Having feet on the shop floor is essential to every manufacturing operation.
But with many manufacturers uncertain how to proceed during the coronavirus pandemic, CBIA, CONNSTEP, and Pratt & Whitney hosted a conference call March 16 with Colin Cooper, the state's chief manufacturing officer.
"Our community is disproportionately affected by this outbreak," Cooper told the more than 120 manufacturing leaders on the call.
"We have to provide for the safety of our workers while maintaining operations.
"We don't have the ability to work remotely, so we have some particular challenges."
While there's no playbook, Cooper said manufacturers are identifying issues that could impact them, developing steps to protect employees, and sharing them with fellow manufacturers.
Among the best practices are:
- Encouraging frequent handwashing
- Maintaining six-foot distances between employees whenever possible
- Reducing or eliminating meetings
- Leaving internal doors open so fewer people touch the handles
- Screening the temperature of visitors or eliminating visitors altogether
- Having employees who don't touch product or supervise those who do work remotely
Some companies are creating zones on the shop floor that workers must stay within, while others are cleaning the plant between shifts.
Operating strategies include moving to seven days to bring in fewer workers on each shift, and staggering shift times so workers leave and arrive separately.
"It's been very encouraging to see how rapidly many of you have focused on identifying potential issues impacting your businesses and workforces, and developing innovative countermeasures to address that," Cooper said.
Supply Chain Disruptions
CBIA president and CEO Joe Brennan said the organization is in almost daily contact with the National Association of Manufacturers.
Brennan discussed a recent NAM survey showing that one-third of manufacturers are experiencing supply chain disruptions.
He added that CBIA is in regular contact with the Lamont administration and expects there will be some plans or rules set in place to address the need for manufacturers to have people on the shop floor.
"It's obviously not easy or even possible for manufacturers to have a large number of people, particularly shop workers, work from home," Brennan said.
Pratt & Whitney's global network includes China, so when the company realized the pandemic's impact was moving beyond that nation, Pratt activated its crisis management team.
David Fortino, Pratt's senior manager of global crisis management, is on a call every day with the team, which includes medical staff and representatives from the supply chain, HR, communications, travel, environmental health and safety, business development, and security groups.
A manufacturing company may not be as large as Pratt but it can still create a crisis management team, he said.
"Get together with your core team and make it a regular occurrence," he said. "Set goals and objectives—what do you want this team to do?
"Make sure you have the right people on the team, determine how you will communicate, whether by text or email, meet regularly, start scenario playing, and report to senior leadership."
Fortino said a crisis management team can:
- Review and adhere to existing government guidelines
- Determine what personal protection is on site, what is required, and where it can be obtained
- Provide accurate information about the virus to your employees
- Communicate visitor rules with customers, contractors, and suppliers before they arrive
- Identify all employees who can work from home
- Develop plans to cross-train employees so you have backups for key functions
- Appoint someone to follow public health policy changes
- Update signage to encourage social distancing and frequent hand washing
- Ensure all employees feel you’re taking care of them
- Contact your supplier regularly
- Start thinking now about when people working remotely will return
CONNSTEP, a CBIA affiliate and the state's representative to the National Institute of Standards and Technology's Manufacturing Extension Partnership, is gathering information from all 51 NIST centers across the country to share with its Connecticut partners.
The demands on the workforce and supply chains are chief among manufacturers' concerns, CONNSTEP president and CEO Bonnie Del Conte said.
"And there are all kinds of cash flow issues," she said.
"Many manufacturers are fearful of making payroll and buying supplies."