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Manufacturing resilience during the coronavirus pandemic

05 June, 2020

How do you keep a factory running during the COVID-19 crisis? The main problem isn’t social distancing necessarily, but keeping workers motivated during the slowdown. That’s according to new research by money.co.uk, which spoke to 25 business leaders from the manufacturing industry to gain insights into how coronavirus has affected them.

91% of the manufacturers money.co.uk interviewed experienced a dip in output and 66% have witnessed a slump in productivity. But despite the fact that 75% of those manufacturers have furloughed staff, many have found new ways to keep production going.

Like many UK industries, manufacturing has been hard hit by the ripple effect of COVID-19. Uncertainty breeds caution, with many businesses forced to pause their operations. The knock-on effect for manufacturers has been profound. A staggering 91% of the manufacturers interviewed reported a dip in output since lockdown restrictions were put in place, according to money.co.uk’s research.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the slump in output and general air of uncertainty, two thirds of the manufacturers admitted that staff productivity has been badly affected by the crisis. These sobering statistics go a long way to explaining why a massive 75% of the manufacturers interviewed had been forced to use the government furlough scheme to protect the livelihoods of their personnel in the longer term.

Changing work practices keep industry rolling

As well as this quantitative data, money.co.uk also gathered qualitative data from a sample group of UK manufacturers to find out how they continue to operate whilst still protecting their staff from the threat of COVID-19. The responses from the manufacturing community were as varied as they were illuminating.

At one end of the spectrum, a food manufacturing plant boss said they had no choice but to “close all operations”. However, for one valve manufacturer, a can-do attitude of “masks and smiles” was proving enough to keep the wheels of industry rolling. For the vast majority of manufacturers though, working from home and rotational shift patterns for shop floor workers have proven the most effective measures.

“Those that have the possibility to work from home do so”, said one steam equipment manufacturer, “and those working from the manufacturing facility undergo a quick health screening prior to entering the building”. Elsewhere, other effective strategies included shielding over-60s, reduced staffing levels, split shifts, consolidated shipments and furloughing half the workforce at any one time.

For a specialist sensor manufacturer at least, the crisis has presented an unexpected opportunity. “We are soon to implement an online webinar and training platform for our customers in reaction to COVID-19”, they said. “This may actually prove to be a long-term service for customers if it is successful. We would not have done this had COVID-19 not forced us to respond to the ban on face-to-face customer meetings”.

Cash flow the main concern for manufacturers

Money.co.uk’s research also shed light on the biggest challenges currently facing British manufacturers. Unsurprisingly, “cash flow” and a “drop in sales” were among the chief concerns, with one valve and instrumentation supplier even revealing that customers were actively withholding payment on pre-crisis invoices, until normal business resumes.

For others, worries extended beyond the stress of money woes into more practical areas. These concerns ranged from “international shipment delays and costs” to “reduced air travel impacting cargo space availability”, as well as key contacts being unavailable through furlough and the constant pressure of trying to “do the right thing”.

Based on its research, money.co.uk has summarised the top five activities that manufacturing business leaders will be investing in, to ensure their operations can continue throughout this crisis and beyond:

1. Use this time to engage with your customers and understand what their future pain points are likely to be - develop product and service offerings that specifically address their needs
.

2. With exhibitions and face-to-face demonstrations off the agenda, turn to digital media to showcase your products and capabilities
.

3. Understand how technology can be utilised to provide a virtual presence in your customers plants and facilities.

4. Segment your customer base and understand which customers have vital operations that you need to assist with.

5. Plan financially and understand what help is available to you from the government to navigate this crisis.

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