There’s no denying that the coronavirus has harshly affected all manufacturing industries across the world, including India, disturbing both, the demand as well as supply and ability of companies to deliver to the market. Manufacturing has restarted, but one will not be able to deploy all of one’s manpower in the current situation. To avoid crowding at the work place, the government is not allowing full manpower and this may continue for some time to come. Let us look at how Indian manufacturing companies can respond with vigour.
Safety is first priority
When reopened, production should not be the first priority. The priority should be the safety of the team. How does one ensure safe working of employees without infecting them? Already, there are a few examples of factories contributing to the spread of the virus and we need to ensure we take maximum precautions.
Demand may bounce back
From what we can see, the demand is already there in certain segments. It may bounce back in other segments once the coronavirus situation comes under control. Companies need to find ways and means of handling 100% production.
Indian manufacturing companies have been sitting on huge productivity improvement opportunities. The manpower is used in excess in both, the shop floor and in offices. Both, blue collar and white collar productivity opportunities have been existing for a long time.
This is the time to double productivity at factories and one needs to quickly put teams together for this purpose. If demand is not back, one can use this time for implementing lean principles. One should form a core team and start with a model line. But there’s not too much time – this urgency should be used to implement lean in eight weeks across the company.
The other day, a company was allowed to start production as it serves the medical fraternity. They had 140 people in place of the normal 275. The team started production and the motivation of the team was high as it felt it is serving the nation in these troubled times. In five days, it started giving 95% of its normal output. In its words, it cut down on ‘nonessential’ work (NVAs in lean language). Their high motivation must have certainly helped. We need to study it and ensure it is more sustainable. Some more work is definitely needed, but the team has shown how a calamity can be turned into an opportunity. This team was not trained in lean principles at all, but it proved that necessity is the mother of invention.
We would recommend that companies do not go for high investment in robots and so on immediately. We need to arrive at a situation where only robots can add further value. But many companies can improve productivity in a big way just by looking at their work methods and maybe some small investments. We recommend that one put a very small budget for each line. This will ensure that the team will come up with the most frugal engineering ideas. We do not want to encourage temporary and flimsy work, but we should not throw away big money when it is not needed, either.
Using Industry 4.0 diligently
If companies can use Industry 4.0 elements diligently, they can improve the efficiency in a big way. For example, a machine shop will be able to use its machines much more effectively if it can schedule them with the help of software that connects all the machines and monitors their loading. For instance, a task assigner software can be developed to drive all the routine work in a factory like process quality monitoring/machine monitoring/production monitoring and so on. This software may work on smart phones. The time of the executives can be used much more effectively with the help of this software as it can schedule activities dynamically and ensure there is less unproductive time.
Digitalisation of office activities
This is the time to go for digitalisation in a big way in terms of office activities. If one has not been acting on this agenda, now one has enough motivation to do it. The white collar productivity can be addressed with this. Each department should work on reengineering its work and reworking the SOPs. If one does not have SOPs, then this is the time to write them – with all the team members sitting at home, they have all the time to write them. Every team should take the target of managing its work with 50% of the man hours that are available.
Companies like Siemens and Wipro are supporting companies in Industry 4.0 and the digitalisation agenda. There are already a good number of projects happening in the country. But I would suggest that one should not look for examples – one needs to be a trail blazer and create examples.
Indian companies have a unique opportunity to implement Industry 4.0, digitalisation agenda, along with basic lean practices. The improvement in productivities can be phenomenal. The investment will pay back very easily.
A team has to adapt itself to the new environment of fewer people and the need for higher productivity. It also has to take care of the heightened hygiene requirements and adopt new behaviours. The cost of indiscipline in the new situation can be very high. One needs to train the team and the change has to start from the top.
Senior management awareness and commitment
The senior management has to educate itself on the higher productivity possibilities and ensure they motivate their teams to take up this agenda. We notice that many senior management members may not be aware of these opportunities. Their conviction is important for this agenda to come even on to the table.
Let us look at the new behaviours that will be in demand in the new situation –
Planning is one element that is not given its due in the manufacturing industry. We will require a lot of planning in the new environment. A sales manager needs to plan his/her priorities more carefully. Changing the production plan and rearranging them will be much tougher in the new environment as the procurement team may be working from home & they will not be able to visit the vendor partners as frequently as they may want. Plus, an HR manager has to plan the recruitment and induction training more carefully and also ensure he/she trains all the new recruits in the ‘heightened safety/hygiene practices’.
Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for every activity
In the new situation, the team is not going to be very close by. It will have to learn how to manage work with fewer interventions from other team members and the boss. Employees will follow the rules if the overall environment is that of a structured one. Take the example of an MRT and MRT station – the whole structure of an MRT station and metro trains is very well defined. The trains come and stop exactly at the same place. There are automatic gates controlling the movement of people. The security team nudges the passengers to behave in a certain way while getting down and getting in. Every person going into the MRT station follows the rules; one very rarely sees someone violating them. Hence, if the overall environment is well-defined and the whole system is well thought of, then the discipline will improve in the whole area.
Regular exercise and managing health
Many of the working people are not very health conscious – they do not regularly exercise and are all focused only on work & nothing else. The health of employees has always been a matter of importance for a company, but now it is so much the more. Companies have to encourage employees to take care of themselves and stay healthy & strong. They can also introduce regular exercise activities for them.
Clear KPIs for everyone
When the team is going to be away from each other and when it will have less opportunities to make mistakes due to multiple restrictions that are going to be there, it is important for employees to be clear about what they need to do and what targets they have to achieve. Clear KPIs and targets can be very useful to the team to just focus on what it has to achieve and plan its activities towards that. All bosses have to review the KPIs regularly.
The days of having many people in a hotel room for training are behind us now. At least for a few more months, we can’t hope to train our employees in such a way. We now have to train them on microskills and the training has to happen online & more often. We should probably also ask our employees to allot a few hours to learning every week. We need to ensure their skill levels on all the functional skills are improved and they are made more effective. We will have to address the microskill/practices that the employees have to learn in the new environment and the training has to be re-engineered.
Become slow and steady
The normal way of working of our teams is to go all out and to try to do everything in a very fast manner. The quality takes a back seat. For example, if we are setting up a factory, we pride ourselves in saying that we have built the factory and started it in three months flat/six months flat and so on. But after starting the factory, the people working in it will suffer every day due to bad layouts, bad material handling arrangements, badly planned canteens and so on. In the current situation, companies have to find ways and means of becoming more efficient immediately. Hence, we should act after considering all angles of an issue and we may have to slow down to speed up.
Employees, now, have to become more tech-savvy. They need to identify the ways and means of using the Industry 4.0 technology. For example, one may use a video analytics app for identifying the violations of physical distancing rules. Much better, the employees may be warned of possible violation. It is not enough if only the IT department is thinking of technology. The users will be able to suggest much better applications. The overall guiding factor is to become more efficient and avoid the violation of physical distancing rules.
Deep dives by leaders
The leaders in this situation have to be on the shop floor/market as needed. The new ways of working have to be formulated by the team and the leaders should participate in all the new ‘ways of working’ to understand the problems that the teams will face. They should help the teams to solve problems in the new way of working.
Rediscovering oneself using the calamity
With a reformed action plan in place, factories and companies need to take steps that ensure the well-being and safety of their employees and not just focus on production and output. We are good at responding to a crisis and Indian manufacturing companies can rediscover themselves using this calamity.