With the U.S. now vaccinating an astonishing 2 million people per day, the end of the pandemic is drawing closer than ever. Even once it’s over, though, there are some parts of our world that will have changed forever. More people have now become accustomed to digital buying than ever before—and manufacturers will continue to see high demand for affordable, quick-to-ship products. If your plant is starting to reckon with this new reality, here are a few strategies to help maximize production in a post-Covid world, and avoid any shutdowns in the future.
Identify potential bottlenecks
The first step in fixing the kinks in your supply chain is identifying them. Usually, the biggest sources for risk will be the outside facilities, contractors, or sub-contractors that you depend on to produce your product. This is especially true for products that require a specialized skillset to assemble, or contain difficult-to-source components. In order to keep everything running smoothly, take a moment—or several moments—to identify exactly who you rely on, all the way down to the smallest sub-contractor. Once you’ve done that, you’ll be ready to consider the strategies we’ll discuss below.
Bring parts of your supply chain in-house
Since every step in your production process is a potential point of risk, the most obvious way to reduce that risk is to bring as many processes in-house as possible. Before you reject this idea as financially unfeasible, consider that new technological advances, especially in the field of automation, can often make domestic production much more affordable than was in years prior. Robotic palletizers, for example, can greatly reduce the labor involved in preparing pallets for shipping, and in-house labeling and coding machines can eliminate another step in production. Not only do these solutions increase efficiency, they are also attractive to manufacturers post-pandemic because they reduce the need for human contact, and therefore the spread of germs.
On the subject of humans, we would be remiss to move on without acknowledging the concerns that have been raised about automation over the years. While automation does stand to eliminate the need for certain tasks that are currently performed manually, we would argue that many of these jobs are extremely tedious and often hazardous. Like any other innovation in the past century, automation stands to change the way we work, not eliminate it.
Diversify your supply chain
If it’s just not possible for you to bring every aspect of your production in-house, your next best option is to diversify your list of suppliers. If you can spread out your supply chain among multiple factories or regions, you will be able to source components and/or labor from sources that are not all vulnerable to the same risks.
Many economists have advocated for a “near-sourcing” model, wherein manufacturers would source materials and labor close to the market in which the product will be consumed. In North America, this would primarily mean reallocating plants from China to locations in Mexico and Central America, a move with both positives and negatives.
Others have argued for a distribution model that is more globalized, not less, in order to avoid any risk that would threaten a particular location. For instance, when the 2004 tsunami occurred, many companies that had relocated plants from China to Vietnam and Malaysia found that that diversification was not enough to eliminate stalls in production that affected the entire region.
Build a stockpile of key components
The Coronavirus certainly gave us all a lesson in the importance of saving for an emergency—whether with a bank account or a physical stockpile of inventory. Now, you can put that lesson into practice by considering a “safety stock” that would mitigate the effects of a future crisis.
As you set about building your stockpile, consider which components are the most valuable, and which points along the supply chain are the most high-risk for disruption. Since this type of “safety stock” ties up assets, and runs counter to decades-long practices of keeping inventories lean, you might not want to put aside too much product, especially if you produce for the tech sector. However, as we have just witnessed over the past year, having no backup plan whatsoever poses a big risk to your profitability, too. The only solution is to sit down with your firm’s key stakeholders and assess the potential costs of a hypothetical disruption, versus the costs of setting aside some emergency resources.
Overcoming Packaging, Marking and Coding Challenges in 2021
The Covid-19 pandemic has been a long, difficult struggle for all of is. But while it can be tempting to write off this year as a loss, it can also be viewed through the metaphorical lens of a forest wildfire: initially devastating, but ultimately an opportunity for growth and rebirth. The concerns raised in this article existed long before the pandemic. Now, we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to “grow back” cleaner and greener than ever.
SSI Packaging supplies industrial packaging, marking, and coding equipment for our clients across the East Coast. From commercial inkjet printers and labelers to everyday packing tape, we offer everything you need to move your products safely, affordably and efficiently. If you would like to place an order or learn more about our services, please feel free to give us a call.
Normally, we devote our blog to information about our marking, coding, and packaging materials. But as we all know, the times we are living in are anything but “normal.” As the world waits anxiously for the Covid-19 vaccine, we thought we’d take a moment to address the question that’s weighing on everyone’s minds: Why is this taking so long?
Now, just to be clear, we are not handling any part of the vaccine rollout (although we can dream that one of our boxes or rolls of tape might make contact, somehow). However, as a supplier for some of the biggest distribution chains in the country, we feel that it’s not too off-topic to discuss this particular rollout. With no further ado, here are some of the top factors that are coming between you and your Covid vaccine.
Ingredient & equipment shortages
One of the main bottlenecks slowing the vaccine distribution happens at the very start of the process: a simple lack of ingredients. At the time of this writing, the FDA has approved three vaccines for emergency use, and two of the three (the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines) require tough-to-source ingredients like mRNA-building plasmids, nucleotides, and enzymes. While it was easy for researchers to procure these components for their trial studies, the amount required to create millions of vaccines just isn’t in ready supply.
Another rather simple issue affecting production is a lack of equipment. According to Glenn Richey of Auburn University, many manufacturing facilities aren’t stocked with the amount of vials, syringes, and machinery they’ll need to create and move millions of vaccine doses. Like everyone else in what you will see is a very lengthy supply chain, vaccine manufacturers have no choice but to “build the airplane as it flies,” so to speak.
Challenges in making, storing, & shipping the vaccine
Even if a plant has everything it needs to make a vaccine, doing so isn’t as easy as mixing up a pot of soup on the stove. All three currently-authorized vaccines have long, complex, and risk-abundant manufacturing processes, with lots of potential for missteps (and therefore, wastage). The Pfizer vaccine, for instance, must be created in three separate phases at three different facilities, a process which takes several weeks to complete.
Once a batch of vaccines is made, distribution is complicated by their stringent refrigeration requirements. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine must be stored at -70 degrees Celsius—colder than winter in Antarctica—while the Moderna and J&J vaccines must be stored at -20 degrees Celsius, the temperature of a normal freezer. Assembling the materials necessary for shipping this kind of product (like dry ice and specialized stay-cold containers) is a supply chain in and of itself, and executing a prompt delivery presents another hurdle.
If all this is starting to feel kind of depressing, keep in mind that things might not be as bad as they appear—literally. Some experts have noted that there can be a big delay in the time it takes for a vaccine to leave a distribution center and the time it takes for its use to be recorded, creating the false impression that huge amounts of vaccines are being wasted. Julie Swann, head of the Department of the Industrial and Systems Engineering at NC State University, told Scientific American, “If you think, ‘Two days to ship, three days to give it out, and another two days to record that,’ there can easily be a week between when the government says it has been distributed, and when you can really expect to see that number [of administered doses] change correspondingly.” She added that internal issues like this are impeding distribution much more than factors like transportation.
Bottom line: The vaccines are coming
Again, learning about the complexities involved with distributing the Covid-19 vaccine may leave you feeling a bit overwhelmed—but it’s important to stay hopeful. Remember that everyone involved in this massive supply chain—from the manufacturers, to the shipping and delivery personnel, to the medical administrators—have a vested interest in executing the rollout as efficiently and safely as possible. The longer the rollout continues, the more experienced everyone in the supply chain will become, and the more smoothly everything will flow—an effect which you have surely experienced in your own working life. In the meantime, all we can do is sit back, remain positive, and trust that one day we’ll all be able to live mask-free once again.