In the 11th town hall meeting since COVID-19 began, members of the Manufacturing Leadership Council discussed the latest strategies and burning questions as states are starting to reopen and companies are facing tough decisions when it comes to facilities, employees and health and safety.

Here are 4 questions that are top of mind for manufacturing leaders right now.

  1. How can we safely open our physical offices?

As states and counties start reopening, manufacturing leaders are trying to figure out safe ways to allow employees back into their offices. One member from a food manufacturer said his company is not rushing anything when it comes to bringing employees back to the office and they will probably start small. An aerospace executive echoed this same sentiment, sharing that his company still has 80,000 out of 125,000 employees working at home.

In response, another member said his organization is allowing employees to come back to the office if they want to and developing a staggered schedule so there are fewer people in each physical location at the same time. They are also creating alternative office layout plans and rules, including restrictions on the number people in meetings, touchless fixtures in bathrooms, and additional sanitization procedures.

  1. What do we do about foreign and domestic travel restrictions?

Several members shared that they’re grappling with how to handle critical projects that involve workers overseas. One executive from an automotive components maker said as European borders open, employees will be able to travel between countries if they have approval from corporate headquarters showing that their travel is essential to the business. However, whether that happens still depends on the country-by-country restrictions, he said.

The aerospace executive said in the U.S., his organization only allows essential travel, such as picking up equipment from a supplier or solving a customer issue, because state-to-state the rules and regulations differ too much.

The member from the food manufacturer said they have travel restrictions on non-essential travel as well but have been using a company plane to send leaders to various plants and provide support for projects. At each plant, the company requires visitors to fill out a form to declare any possible symptoms and report whether they’ve used public transit recently.

  1. How do we handle quarantining before/during/after travel?

Not only are travel restrictions a challenge for manufacturing companies, but members on the call also questioned the quarantining guidelines that come along with different states and countries when employees have to travel.

Another manufacturing leader said his company still has employees traveling internationally, but it can be daunting. For travel to Korea, for example, employees are required to take a test in the U.S. and a test when they arrive overseas – and must see a negative result both times. Once overseas, they will go into a government-sponsored quarantine for 14 days before they check into their hotel and begin any work. After finishing work, the employee would return home and be asked to quarantine for another 14-day period.

  1. How can virtual technologies help us keep the lights on right now?

The member from the food manufacturer shared that, for the first time, a new production line will be virtually commissioned with the help of a Swiss company. This process, he said, involves virtual support from technicians in Germany using AR and VR technologies and will help the company deal with the European travel restrictions.

Another member from a window and door manufacturing company said they’re exploring remote assist technologies to help plants solve problems virtually from corporate headquarters. For example, workers would be able to see the problem via video, speak with the plant worker in a visually guided manner and work back and forth via annotation to solve the issue.

Learn More from MLC/NAM

The MLC/NAM is arranging additional calls to discuss how manufacturers are dealing with COVID-19. The next town hall will take place on June 2 at 11 am ET. Details on additional calls will be released as they are available.

In the meantime, if you have any tips or best practices on how your company is keeping employees safe and/or is acting to minimize business disruption during this time, please share them at mlcouncil@nam.org.