More than 60% of manufacturing employees surveyed by MC Machinery Systems say the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed opportunities for innovation, most notably in collaborative manufacturing and automation. The biggest opportunities cited were collaborative manufacturing (29%), automation (21%), supply chain (17%), and virtual training/ education (14%.) We share these survey results and more in Gaining Altitude.

Isabel Florence, MC Machinery Systems’ marketing manager informs me the 29% figure for collaborative manufacturing is actually higher, because 10% of respondents chose all of the above.

“Collaborative manufacturing includes companies forming partnerships with other companies that may not have the same capabilities, bundling ideas, and working on improving processes rather than just keeping everything internal,” Florence says, adding, “It’s a great way for companies to expand their offerings by working with partners in the value chain network, rather than competing with them.”

Whether such collaboration outlives the pandemic remains to be seen, but the willingness to explore such options and seek complementary skills may prove essential for businesses to survive. And it’s nothing new. Aerospace original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) have encouraged smaller companies to combine strengths to produce ready-to- install sub-assemblies that streamline aircraft production.

More than 350 people participated in the MC Machinery online survey between April 24 and May 1, 2020. The respondents represented manufacturers in aerospace, medical, automotive, and mold & die. They range from large companies to small job shops, with 86% of respondents working for or owning manufacturing companies with fewer than 200 employees. About half perform machining, the other half are in metal fabrication.

Not surprising, 82% of respondents were working on-site at essential businesses and 30% were manufacturing COVID-19-related products – personal protective equipment (PPE), ventilator parts, testing supplies, hand sanitizer, and hospital equipment.

“This survey illustrates how versatile and proactive the manufacturing industry is,” Florence says.

Additional findings: manufacturing companies’ sales have been most impacted by the pandemic, according to 48% of respondents, followed by production (25%) and supply chain (17%). Ten percent of respondents indicated sales, production, and supply chain were impacted equally.

There is some good news, too: 37% of survey respondents answered there will be a low, short-term negative impact on revenue from existing customers, while 38% said it’s too soon to tell, 20% expect a high, long-term negative impact, and 5% expect no impact.

Other areas for innovation are worth considering. Automation and robotics combined are perceived as opportunities for innovation, mentioned by 25% of all respondents – running the gamut from parts loaders to robotic arms performing complex tasks.

Emphasis on virtual training/education is another area to consider following the pandemic. While necessary now where personnel can’t travel or visit customers on-site, it’s shifted perceptions on how to do training in the future.

Florence says, “Some have signed up for refresher classes or to improve their skills. People are excited by it, we’ve gotten rave reviews from participants, so we’ll keep going and look to expand our remote training.” – Eric