Design World recently spoke to Mike Vaughn, VP of Operations, Lubrizol Corp., about his company’s experiences so far in working in — and working through — the current COVID-19 crisis.
Design World: What have you done with regard to your internal company practices to respond to the virus threat? What are you doing to keep your company up and running?
Mike Vaughn: Lubrizol had a global pandemic team and business continuity plans in place well before COVID-19. From the beginning, we leveraged their expertise to focus on what is always most important for us — the health and safety of our employees, our contractors, our customers, and our communities.
First, we’re keeping our employees and all those who work at our sites safe. Through our pandemic plans and team, we regularly assess and follow global health recommendations, as well as local guidance in all areas where the company operates. Employees who can are working from home. In other locations, the company minimized the number of employees and contractors on site, initiating rotations where feasible, practicing social distancing, instituting additional cleaning procedures and screening employees and contractors as they report to work. In all locations, Lubrizol has a range of policies to support employees as they seek to balance their professional and personal lives during this unprecedented time.
Second, we’re leveraging our science to enable important end-use products critical in this environment:
• Enabling 1 billion additional bottles of hand sanitizer every month — Lubrizol will enable an additional 1 billion bottles of hand sanitizer globally every month by increasing Carbopol production. Lubrizol’s Carbopol polymers efficiently thicken hand sanitizer formulations and allow the gel-like form we know them as today, which allows for a more complete and effective application. Since early January, the company pulled every available lever to support growing Carbopol demand and converted its global manufacturing assets to prioritize supply for cleansing and sanitizing products.
• Partnering to solve personal protective equipment & critical supply shortages — Lubrizol’s ESTANE thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) materials are being applied in a multitude of applications to help protect responders and fight the COVID-19 battle. TPU’s versatility, durability and barrier properties bring value in protective garments, face shields, barrier curtains, hoses, tubing and cables, and devices produced through 3D printing. Our material scientists are collaborating with customers across the globe to help them adjust their operations to serve these urgent needs and address critical shortages.
• Contributing to medical devices and pharmaceuticals — Lubrizol teams supporting pharmaceutical customers are ensuring active ingredient delivery in a variety of drug products, while also supplying medical customers with flexible, biocompatible materials for vascular catheters, IV tubing sets, wound dressings and medical device components utilized in ventilators, valves, and infusion pumps.
• Moving more than half of the world’s vehicles — Lubrizol’s additives keep more than half of the world’s vehicles running reliably and efficiently. During this pandemic, the company is continuing its important role in supporting the world’s infrastructure, including keeping first responder and delivery vehicles moving.
• Protecting food packaging and delivering clean water — Lubrizol’s coatings chemistry is protecting millions of packages of food and other staples, while its materials used in piping systems reliably deliver clean water for hand washing and safe drinking.
Third, we are supporting our communities. We announced a $2 million donation commitment to support COVID-19 needs globally and have already contributed $325,000 in critical supplies to hospitals and charitable organizations in China, we are supporting hospitals and medical staff in the U.S. and Europe, we are providing meals from local restaurants to hospitals across our locations, we’ve established a U.S. matching gift program with the American Red Cross, and we are building a team of employees to provide virtual volunteering support, among many other efforts.
DW: Assuming roughly two months of this “new normal,” how much of an impact do you think there will be on your day-to-day work, projects, etc.?
MV: At this time, our manufacturing operations capability across the world has not been significantly impacted, and the majority of inventory across our business also remains at normal levels. We continue to closely monitor logistics flow and our supply chain to minimize disruptions. We are still early in this journey, so we haven’t seen a measured shift at this point, and further projections are difficult to predict. Of course, we will be closely watching the dynamics of this environment.
DW: What are some of the initiatives that your company has taken to protect workers while maintaining the business?
MV: Our main priority continues to be the safety of our employees and all those who work at our sites, and we continue to assess this daily. As part of our safety culture, Lubrizol had pandemic plans and teams in place well before COVID-19. These teams were activated early in this journey and are regularly assessing and following both global health recommendations, as well as local guidance in all areas where we operate.
As mentioned above, employees who can are working from home. In other locations, the company minimized the number of employees and contractors on site, initiating rotations where feasible, practicing social distancing, instituting additional cleaning procedures and screening employees as they report to work. In all locations, Lubrizol has a range of policies to support employees as they seek to balance their professional and personal lives during this unprecedented time
DW: How do you think your job, in particular, can be handled during times of restricted personal interaction like these?
