Mark Hungerford is VP of global customer support for Leading2Lean, and has an extensive background in maintenance and operations leadership. During the live Q&A portion of the webinar, “Navigating Uncertainty: Three Keys to Keeping Your Plant Running Amid COVID-19 and Beyond,” Hungerford shed light on how plant teams can best tackle challenges during the COVID-19 outbreak.
PS: Is working remotely the new normal? If so, what do you think are the most important steps that you can take to succeed going forward?
MH: I think you're going to see manufacturing become more digitized. The customers that we've talked to have told us, "We continue to operate the same way we always have," because they're highly digital environments and they still have visibility into exactly what's happening (inside the plant). It's also going to force companies to digitize their facilities more than they have today. Whether you're on your couch or you're in your office or out of the shop floor, it's going to continue to ignite the digital transformation that we've already been in.
PS: Plant Services takes the temperature of our readers in the form of surveys two every year, and we recently ran one on predictive maintenance. The responses that we've seen over time have shown that plant professionals have a greater willingness now to partner externally with people who have these solutions. And this has coincided with the workforce crisis. As you know, retirements don't get backfilled as often. People are a little unsure what kind of a position to develop and hire for, whether it's reliability or maintenance.
What are you seeing in terms of these plant teams since now they have to go digital? Do they see this as an opportunity? Do you sense a new willingness or a greater willingness to work with external partners, or do you see a do-it-yourself mentality where plant teams are looking to try and build their own?
MH: We encountered that situation in our business. There are certainly companies that try to build their own. I think the downside to that is typically IT teams are being challenged to do more with less. The ability to actually create a system that's as effective as what's available in the market, such as L2L, is just not as effective from a cost or timing perspective or quality of the product. … The ability to wait and have your IT team build something that may take a year or two years is just not cost-effective in times like this, where you need a solution now that's going to help you manage.
PS: You mentioned that you see organizations going more digital. Are there other things that you see coming out of this situation that will change manufacturing?
MH: I think you're going to see changes in a lot of different things. Certainly, the safety and health of employees will probably never be the same; I think things are going to change there pretty drastically. I think you're going to see a change in regards to mobile devices. The vast majority of companies that I've worked with have typically been very against employees using their own devices, and I think you'll maybe start to see a shift there where they can actually leverage that device to provide information and interact in a secure manner to help move the business forward.
PS: The next attendee question is: Many of our salaried work colleagues are now working from home. How are other companies dealing with that and still providing value?
Mark: A lot of the customers that we work with and that I've personally spoken to on the phone are in the same situation. They're leveraging virtual communication tools like Slack and Skype just like people are doing at home now to stay in contact with their friends and family. They're using that more than ever.
They're also relying heavily on system like L2L because it allows them to manage their operations remotely, where traditionally they get the data maybe the next day or they have to physically go out and look at a piece of paper at work to be able to see what's happening.
I actually spoke to one of our colleagues in China who told me, "It's the first time I've ever seen where a manual Lean system doesn't work, where physically having Kanban cards or physically having a manual process isn't sustainable and would fail you." I think it's forcing people to look at how to implement digital solutions, and people are actually looking at them right now. Even though there are task challenges, they recognize that we need a solution to be able to continue to manage the business even through times like this because, what if this were to happen again or what if this continues for another six months. We need to be able to operate and be able to see what's happening.