Survey results: increased recognition of COVID-19’s adverse impact

Digital work from home is fine, but manufacturing takes place in the physical world

By CFE Media April 3, 2020

Nearly three of four respondents to a Coronavirus (COVID-19) impact survey conducted by CFE Media & Technology from March 20 to 25 said their businesses were negatively affected, up from half the week before.

Of the 74% negatively impacted, the percentage of those feeling a “great deal” of impact increased from 13% for the time period of March 11 to 19 to 35% during the time period of March 20 to 25. Those experiencing severe supply chain impacts also nearly doubled in a week from 9% to 17%.

Leading company actions to date focus on limiting travel (80%); encouraging work from home (56%); working on contingency plans now with changes expected soon (57%); and eliminating travel (45%).

Respondents were drawn from visitors to the Control Engineering, Plant Engineering, Oil & Gas Engineering, and Consulting-Specifying Engineer websites.

Actions taken in response

The survey asked what, among 24 possible actions, the respondents’ companies were taking because of coronavirus. The top 10 responses were:

  1. Limiting travel
  2. Working on contingency plans now; expect to see changes soon
  3. Encouraging work from home
  4. Eliminating travel, with the percentage rising to 46% from 35%, previously.
  5. Delaying or eliminating hiring
  6. Mandating work from home (for those that can)
  7. Delaying or eliminating investments
  8. Adding supply chain contingencies such as secondary sources
  9. Adding new manufacturing capabilities to make up for breaks in supply chain
  10. Increasing production of relevant product categories to meet increased demand.

Not everyone at home

Fewer people said remote working wasn’t an option in the second sample, while 47% said they can complete critical parts job functions at home; only 24% said they could not, and 29% said they were unsure/ or for only some parts.

Among respondents, 53% say their companies are having supply chain problems. Those with severe problems nearly doubled from the previous survey time period, increasing from 9% to 17%.

Respondents were asked, what strategies should the U.S. government review to help address this type of situation in the future?

The three ranked responses were

  • Incentivize re-shoring of key manufacturing segments back to the U.S.
  • Invest in medical research and development to speed vaccine development and virus testing capabilities
  • Do even more to promote manufacturing automation where production can be completed with minimum operator involvement.

Advice from respondents

The survey also asked several open-ended questions. Asked what operational initiatives their company had taken to prevent the spread of coronavirus in the facility, responses included issuance of a daily email reminding employees about company health policy and CDC recommendations and mandating work from home (for those that can). Anyone who comes into the facility is required to follow the prescribed sanitation processes. If someone does travel, they should work from home for 14 days.

Manufacturing is a physical process that can’t be completed in a virtual or digital world. Asked what critical functions in their organization are most difficult to perform from a remote location, one respondent said, “All of the actual manufacturing,” while another pointed in greater detail to: “Test set-up and data collection, field service, installation, shipping and receiving, inventory work orders and quality control.”

Asked what strategies the U.S. government should review, many respondents pointed to the need to bring manufacturing back to the U.S. to limit reliance on global supply chains.

Edited for Plant Engineering, part of CFE Media and Technology, using CFE Media research results. See more COVID-19 coverage in special sections on each site.

Author Bio: Since its founding in 2010, CFE Media and Technology has provided engineers in manufacturing, commercial and industrial buildings, and manufacturing control systems with the knowledge they need to improve their operational efficiency. CFE delivers the right information at the right time around the world through a variety of platforms.