We spoke with KNF Neuberger Inc.’s Director of Sales and Marketing, Eric Wilson and Senior Manager, Engineering, Edward Budriss, about the vacuum pump manufacturer’s response to the COVID-19 crisis.
Once things began, all personnel not essential for production or support of production were instructed to work remotely. This required the purchase of additional IT equipment and for people to adapt quickly to remote work. Additionally, KNF moved all non-essential staff capable of work remote out of the office and purchased additional tools equipment to support this effort.
“We have stepped up our cleaning of all common areas,” said Budriss. “We have engaged external cleaning services to help disinfect the facility and perform daily services.
One other focus is on morale boosters, as leadership is promoting the good work the team is doing and how critical it is to fight the COVID-19 Pandemic. Additionally, the company is working with suppliers to ensure they understand the criticality of the products that KNF produces.
Wilson said that the company’s use of collaboration tools has allowed for continued close communication, both internally and externally.
“Moving forward, the views of remote work will likely change forever,” he said. “The new normal will be the more regular availability of remote work. If there was hesitancy or trust issues in the past, this situation has opened the doors forever.”
Budriss agreed that remote work will become more normal and accepted as we build trust and comfort, and he explained that the company invested in cloud platforms and collaboration services several years ago and have remote work experience for most departments.
“We have found ways to migrate the last analog systems to digital solutions quickly in these past few weeks so all teams can work remote,” he said. “The hardest thing is breaking the feeling of being disconnected. For this, we need to continue as if we were in the office — stand up meetings still occur, status meetings, and we even have a digital break room where people can take a break for a few minutes. We use video conferencing when possible. We need to trust and rely on the team that is in the office as our eyes and ears.”
Keeping staff safe
Budriss said that all packages are quarantined for five days before the receiving team unpacks and distributes to the quality and production teams, along with several other initiatives:
• the company mandated that all employees with the potential for remote work do so.
• they has stepped up cleaning of all common areas and brought in a daily cleaning crew to disinfect every night
• they have increased the distance between production team members
• all doors are propped open to help prevent transmission
• there are staggered breaks and lunches to minimize the number of people together at once
• there is spreading out at lunch time, with multiple cafeterias, as opposed to gathering at tables together
• not sitting side by side at desks — using other spaces when necessary
Budriss said that a particular hardship for the engineering team has been the loss of witnessing R&D builds and testing. For this, they have had to rely on the eyes and ears of their in-office R&D technicians and document items thoroughly. Currently, the engineers are taking turns, with one different one going into the office each day to provide any of the tactile feedback, to limit team exposure.
“Now more than ever, we have the need for engagement and open communication,” Budriss said. “We have a common Engineering collaboration channel where we share all critical items and the team can post questions and comments. Critical projects have separate channels, which the whole organization can access. We encourage private chats and video conferencing. Our R&D technicians have been great about adopting the tools and reaching out to the engineers working remote. The engineering team has nearly 100% use of the same tools (CAD, Simulations, etc.) We are currently rotating each engineer into the office one at a time to take care of the few items that must be done in office, support critical designs, and be the eyes and ears to support operations if needed.”
KNF’s production team has a challenge to quadruple line throughput in some areas while maintaining safe distancing and employee safety. Employees have had to take extra care to understand their health and stay home if they have certain symptoms for the benefit of all in the organization.
“With our five-day material quarantine for all incoming goods, this delays the inspection/acceptance of material and places a burden on the logistics team to quickly prioritize and move the right material quickly, Budriss explained. “The engineering team faced some immediate challenges regarding our tools. The entire team utilized high powered computers and was not able to work remote. We quickly purchased equivalent laptops and got the team remote quickly. The engineering team is quite hands-on working with our R&D technicians to ensure designs meet customer expectations. We now rely on video calls, pictures, etc. from the R&D technicians to support our projects.”
“It is so important for essential employees to understand how their work contributes to and enables solutions to this global crisis,” Wilson said. “We also need to add a human element to our handling of the situation, because the anxiety and stress our workers face are very human. To understanding vulnerability is not a weakness, but a foundation for courage and strength. We must know we are in this together and show the utmost appreciation and respect to those on the front lines.”
Budriss encourages other manufacturers to be transparent with the organization on what actions the management team is taking for their safety and current health situations.
“For those essential employees, do some small things like free snacks, drinks, lunch, etc.,” he said. “Share how the products the team produce aid the fight against COVID-19. A strong positive corporate culture thrives in higher stress situations. Understand that different people have different life situations right now and we need to show compassion and trust the team is doing their best. We check in, laugh together, encourage and try to remove barriers that our team is facing.”
KNF Neuberger Inc.
Filed Under: Hack the Crisis: Engineering through COVID-19