The state of uncertainty persists

The future of manufacturing and the economy remains unclear due to the COVID-19 pandemic

By Kevin Parker May 6, 2020

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics admits it today cannot precisely quantify the effects of the pandemic on the U.S. job market for March of this year, let alone the impacts of what’s happened since then.

What we do know is that, like many others, the auto industry closed production facilities in March and sent workers home to help stop the spread of coronavirus, which causes COVID-19. Companies in other industries and all world geographies did the same.

Now, as of May 5th, the auto industry is nervous and anxious, like the others, to get back to work. The South Korean automaker, Kia, has restarted limited volume production at its manufacturing facility in Georgia, according to the RoadShow from CNet website.

Hyundai restarted production May 4 at its Alabama-based plant. Daimler, the automaker overseeing the Mercedes-Benz brand, started ramping up production of its plant in Alabama on April 27. In Europe plants started coming back online April 30 with numerous safety protocols in place. Daimler was one of the first major European automakers to shutter operations.

What we don’t know

Except for a few contrarians that have subsequently paid the price, the immediate global response to the virus was to bring everything to a screeching halt in a kind of global gut check. We’ve now entered an intermediate stage, characterized by continuing chronic uncertainty. In the absence of knowledge, people feel compelled to get back out there. Yet no one knows how we, or the virus will react.

That’s because the analytic models, as Dr. Fauci has said, are only as good as their inputs. Garbage in equals garbage out. All the analytics in the world won’t help when you don’t have the data.

“The shutdowns haven’t impacted our current workloads, but it’s certainly impaired our ability to visit customers. Some of our engineers have had customer hardware shipped to their homes, because embedded systems can be hands-on,” said Ed Kuzemchak, CTO and co-founder of Software Design Solutions, headquartered in the Pittsburgh area.

“Many of our clients are part of essential industries, such as oil & gas or transportation. Their operations have changed, and things have slowed down. On the other hand, in many places we were so close to “lights out” manufacturing, shouldn’t we start to think of it as a viable alternative, at least as a means to achieving needed distancing?” Kuzemchak said.

International allegory

This editor was once asked to attend a week’s worth of marketing meetings at the Swedish software company he was working with. Participants were Scandinavian, British and U.S. citizens.

Painting with a broad stroke it went as follows:

The Scandinavians said, “We are going to sit here and map out this process in the most complete detail possible so that we will all be in completed agreement before we’re done.”

The Brits said: “It’s all ballocks. The only reason you can keep the lights on is because we cover for you. Decide anything you want. In two weeks it’ll be back to where it was and we’ll be the only ones that know to fix it.

The Americans said: “Just make a decision. If it turns out to be a bad decision, we’ll just stop and make another decision to fix it.”

I ain’t going to lie, it’s that propensity to make quick decisions that worries me.

Author Bio: Senior contributing editor, CFE Media