PICTURE: Two faculty members from Jindal found that the production response to COVID-19 was largely reactive and uncoordinated, and many companies ’crisis communication plans did not include contagious outbreak management …. see more
Credits: UT Dallas
Researchers at the University of Texas at Dallas examined how manufacturers are successfully turning – or not – in response to major disruptions in production as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a study published July 27 in the IEEE Engineering Management Review, two faculty members from the Naveen Jindal School of Management found that the production response to the disorder is largely reactive and uncoordinated, and many companies ’crisis communication plans do not include managing infectious disease outbreaks.
The researchers identified supportive opportunities and competitive barriers to the conversion of production in the context of disturbances caused by COVID-19. The article offers experts and policy makers best practices for successful turning.
“The research has opened an eye in terms of understanding the challenges for manufacturers in dealing with such a sudden, mass disorder,” said Dr. Ramesh Subramoniam, a clinical associate professor of operations management and one of the paper’s co-authors.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has stopped everything. Even before that, the frequency of supply chain disruptions has increased in recent years. Establishing an elastic framework to meet such supply chain disruptions is an immediate need for experts,” he said.
Because of the extensive disruption spread across countries and industries, pandemics are different from typical disruptions that are generally targeted at specific industries or products, Subramoniam said.
According to the International Labor Organization, approximately 47 million employers, representing about 54% of all employers in the world, operate in the sectors hardest hit by COVID-19: manufacturing, accommodation and food services, wholesale and retail and real estate and administrative activities.
Production is expected to be one of the hardest hit sectors in terms of negative economic impact, said Dr. David Widdifield, co-author of the paper, clinically associate professor of operational management and director of the Master of Science in Supply Chain Management Program.
“A sudden disruption, such as a pandemic, has raised questions about the critical need for companies to rethink their existing supply chain risk mitigation strategies – this includes the manufacturing sectors responsible for mass-producing personal protective equipment (PPE) for health care providers,” said Widdifield, is also the assistant dean of graduate programs at Jindal School.
The researchers surveyed employees of manufacturing companies. Completed between June and July 2020, the study assessed the network responses of 71 manufacturers from 39 production facilities and six continents.
Some companies have often provided critical equipment and devices needed by the public and healthcare professionals, often researching new technologies.
Others find that “conversion and turning” – a process by manufacturers who quickly switch to a new product or process – is more challenging. Conversion of production involves adjusting production plans, lines, and capabilities to meet new demand targets.
“Research shows a lack of ability of some manufacturers to cope with the increased demand for new products, such as medical devices, while other manufacturers have the ability to turn to a new normal state,” Widdifield said. “The study also brings the impact of digital technologies such as 3D printing, artificial intelligence and machine learning, and how they lead organizations to respond faster and be more resilient to such rapid disruptions in the future.”
The study found:
– Almost all organizations (94%) were active during the peak of the pandemic. Of these, 56% had full operational capacity and 44% partial capacity.
-More manufacturing companies repurposed during the pandemic. Targeted products include respirators and their components, medical protective equipment and hand sanitizers.
– Conversion was less likely and did not occur for several product families, including moving X-rays, surgical gloves, screening tests, and other diagnostic equipment.
– Despite the growing number of disturbances caused by epidemics, natural disasters and other large-scale regional and global events, crisis communication plans of many companies do not include special management of infectious disease outbreaks.
The research also has implications for consumers, Subramoniam said. Companies were tested on how well they took care of their employees during the pandemic.
“The average consumer should look at how companies have responded to the pandemic by treating them, their friends and relatives,” he said. “These are very strong indicators of organizational culture and ability. Future employees want to work for such companies with a strong culture of innovation and product and process growth, and employees are core assets.”
The co-authors of the paper were Dr. Okechukwu S. Okorie and Dr. Fiona Charnley from the University of Exeter in England, and John Patsavellas and Dr. Konstantinos Salonitis from the University of Cranfield in England.
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