As of writing, the world is in the grips of the most serious pandemic it has experienced in living memory. With the COVID-19 strain of the coronavirus being able to rapidly jump from a single host to thousands of people in just a matter of days, healthcare systems all over the world are finding themselves overwhelmed and woefully short of needed supplies.
Manufacturers of vital medical supplies such as hand sanitizing gel, intubation tools, hospital beds, and personal protective equipment are struggling to meet the demand as it far exceeds pre-pandemic expectations by several orders of magnitude.
This has led to several other manufacturers in non-medical fields to step in to meet the gap. Successes in this regard have been uneven. It’s now abundantly clear that having an existing industrial configurable components supply can help allow a factory to meet this sudden exponential demand for medical necessities.
Challenges in Retooling for the COVID-19 Pandemic
While retooling to meet new needs is normal for most manufacturers, it can still be a much more complex undertaking than most laypeople might expect. The scale and speed of the current pandemic also present an unusual set of challenges for manufacturing businesses.
The difficulty of retooling partly depends on the original product made by a factory. For instance, perfume makers and distillers all over the world are now switching to the production of hand sanitizer. This is much less of a stretch compared to a car manufacturer or an earthmoving equipment maker reconfiguring their assembly lines to produce beds and ventilators.
Another big factor is whether or not a manufacturer has invested in an industrial configurable components. Having an assembly line that’s designed to be configured makes it far simpler to repurpose machinery to produce items different from what the line was originally intended to churn out.
Benefits of a Configurable Assembly Line
The most obvious benefit of having an assembly line with configurable components is the added speed with which the factory could pivot to a new product. Given how fast the coronavirus spreads, the ability of a manufacturer to quickly retool their assembly lines toward the production of vital medical equipment has a direct effect on the number of lives that can be saved. Even a delay of a week can potentially mean hundreds if not thousands of deaths down the line.
Manufacturers that have invested in reconfigurable equipment are also in a better position to retool in the first place. When an assembly line is built without configurability in mind, retooling can be extremely expensive. If the assembly line is extremely specialized, retooling can be almost as complex as setting up a completely new factory from scratch.
Without configurable equipment, a manufacturer may not be able to afford retooling without taking on debt or a significant outside investment. Higher retooling costs can mean that the assembly line may need to shut down or operate at a reduced capacity, as has happened to many in this current crisis. This means having a configurable assembly line will allow a business to better able to generate revenue and provide continued work for employees during emergencies.
Beyond the Pandemic
The benefits of having a configurable assembly line will also extend beyond the immediate need to save lives and halt the spread of the coronavirus. While it’s impossible to say how long the current crisis will last, what is certain is that manufacturers with configurable assembly lines will be in a much better position to return to a state of “business as usual” once it is over.
The pandemic is likely to be a temporary event, which means retooling needs to happen at least twice — the first time when the assembly line is repurposed to meet the temporary surge in demand for a different item, and the second time when the demand disappears and the assembly line needs to return to its original purpose.
It’s also worth noting that the COVID-19 pandemic is not the only time an assembly line with configurable systems can be of value. Similar localized emergencies and even normal shifts in the market can necessitate that an assembly line switches to producing new items as well. Prior investments in an industrial configurable components supply can greatly reduce the logistical difficulties of these transitions, possibly ensuring the preservation of jobs and the continued profitability of the business.
If the current pandemic teaches manufacturers anything, it should be that nothing is certain. Unforeseen events can cause unprepared factories to fall silent in a matter of days. Investing in configurable or modular systems can be a matter of life and death in a very literal sense. Ultimately, it can also help both the business and its employees maintain a purpose regardless of external circumstances.