, Executive VP, Sage, on IT in the Supply Chain.

[2] NAM CORONAVIRUS OUTBREAK SPECIAL SURVEY, FEBRUARY/MARCH 2020.

[3] COVID-19 Managing supply chain risk and disruption, by Jim Kilpatrick, Deloitte Global Supply Chain & Network Operations Leader and Lee Barter, Deloitte Canada SCNO Partner, Innovation & Eminence Leader.

[4] How do you transform your supply chain into an intelligent, digital ecosystem? on the PwC website.

[5] Throughout my investigations, the need for “social” was reflected again and again, and is an underlying byproduct of COVID-19. The virus has taught us, once again, that we are social animals after all.

[6] Planning for the Future Workplace and a Distributed Workforce, September 10, 2020, by José Luis Sanchez-Concha and Francesca Poma, part of Gensler’s ongoing exploration of how design is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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