5 coronavirus-related changes manufacturers expect to keep for the future

Last updated on October 20th, 2020 at 12:58 pm

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced a lot of companies to change the way they operate and manufacturers are no different. During the 2020 BizTimes Next Generation Manufacturing Summit, five local company executives shared some of the changes they’ve made this year that they expect to continue even after the pandemic is over.

Staggered lunches and breaks

Several years ago Mike Kryshak, owner of Saukville-based wet wipe maker Rebel Converting, gave employees a choice to tryout a 4-day workweek with 10-hour shifts. Employees like the change and it stuck, but when COVID-19 hit the company had to start operating 24/7 to keep up with demand.

One of the changes made to keep people safe was staggering the timing of breaks, lunches and when employees start their shifts. The main purpose was to limit the number of people in any one area, but it has come with other benefits.

“We’ve been cross training so those machines never stop, that alone has resulted in a 24% increase of production and it’s more than halved our scrap because there’s no startup/stop. That’s something I think we would look at continuing to do,” Kryshak said.

Plant layout changes

Plastic injection molding company Sussex IM has a lot of automation in its operations already, but there are certain jobs that require a number of people to work in close proximity. Keith Everson, CEO of the Sussex-based company, said that to protect workers Sussex IM invested in dividers and panels to give employees their own space.

“When we were analyzing our KPIs, all of the sudden by doing this our efficiency started going up, quality started going up, so I don’t see us getting rid of that after the pandemic is over,” Everson said.

Moving quickly to jump on opportunities

Vonco Products has an internal mantra focused on finding ways to help and during the pandemic company moved quickly to make surgical gowns when it started fielding calls from distributors and even hospitals looking for PPE.

“The speed that we were able to take a former, really a rain poncho that we made 5 years ago and turn it into a level 3 and level 4 surgical gown was truly amazing and so those things start to set the benchmark for what the future looks like for Vonco Products,” said Keith Smith, president of Vonco.

New approaches to marketing

The performance side of Sussex-based engine testing equipment manufacturer Power Test Inc. relies heavily on trade shows to generate business. Rick Ruzga, president of Power Test, said the company prepared in advance for shows to be cancelled and acted quickly when they were officially called off.

“We immediately did a social media blitz on our version of a virtual trade show with access to subject matter experts, watching equipment being built, things of that nature,” Ruzga said. “I don’t think that will ever stop. I think we’ll continue to do that.”

Returning to relationships

An obvious casualty of the pandemic in the business world has been the ability to maintain and develop relationships in-person. Jeff Schwager, CEO of Sartori Cheese, pointed that internally and externally “business is relationships,” adding it was a tough decision to cancel the company picnic.

“We need to get back to that for good healthy culture, we need to get back to build relationships,” he said. “When you look at your supply chain, your customer base, to succeed through this you had to have good relationships. We want those back.”

Ruzga pointed out that Power Test had an onsite workout area where it would bring trainers in for employees, a benefit that has been curtailed by the pandemic.

“There’s an interpersonal part that you just can’t replace with technology, so I look forward to the day that we can all be back eating lunch together and working out together and the like,” he said.

The full panel discussion and event breakout sessions are available on demand here.





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Arthur covers banking and finance and the economy at BizTimes while also leading special projects as an associate editor. He also spent five years covering manufacturing at BizTimes. He previously was managing editor at The Waukesha Freeman. He is a graduate of Carroll University and did graduate coursework at Marquette. A native of southeastern Wisconsin, he is also a nationally certified gymnastics judge and enjoys golf on the weekends.

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