As lockdown restrictions loosen, many manufacturers are ramping up production. Are your operations ready?
In May, Airbus told suppliers to “begin accelerating investment in production capacity and hire more staff”. After a challenging 2020, during which time many sites were operating at reduced capacity (or shut down completely), this positive sign from the world’s largest planemaker has been echoed across several industries as the automotive sector and others prepare to resume — and, in some cases, reimagine — their manufacturing operations.
“The aviation sector is beginning to recover from the COVID-19 crisis,” said Airbus chief executive Guillaume Faury. He says his message to suppliers is to prepare and scale-up for a period of intensive production “when market conditions call for it.” Rhys Thomas, Supply Chain Digital
Whether you operate directly within one of these industries or are a parts/materials supplier to them, the news signals a much-anticipated return to pre-pandemic production.
But there are several steps you’ll need to follow to make sure your site is up and running at maximum capacity. Read on to find out how to make your operations ready.
Manufacturing challenges coming out of lockdown
The pandemic has affected sites in many different ways, but here are some of the key challenges broadly impacting manufacturers as they look to ramp up production:
Reduced staffing levels
Earlier this month, LinkedIn revealed that job vacancies in the UK have risen at the fastest pace in 23 years as the economy re-opens and demand paves the way for new vacancies across industries. But while “analysts suggested that [the economic bounceback] puts the UK on track for ‘eye-popping’ second quarter growth, they also highlighted labour shortages in several sectors, with the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) calling on the government to ensure shortages don’t slow recovery”.
Like many industries, some manufacturers found themselves having to make difficult decisions regarding staffing when the pandemic hit. Now, as key players like aviation and automotive look to increase their demand, many sites will find that their current levels don’t support the jump in activity. The skills shortage highlighted by the engineering shortage crisis could make quickly filling those gaps with qualified personnel more challenging.
Returning on-site after extended furlough
Other manufacturers will have made use of the government’s furlough scheme to support their teams while reducing overheads. But after an extended period of leave from day-to-day operations, returning staff may well need assessing for retraining before they resume operations to ensure they are handling the equipment safely and correctly.
Operators’ health and safety training will also need updating in line with the latest government guidelines so that returning staff, many of whom may not have stepped foot on-site since being placed on furlough, are operating safely and compliantly.
Employees in administration, sales, finance and similar functions who have been working remotely for the past year may face similar challenges adapting back to work on-site, which could potentially impact efficiencies on that side of production (e.g. contract renewals).
Limited site capabilities
As the BBC reports, “Aircraft engine firm Rolls-Royce has opened the world's largest indoor aerospace testbed in Derby. The facility will allow it to perform development work on its next generation of engines, the UltraFan, expected to be 25% more efficient than current models.”
Not every manufacturer will be in a position to open new sites, but as production ramps up or diversifies, they may well reach operational limitations of their own, raising questions about their ability to meet increased production with their existing sites/equipment.
Heat treatment servicing
In some cases, new machines may need to be installed to meet the change in demand. (See ‘Upgrades to meet new production demands and adapt to digital trends’, below.) In others, the simplest and most cost-effective solution will be to ensure existing equipment is operating efficiently and compliantly. Many manufacturers will have postponed or paused their typical maintenance schedules over the last 15 months while their sites were closed. These will need to be picked up again before operations can safely resume. And with demand for services rising quickly, these are best booked in sooner rather than later.
Upgrades to meet new production demands and adapt to digital trends
Emerging technologies such as remote monitoring and control/management systems are transforming the world of production. “Remote assistance and maintenance tools can yield a 10%-40% reduction in field-service costs, especially travel, by reducing the need for in-person visits”, writes the World Economic Forum. “The gains may be particularly high at machinery OEMs with a large installed base.” While manufacturers are making strides in applying digital technologies, dips in revenue and budget freezes as a result of the pandemic have made securing these investments harder. As demand soars and revenue forecasts rise with it, heat treatment technology innovations represent a lucrative investment opportunity. Just look at Airbus, which is "transforming its industrial system by optimising its aerostructures set-up and modernising its production facilities [...] to prepare the future."
When reviewing your heat treatment operations with a mind to resuming or re-imagining your production capacity, consider the following:
- Assess staffing levels. Are they adequate to meet a rise in operations or will you need to hire in additional personnel? Equally, could an investment into remote monitoring systems or management and control systems (for autoclaves or furnaces) enable you to ramp up operations on your existing staffing levels?
- Review staff training records. These will tell you when your teams last received training and if they’re due refresher sessions. If your site has changed significantly as a result of government safety guidelines, consider rolling out a session for all your teams. If you have installed new equipment, operators will need training on that, too.
- Review service records. Regular servicing is key to efficiency and compliance, but many service contracts will have fallen by the wayside during the pandemic. Check all your heat treatment equipment is properly serviced and, if necessary, book for a certified specialist to service them. (We’re already seeing soaring demand for these services from our existing customers — book soon for a timely site visit.)
- Assess technology requirements. “The rapid migration to digital technologies driven by the pandemic will continue into the recovery as organizations focus on increasing automation and digital tools to raise productivity and decrease exposure to potential risks”, explains the World Economic Forum in their white paper. “For instance, an aerospace supplier achieved an 80% overall equipment efficiency (OEE) for the production of key components by deploying industrial internet of things (IIOT) solutions to monitor and isolate common productivity losses such as tools wear and material unavailability.” Are you equipped to produce the required components and could your operations benefit similarly from increased OEE as you ramp up?
“While impact may vary dramatically across settings, companies may improve overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) by as much as five percentage points — for example, in low-volume, high complexity, discrete manufacturing settings.” ‘Ramping up operations and business activity post-COVID-19’, World Economic Forum
The road to recovery starts with ServiceCare
“When the pandemic first hit, everything changed. Key at the time was how we reacted to that change. Like many businesses, we had to start operating differently”, explains Michael Jones, Head of Projects at VFE. Now, as manufacturers prepare to ramp up activity, they must once again react quickly to ensure their operations are ready for a spike in demand or else risk losing out.”
With the future still uncertain, the best place for manufacturers to start is consolidating their existing resources. We hope the checklist above helps you to review the key areas across your operations with a mind to building both agility and resilience into your production.
As Airbus’ CEO Mr Faury said: "The message to our supplier community provides visibility to the entire industrial ecosystem to secure the necessary capabilities and be ready when market conditions call for it.”
Can you confidently say your operations are ready, and if not, how can we help?
For more information about ServiceCare or any of our heat treatment innovations, get in touch or download our helpful guide below.