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Manufacturers talk about pivoting in the face of a crisis

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Whether you’re a huge chicken processor, a distillery, a multinational chemical company or a maker of high-performance flexible materials serving the aerospace, personal protection, and pharmaceutical industries, the problems facing Delaware manufacturers seem similar.

Over a 50-minute panel discussion during the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce’s Putting Delawareans Back to Work event on July 21, panelists from Perdue Farms, Painted Stave Distilling, DuPont, and ILC Dover said that the uncertainty over whether COVID-19 cases are coming back and how to stay nimble are impacting what the second half of 2020 and 2021 will look like.

The Delaware manufacturing industry represents nearly 6% of the state’s economy with 27,000 employees in 2018, said Delaware Manufacturing Association Chair Paul Morris, who is also associate vice president of workforce development and community education at Delaware Technical Community College.

“The future is up in the air,” Perdue Assistant General Counsel Andrew Getty said. “There are still decisions to be made on schooling, which impact the ability to make it into work. But there’s still a high demand for our products and the job skills we need really haven’t changed.”

Pre-pandemic, 80% of Painted Stave Distilling’s revenues came from its status as a “destination distillery” with the rest coming from distribution, co-owner Ron Gomes said. “

“All that went away,” he said.

But the Smyrna-based distillery pivoted, ramping up production of distilled hand sanitizer in the early months. As demand for that product dwindled, they pivoted again to opening the distillery’s cocktail garden, which reopened at 55% occupancy. And now, the business is focused on selling products through online channels.

DuPont has spent the last few months “pivoting to support the community,” said Chief Operations and Engineering Officer Daryl Roberts, explaining that the company is using 3D printing to print face shields and producing hand sanitizer. As a major supplier to the medical garment industry though, it has also maximized its capacity – making 50 million garments during the first half of the year – and simplified patterns to make materials, sharing them with others like the New York City garment industry.

“Some markets will remain strong; with others it’s wait and see,” Roberts said. “But the skills we need remain the same – we need people who are technologically savvy.”

The panelists all said the focus over the past few months has been to keep people safe, thinking about how to take care of employees, and in a few cases, ensuring maintaining the supply chain.

“The governor’s office has constantly adjusted its guidelines,” ILC Dover Vice President of Global Operations Steve Warthman said. “We have to get the mix right. When we got our first in-house case, we went back to the drawing board.  We had to think about spouses and child care. We started providing free box lunches and making hardship payments beginning April 1.”

But in terms of the supply chain, ILC Dover has had to simplify and shorten the supply chain to make the company more responsive, redesigning products based on feedback that it got from doctors and nurses. For example, the company has had to figure out how to make its products last longer after getting input from doctors and nurses that they were wearing N95 masks for a week or more when supply was low.

As part of its innovation efforts – which included the use of lean methodologies to improve response times – the company also hired another 120 people to get products out. (MIKE: LINK TO FRAN VOICES).

For Painted Stave, the company is advocating for legislative change to streamline efforts to pivot, recognizing that many people won’t want to enjoy things they once enjoyed under the changing social constraints. It also is looking for IT specialists who can help identify opportunities for fulfillment and possibly delivery while helping workers develop the skills to interact with people who aren’t next to you.

And at DuPont, one of the focuses has been on logistics, having to deal with the difficulty of air freight, using rail to move cargo from Europe to Asia, and seeing shipping lanes decrease.

“We anticipate more surprises, but every time there’s a challenge there’s an opportunity to innovate,” Roberts said, adding that the company agrees with the adage that you should “never waste a crisis.”

By Peter Osborne


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