MV: Our teams across the business are doing an exceptional job of adapting to theses unprecedented circumstances on a global level. We continue to operate business as usual in order to meet the growing customer need for our products. We have found that our global team is extremely resilient. Everyone at Lubrizol has been bought in on our ongoing efforts to improve lives. This is an extraordinary moment in history where companies like ours have the opportunity to make an impact on a global scale, and I am proud to say our people are rising to the occasion.
DW: What seem to be the main threats to your supply chain right now?
MV: It varies across the business and across the industries we serve. In terms of increased demand, we are seeing unprecedented demand for our Carbopol polymers, a thickening agent found in most hand sanitizing gels and cleansing applications, to assist with the global fight against COVID-19.
Since early January, we have modified and expanded our production, and consulted with customers on new formulations, allowing us to triple the amount of hand sanitizer ingredients we can supply our customers. This will enable 1 billion bottles of hand sanitizer every month to be delivered to the healthcare industry, first responders and consumers around the world. Two years ago, Lubrizol proactively made the decision to invest more than $20 million to increase supply capabilities. The expansion was expedited earlier this year and is now complete, months ahead of schedule, enabling the ramped-up production of Carbopol polymers. We’ve also looked at alternative formulations in partnership with customer needs.
We’re seeing some increases for our TPU polymers as well for different personal protective gear needs. In our Additives business, which largely serves the transportation and auto industry, we are anticipating some short-term disruption tied to customer declines in this market.
DW: Can you share an update on your various global operations?
MV: At this time, our manufacturing operations capability across the world has not been significantly impacted, and the majority of inventory across our business also remains at normal levels. We continue to closely monitor logistics flow and our supply chain to minimize disruptions. Our experience gained from managing production throughout hurricane season in North America can be applied to our process response. We have the capability of building safety stocks of high priority products. This has been done through bulk terminal locations, drum storage warehousing, and rail car storage. We also learned from and applied best practices from our team in Asia Pacific, since they experienced and reacted to COVID-19 earlier than other parts of the world.
DW: What are some tips and tricks your team has discovered/implemented?
MV: This situation has shown the importance of having business continuity plans in place before a crisis strikes. Much of what we have done to respond has been based on those existing plans and on the expertise of our global pandemic team. Additionally, Lubrizol has always had a culture of innovation, and we have drawn upon that to pull every lever to meet the ever-growing demand for our products that go into hand sanitizer, personal protective equipment, medical devices, medication and more.
DW: How are you maintaining employee productivity? What about mental health/worker morale? Where’s your focus there?
MV: Our information solutions team has done a terrific job keeping teams working remotely connected through not only our network but remote connectivity tools like video meeting technology and internal social collaboration sites. We’re sending communications out to employees regularly to keep them connected to our business activity, whether that be virtual panel discussions with our leaders, virtual roundtables, pulse surveys or internal storytelling.
We are doing everything possible to protect our employees’ jobs and income. We have not had any change in employment, outside of regular course of business activities, during this time. Across the company, Lubrizol has a range of policies to support employees as they seek to balance their professional and personal lives during this environment. These ensure they receive full pay while they may be taking care of a child, an elderly relative or in quarantine, as examples.
We also created a special bonus pool for employees who have been and continue to report to our sites to keep our essential operations running. The well-being of our employees and all those reporting to our sites continues to be the top priority for Lubrizol.
DW: What are the biggest issues that you are seeing customers and suppliers face and how are you addressing them?
MV: So many of our valued customers are getting creative to support COVID-19 needs, and we are proud to support these efforts. For instance, customers who might typically use our TPU material for performance wear are now using these materials for face shields. Beverage providers we typically partner with for packaging coatings are making hand sanitizer and requesting Carbopol. If we can make a difference right now in supporting critical needs, we are. For our hand sanitizer ingredient, as an example, we are prioritizing customer orders that focus on the healthcare community and the broadest end-use production of hand sanitizers
DW: What message(s) do you wish to give to colleagues across the manufacturing world at this time?
MV: I have already seen other manufacturers, including our suppliers, customers and partners, unite in this fight and rise to this unprecedented global challenge. And we offer our thanks to all of them.
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Filed Under: Hack the Crisis: Engineering through COVID-19