Manufacturing’s new normal: How COVID changed the industry

April 8, 2021
In this episode of The Tool Belt, Mike Macsisak gives a plant-floor perspective on how the pandemic changed the industrial workplace.

Plant Services met veteran millwright and newly minted predictive maintenance technician Michael Macsisak several years ago, and Mike has checked in with the editors as he began work in mining and then again last year to discuss transitioning from a predictive mindset to a reliability-focused approach. Plant Services Chief Editor Thomas Wilk recently caught up with Mike to talk about life in a post-COVID industrial world.

PS: When we were setting this up last week, Mike, we talked a little bit about how industries look these days. You had mentioned that, as far as manufacturing goes, industries have kind of reached this new normal where COVID-related delays and hiccups are now pretty much baked in the operations. Can you talk a little bit about how your workplace has adjusted in this way?

MM: Yes. It's a normal now. We clean all the doorknobs, push bars, doors, and everything with antibacterial and ammonia-based products to keep the virus away. We still do temperature checks at the door, we social distance, and we wear masks. It's the new normal. You don't even think about it anymore. Everybody just does it. I know the virus is not as prevalent as it was, but it's still out there so you've got to think about what you're doing all the time. Other than that, it's the same.

PS: Can you talk about how other plants have adjusted? I know you've got friends in food and pharma, and I was curious to know if you're hearing that things are different based on the kind of plant you're working in.

MM: Everything is in a new normal now. When we talked before, we talked about how we were adjusting to everything. I have friends all across every industry and it's just business as usual but you're wearing a mask, you're wearing gloves, you're wiping down everything, and you're just keeping your distance. It's just become the new normal. And maybe it will change, maybe it won't change later, but it's baked into everybody now and that's just what you do.

PS: I keep hearing that supply chains and spare parts are still a challenge. I was at the virtual MARCON Conference last week, and a couple of folks have reported that lead times especially are tough to deal with because they're pretty long these days, longer than usual, and they may stay that way. What's your experience with any supply chain issues coming out of COVID?

MM: Supply chain right now is bad. Your lead times are long. You can't wait till the last second anymore and get it right in because that won't work. I know I've ordered some stuff, and it took six weeks where it used to take three days.

So, the new normal is keeping inventory. You have to keep an inventory now unless you're going to just shutdown a line and go get in the water until you get a part or figure out a way around it.

Listen to the entire interview

PS: The folks who mentioned the supply chain issues mostly worked in planning and scheduling. I'm curious, at your facility, do you guys have planners and schedulers who are seeing this kind of thing?

MM: Yes, we have planners and schedulers, and we have someone who just tries to order parts all day long because even industrial light bulbs can be an issue. They're all on backorder right now. When you get to that level where you can't light up your plant, you're kind of in trouble.

PS: This time last year, the 3D printers in the makerspaces, they really came to the rescue of industry and especially in medicine when they went into overdrive creating masks and especially face shields. I heard some stories about plants sort of retooling their product to help with this emergency stuff. When it comes to this kind of emergency retooling, has supply on this stuff caught up with demand especially on the stuff that 3D printers were pitching in on?

MM: I see the parts. They’re everywhere now. I see face shields everywhere. Everybody got retooled. I think we've caught up because I can go to Walmart, Target or wherever and they're there. A month ago, you had to be there when it got there because they didn't get them on the shelves. They were in the boxes, and they were gone. I don't see a problem with that anymore at the moment.

PS: It wasn't that long ago.

MM: Yes, but it can change quick. There could be a rebound or something could happen and then all of a sudden, it's catch-up. But everybody's tooled up now, so if the demand is there, they could keep up with the supply. The PPE part is not that bad. It's the other things, like parts for your machines.

PS: Like the parts for the machines or the stuff that you're talking about that's related to COVID?

MM: No, I'm talking about other things outside of COVID. Half of the line may be COVID stuff and the other half may be making parts. So, making parts gets put on the second burner and then they're trying to catch up. Everybody's trying to catch up and it's rough. I remember one friend wanted to get a refrigerator and he's still waiting. They're on backorder, and I've never heard of a refrigerator being on backorder before.

PS: Plant Services is going to continue to cover COVID on occasion as it pops up, but it does feel like we're moving slowly out of the crisis. Do you have any final thoughts for the podcast on what it means to be one year out from the start of this? You know, what is the new normal for you?

MM: Well, the new normal is what we're doing now. Will we ever go back to the old normal? I think we will, but when, I don't know, because now you have new patients and all this other stuff starting to pop out. We’ve just got to hang in there and keep the faith. There's nothing more we can really do. Basically, like I said, wash your hands; try to wear gloves, face masks, and shields if you have them; and keep your distance. That’s pretty much what you can do.

Sponsored Recommendations

Arc Flash Prevention: What You Need to Know

March 28, 2024
Download to learn: how an arc flash forms and common causes, safety recommendations to help prevent arc flash exposure (including the use of lockout tagout and energy isolating...

Reduce engineering time by 50%

March 28, 2024
Learn how smart value chain applications are made possible by moving from manually-intensive CAD-based drafting packages to modern CAE software.

Filter Monitoring with Rittal's Blue e Air Conditioner

March 28, 2024
Steve Sullivan, Training Supervisor for Rittal North America, provides an overview of the filter monitoring capabilities of the Blue e line of industrial air conditioners.

Limitations of MERV Ratings for Dust Collector Filters

Feb. 23, 2024
It can be complicated and confusing to select the safest and most efficient dust collector filters for your facility. For the HVAC industry, MERV ratings are king. But MERV ratings...