As we embrace the needed isolation that is aimed at slowing the progression of the coronavirus, many of us are frustrated by the interruption to our business goals and productivity. Our imposed idleness, with the health and well being of our friends and neighbors being our top priority, makes us question what the best use of our time and energy might be in the midst of this storm.
I am finding that on a personal level, I have more time to contemplate some needed personal activities (for example, at our home we need to do some landscaping around the exterior of our house, and our basement ought to be sorted out as we have been storing all manner of personal items down there for years!). I have also been doing some reflecting on our mission and goals here at Optimation as we, along with our clients, react to the COVID-19 disruption. We are being forced to acknowledge that our plans and activities (as we viewed the new year back in January and February) have been subverted, and we have a strong desire to salvage something useful from these unforeseen circumstances.
At Optimation, many of the capital projects we have been working on with our customers are now in a state of uncertainty, as our clients are also sorting out what they are first allowed to do, and second what the should do for the future benefit of their respective companies. They are having to send their own personnel home and shut down their factories (as mandated by our state leadership), making it difficult if not impossible to also pursue their planned upgrade efforts. Thus, it follows that our team of engineers, designers, and skilled trades fabricators are idled as we wait to see what the future outcome of these projects may be.
Our company has preserved some most of its capability, as we have been fortunate to be classified as an Essential Business, given our client base in the food and beverage/pharmaceutical/chemical segments. We are required, as all other companies are, to follow all CDC recommended protocols in order to protect our own employees, and others we may come in contact with as we serve to keep our key customer production in the Essential category operational. Thus, while we have reduced our headcount in our office space by requiring most of our technical staff to work from home (we are well equipped electronically to be able to do this), we are maintaining our full suite of skills.
This brings me back to my original question about the best use of our time, now couched in the context of, what should Optimation be doing with a staff of highly skilled technical and shops personnel, who are otherwise currently underutilized? I believe the current “state of affairs” warrants some corporate contemplation and planning, much as I have been musing for personal goals. If our customers have machinery, even whole production lines, that are now idled, what forward looking opportunities does this condition offer?
Specifically, we have frequently witnessed the pull that managing day to day operations has on the people that populate our customers’ factories. The capital projects that we typically deliver usually deal with this reality. In many instances, the need to keep product flowing out the door is an all-consuming effort, and keeping the machinery running becomes a series of high impact, short duration quick fixes. This unfortunately leads compromises that patch equipment problems in the short term, but don’t ultimately address and correct root causes. Over time, while our clients are successful at supplying their products, their equipment has been aging and its reliability is being compromised. Now, with the forced shutdowns, these manufacturing lines that have been repaired multiple times may become available to be serviced in a way that could radically extend their life and significantly boost their productivity. This potential equipment availability, forced by our shared responses to the COVID-19, is in fact a subtle but real opportunity.
To close the circle on this argument, our Optimation team of problem solvers and solution providers stands ready to help our clients visualize and concept long range solutions to current and future manufacturing system needs. The downtime created out of necessity to preserve the health of all has in fact created a window that will allow our client process experts, technicians, and operators to attend to their process integrity and capability as we assist in planning for upgrades that can now be pursued and prepared for implementation in the upcoming months.
We would encourage all of our manufacturing partners to consider this a time for long range planning, to examine problem areas in their respective processes, to seek help in identifying root causes and concepting robust solutions; we submit that now would be an appropriate time to identify bottle necks in manufacturing lines and to engineer equipment updates and additions to yield more production output. With the available time, these solutions could be designed, built, and readied for implementation, positioning companies to arise out of this current maelstrom stronger and better equipped.