Lean Manufacturing in the Age of COVID-19

Lean manufacturing relies on the principle of efficiency with minimum waste. The process applies to industries across many fields, but it is especially relevant to the manufacturing sector among ISO 9001 certified organizations.

The COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on production have created new opportunities for lean manufacturing. This change has challenged the possibility of complete waste reduction, although many manufacturers are rising to the occasion.

COVID-19’s Effect on Lean Manufacturing

As the COVID-19 pandemic began to hit communities all across America, hospitals and medical centers grappled with an overwhelming demand for care but limited medical supplies. Shortages of hospital cots, surgical masks, and other equipment were widespread.

The exponential increase in demand for supplies was a turning point for the production industry—an opportunity to utilize lean manufacturing to address the rapidly incoming problems of coronavirus.

As an example, Ohio-based production company Pioneer quickly connected the rampant medical supply shortage with its manufacturing capabilities. Before coronavirus, Pioneer specialized in horse-drawn farm equipment. When coronavirus started to surge in the midwest, leaders of Pioneer took only two weeks to:

  • Establish a hospital cot prototype
  • Connect with relevant industry partners
  • Produce 50 cots on their first day of fabrication

Then, by utilizing lean manufacturing, Pioneer created a task time of just 30 seconds. In other words, they were now producing two cots every minute.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of lean manufacturing. With high stakes and short deadlines, the manufacturing industry can ultimately realize the growth possible in zero waste production.

Industry leaders at Pioneer demonstrated that we do not need to reinvent manufacturing every time new problems arise. Instead, we can rely on the already existing network of production capacity to achieve different goals.

How the Manufacturing Sector Is Adapting

Lean manufacturing during coronavirus shows that there will always be new and effective strategies to maximize efficiency in production. As the world changes during the time of COVID-19, production strategies are changing as well.

The manufacturing sector is adapting to the effects of the pandemic in the following ways:

  1. Worker Safety: Worker safety is of the utmost importance. Companies are redesigning physical spaces to prioritize worker safety. If remote work is not an option for a particular industry, it can arrange employee spacing and distance to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
  2. Visual Displays: Many manufacturing sectors have visual displays of proper distancing and hand-washing techniques. They also have point-of-use cleaning supplies spread throughout their physical production space.
  3. Communication: While employees might be at a greater physical distance from each other, having close communication remains essential. The lean manufacturing model pushes for more regular team check-ins and greater leadership alignment.

Another strategy includes team leadership identifying top priority tasks. Depending on capacity, leaders sideline non-essential tasks to maximize efficiency. Also, company leaders are adapting to consumer needs and streamlining the products and services that are in high demand.

Masks and Metal Fabrication During Coronavirus

Many manufacturing industry workers have witnessed the surge of employee mask mandates. However, some workers have actively resisted these mandates because of the nature of their work. For example, some employees:

  • Work in sparsely populated cities
  • Operate in physical spaces with built-in employee distancing practices

Mask mandates are making an appearance across all industries. For example, metal fabrication industries are pushing for their employees to wear protective masks. It is not only for the safety of their workers but also for the financial security of the organization.

The specifications of the mandates are different depending on an employee’s sector. However, all businesses could face lawsuits for refusing to enforce it.

For example, the steel market has been rapidly adjusting to its new demands following coronavirus. The market witnessed a decrease in overall steel demand; however, the surge in scrap production allows the industry to consolidate its material costs.

The steel market industry is using the lean manufacturing model to:

  • Maintain its pre-COVID-19 levels of production
  • Integrate new manufacturing techniques
  • Adjust to new levels of demand

Thinking Ahead

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to send ripple effects into all parts of the manufacturing industry. So, new perspectives and approaches are increasingly important. As the pandemic has shifted the supplies and demands of the industry, it has also improved the potential for complete manufacturing efficiency.

Coronavirus poses several challenges for lean manufacturing. Fortunately, capable industry leaders are transforming those difficulties into unique opportunities for growth. Relationships between companies are vital for creating these fast and effective solutions.

When lean manufacturing for coronavirus ends, companies like Pioneer will be able to scale back production quickly. As for the steel market, they are keeping their eyes on scrap prices. As steel prices decrease, there are service centers hesitant to put in orders.