By Jean Olivieri, COO, Fictiv
We’re moving at great speed through a crisis that began as a post Chinese New Year supply chain disruption in Wuhan and has now, like the virus itself, spread around the world. The human impact of Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) will be huge and the safety of those at risk is, of course, top of mind. In the meantime, we’re dealing with a disruption that is unprecedented and unpredictable.
Most recently we’ve seen that supply chain disruption amplified and disruptions to demand and workplace practices pile on to create a perfect storm that will challenge the industry in the short term and change it in the medium term.
What is the role of domestic production here in the US and what does that mean to global supply chains in the future. These topics are part of our daily lives right now, as we manage our customers’ requirements, do what we can to deliver the products that support and protect our healthcare workers, and observe the disruption occurring in our industry.
It is at these times that leadership and a desire to collaborate is needed. I am glad, and proud, to say that technology and manufacturing is stepping up. We’ve seen some great examples over recent days and weeks that offer hope and help where they are most needed.
The manufacturing industry in the US is impressive in terms of capability and capacity. Right now, it needs to be both of those, but most of all it needs to be adaptable. In some cases, this means factories that were making essential products like medical equipment or consumables ramping volumes very fast. In other cases, it requires factories to repurpose their production lines to make something quite different. This isn’t the first time that’s happened in the national interest and it isn’t the first time a President has used the Defense Production Act to ensure production is properly redeployed.
We’ve seen impressive examples or both redeployment and collaboration, like the Ford Partnership with GE Healthcare that will produce 50,000 simplified ventilators by July or Xerox mass producing disposable ventilators in partnership with Vortran. The copier giant plans to help Vortran, a small medical-device manufacturer, scale production of its GO2Vent ventilator and related airway pressure monitor, APM-Plus, from approximately 15,000 before the crisis and 40,000 ventilators in April to between 150,000 and 200,000 a month by June. Their goal is to produce as many as one million for the U.S. and global markets.
There are numerous other examples of impressive production capacity being redeployed, and among those most adaptable are contract manufacturers who have deep and broad production skills that can be quickly applied to new products. These companies produce many different parts and products day-in-day-out.
Retooling or repurposing lines to make essential products may not be simple, but it is urgent and necessary. It is also the only way for manufacturers to stay relevant and occupied in these times of extreme disruption.
Adapting alternative processes
Over recent years the 3D printing industry has built impressive capacity and expertise. Every few months new equipment, new materials and new processes are released that make this manufacturing method even more compelling, reliable and flexible. This is an industrial capacity that has really stepped in. There are many parts, traditionally made through other processes, where the supply chains have been disrupted. Now’s the time to consider if that part can be manufactured using 3D printing or another alternative process for that matter.
In Italy, where the crisis is close to an apparent peak, a doctor reached out for help because ventilators valves were unavailable. Within hours a local 3D printing company had a printer onsite, reverse engineered the part and was printing valves. Within a day, more than ten patients had their breathing assisted by those ventilators using 3D printed parts.
It’s important to remember that while 3D Printing might be the fastest route to the first part and even the 10th or 100th part, it won’t be the fastest to the higher volumes needed for products like PPE (Personal Protective Equipment).
Creativity, innovation, collaboration
Right now, we’re in uncharted waters and it’s all hands on deck. What we need, and thankfully what we are seeing, is a combination of creativity, innovation and collaboration. The manufacturing industry is showing its ability to adapt and is using all the tools at its disposal. And that’s an impressive set of tools!
Bringing all parts of the ecosystem and supply chain together has created the opportunity to introduce new solutions quickly, to ramp production where needed and to innovate solutions that help us to fix urgent shortfalls. In our own global manufacturing ecosystem, we’re busy making sure that those that need to ramp volumes can, and that those that have available capacity can connect with demand. Just last week, we took an open source design, made some small modifications and tooled in two locations to deliver tens of thousands of face-shields to frontline healthcare workers, to ensure these heroes stay safe and can continue the amazing work they do.
Built in agility
What’s important right now is that we leverage agility where it exists. The digital thread that connects a design to the final delivered product is essential when we need to ramp product, move production or redeploy capacity. Having that digital thread and the transparency that comes with it means a part that was made in one geography today, can be made elsewhere tomorrow.
A few supply chains are fully digitally enabled, they were ready for this crisis, as they were for the last one, and as they will be for the next one. Unfortunately, not all supply chains are. Those that are not digitally enabled are straining, and in many cases breaking, under the pressure of disruption. When this crisis is all over, it’ll be time to review what worked and what didn’t and I suspect there will be an additional drive for the digital transformation of the supply chain and of the entire manufacturing industry.