PLANT

Manufacturers are responding to COVID-19

They're helping to meet critical shortages of health care products for diagnosing, treating, and preventing the virus.


Manufacturers across Canada and around the world are feeling the impact from the COVID-19 crisis as it dramatically impacts demand.

Industry shutdowns in heavily infected areas such as China, eastern Asia, and Europe are already restricting the availability of materials, components and finished goods needed to maintain production.

Manufacturers have needed to jump into crisis management mode fast, taking immediate steps to preserve cash and ensure financial sustainability. Companies have been taking steps to complete unfilled orders, protect their workforce while keeping production open as much as possible, and support workers in cases where lay-offs have occurred.

Securing supplies of critical components have been a priority, if that’s even possible in light of global disruptions. And plans are being put together if there are extended periods of slow or no business, then plans for as rapid a recovery as possible when the crisis passes.

Uncertainties about the spread of COVID-19 with the extent and severity of impacts on customer demand, supplier vulnerabilities, financial support, and business sustainability make the current situation highly unstable for all companies.

COVID-19 has also led to a surge in demand for household consumables as families batten down the hatches. Shortages have quickly appeared on grocery store and pharmacy shelves as products such as toilet paper, cold and flu remedies, cleaning products, pasta, canned and baking goods were scooped up. Food processors and specialty chemicals manufacturers will be pressed to ramp up production to keep shelves stocked. Yet supply constraints are likely to emerge, particularly over the summer, if there are not enough farm workers to plant or harvest fruit and vegetables.

Canada is facing more critical shortages of health care products for diagnosing, treating, and preventing COVID-19. In particular, demand is skyrocketing for: virus screening tests, vaccines, therapeutics, and symptom management treatments; personal protective equipment; cleaning and sterilization chemicals and equipment; and medical equipment such as ventilators and peripherals.

Canadian and provincial governments have issued a call to action for manufacturers to step in and ramp up supply. Business associations have followed suit. But it’s not as easy as it sounds.

Scaling up the production of safe medical products requires the technical validation of new products and technologies, and systems required for production. Materials and components need to be acquired – and new sources of supply identified and procured – no mean feat at a time of widespread supply shortages.

Manufacturers need to be able to produce to acceptable product and production standards. Their products also need to be tested and approved by regulators, especially if there is a risk they may endanger the health and safety of patients or health care workers. And that’s all before new equipment is acquired, production processes are repurposed, or additional production capacity added.

Nevertheless, many companies are stepping up to the challenge. Auto and aerospace parts producers are working to repurpose their manufacturing capacity. Technology companies are moving fast to develop digital applications that will help model the disease, coordinate industry responses and improve supply chain efficiencies. Biotech and pharmaceutical companies have accelerated their efforts to develop tests, vaccines and therapeutics to treat the disease.

Some of Canada’s leading clothing companies are now producing personal protective gear. Chemical companies and distilleries across the country are rapidly scaling up the supply of cleaning products and hand sanitizers. And manufacturers with capacity to produce materials and components in short supply will also play an essential role in sustaining supply chains.

It’s a full court press, and it requires a coordinated effort. Next Generation Manufacturing Canada is working to coordinate with government and manufacturers that have the capabilities to step into the breach. We will be making Health Canada approved product specifications, testing procedures, manufacturing specifications, and bills of materials widely available to manufacturers across the country. And we are working with procurement authorities as well as some of Canada’s leading companies to structure efficient procurement and distribution systems.

NGen has also allocated $50 million to support industry-led projects leading to rapid production launches of critical products and materials required to fight COVID-19. We intend to fund initiatives that will deliver the right products to health care workers as quickly as possible.

For more information, go to www.ngen.ca/covid19-response.

Jayson Myers, the CEO of Next Generation Manufacturing Canada, is an award-winning business economist and advisor to private and public sector leaders. E-mail jayson.myers@ngmcanada.com. Visit www.ngmcanada.com.

This article appeared in the March-April 2020 print edition of PLANT Magazine.

 



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