Work continues at the Mercedes-Benz plant, but for how long?
Work continues at the Mercedes-Benz plant, but as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact the world, its supply chain may soon be adversely impacted.
Over the last few weeks, manufacturers from across Europe have taken hit after hit following the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has plummeted a number of companies and disrupted countless supply chains. Despite this, Mercedes-Benz has announced that work will continue in its Tuscaloosa County manufacturing plant.
The announcement came from parent company Daimler, who announced: “We are closely monitoring the situation and tracking our suppliers and parts situation continuously,” the company announced through a spokesperson. “The supply chain is currently secured and we are monitoring it on a day-by-day basis. We are in a constant dialogue with governmental institutions and authorities. We will decide together with the authorities about the next steps.”
“Our employees’ health and safety has top priority at Mercedes-Benz U.S. International,” the Daimler statement continued. “We have taken additional protective measures in regards to COVID-19 for our team members. We have minimized group meetings, suspended all business travel and increased measures to reduce exposure for our team members through intensive cleaning measures and adjustments in the use of our cafeterias as well as shifts’ separation.”
Daimler itself has announced that it would stop overtime at one part of the Tuscaloosa assembly plant, according to Bloomberg. It currently employs 3,800 individuals at the plant.
This news follows closely on from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), who have just announced that they will be temporarily suspending production across their European manufacturing plants in light of the ongoing impact of COVID-19.
“The temporary suspension continues the implementation of a comprehensive set of actions in response to the COVID-19 emergency and enables the Group to effectively respond to the interruption in market demand by ensuring the optimization of supply”, FCA announced. “In particular, the suspension of production is being facilitated to enable the Group to be ready to commence production promptly once market conditions allow.”
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As the COVID-19 crisis makes a notable impact in Italy, a number of companies have struggled to maintain operations. Ferrari and Lamborghini have also suspended production in Italy following the outbreak. Vauxhall’s parent company has also announced that it would be shutting down operations in Europe, including plants at Ellesmere Port and Luton in the UK. US company Tesla has continued to keep its factories open, but has restricted the contact of its employees, while taking other advised precautionary measures from the World Health Organisation. As the virus spreads as an exponential rate, with changes happening day to day, these decisions are subject to change at short notice.
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Gartner: Leaders Lack Skilled Smart Manufacturing Workers
With organisations rapidly adopting industry 4.0 capabilities to increase productivity, efficiency, transparency, and quality as well as reduce cost, manufacturers “are under pressure to bring their workforce into the 21st century,” says Gartner.
While more connected factory workers are leveraging digital tools and data management techniques to improve decision accuracy, increase knowledge and lessen variability, 57% of manufacturing leaders feel that their organisations lack the skilled workers needed to support their smart manufacturing digitalisation plans.
“Our survey revealed that manufacturers are currently going through a difficult phase in their digitisation journey toward smart manufacturing,” said Simon Jacobson, Vice President analyst, Gartner Supply Chain practice.
“They accept that changing from a break-fix mentality and culture to a data-driven workforce is a must. However, intuition, efficiency and engagement cannot be sacrificed. New workers might be tech-savvy but lack access to best practices and know-how — and tenured workers might have the knowledge, but not the digital skills. A truly connected factory worker in a smart manufacturing environment needs both.”
Surveying 439 respondents from North America, Western Europe and APAC, Gartner found that “organisational complexity, integration and process reengineering are the most prevalent challenges for executing smart manufacturing initiatives.” Combined they represent “the largest change management obstacle [for manufacturers],” adds Gartner.
“It’s interesting to see that leadership commitment is frequently cited as not being a challenge. Across all respondents, 83% agree that their leadership understands and accepts the need to invest in smart manufacturing. However, it does not reflect whether or not the majority of leaders understand the magnitude of change in front of them – regarding technology, as well as talent,” added Jacobson.
Technology and People
While the value and opportunities smart manufacturing can provide an organisation is being recognised, introducing technology alone isn’t enough. Gartner emphasises the importance of evolving factory workers alongside the technology, ensuring that they are on board in order for the change to be successful.
“The most immediate action is for organisations to realize that this is more than digitisation. It requires synchronising activities for capability building, capability enablement and empowering people. Taking a ‘how to improve a day in the life’ approach will increase engagement, continuous learning and ultimately foster a pull-based approach that will attract tenured workers. They are the best points of contact to identify the best starting points for automation and the required data and digital tools for better decision-making,” said Jacobson.
Long term, “it is important to establish a data-driven culture in manufacturing operations that is rooted in governance and training - without stifling employee creativity and ingenuity,” concluded Gartner.