Manufacturers across the world are changing how they do business to make products and devices to help with the fight against COVID-19.
The companies that have been able to do so, and quickly, are those that have strong supply chains and aren’t straying too far from their current mission.
"When you have these core competencies already in place, a supply chain that supports you with core commodities, then it’s just about scaling," John Impellizzeri, assistant professor of professional practice in supply chain management at Rutgers Business School, told Supply Chain Dive in an interview.
Pivot within core capabilities, tap into skilled labor
LCR Hallcrest makes thermometers, for things like dishwashers to show they’ve reached sanitizing water temperatures, and self-sticking, easy read thermometers.
In response to COVID-19, the company has quickly pivoted to making disposable forehead thermometers. It now makes one million a week, to be used in local hospitals.
Rocky Sapienza, vice president of operations at LCR Hallcrest, told Supply Chain Dive in an interview that the company did the same thing during the SARS outbreak in 2003. At the time, the company had recently acquired another firm, so it had double the machines and double the staff, which made ramping up production easy.
Today, LCR Hallcrest still has a lot of that duplicate equipment. After servicing it, making sure it worked (and sanitizing it), the company hired an additional 15 part-time workers to move full speed ahead.
In general, LCR Hallcrest keeps a large supply of safety stock on hand, Sapienza said. For the first few weeks of production, it used what it had. Almost all of the company's suppliers are based in the U.S., so he doesn’t anticipate the company facing any disruption when it comes to new materials coming in.
"It takes some sort of forethought in that you make sure your supply chain is secure prior to this happening," Sapienza said. "That really allowed us to do this."
"When you have ... a supply chain that supports you with core commodities, then it’s just about scaling."
Assistant Professor, Rutgers Business School
The company also put one of its lines of business, making customized promotional materials and devices, on hold. Sapienza said he and his colleagues "just explained to the customer that while we understand personalization is important, in times like these they're not." The company also offered to send those clients unprinted items that they could customize on their own.
Sapienza credits his employees with why LCR Hallcrest was able to pivot so quickly. Many have been with the company since 2003 when the company made the same sort of flip in response to SARS.
LCR Hallcrest also cross-trains employees in different roles. That allowed it to bring in new workers to do jobs like packing, and for existing employees to move up to printing. "They’ve already had that training and are able to make the shift," he said.
Rely on existing relationships
When SoapBox, a personal care brand, decided to move to making hand sanitizers, the company looked at connections it had already made.
Dan Doll, president and chief operating officer of SoapBox Soaps, told Supply Chain Dive in an interview that he had worked to build a deep network over the last seven to eight years. He's kept those relationships alive, even with companies he’d never done business, in case they had the chance to work on something together.
"It made sense to call around to some folks we might know in the industry, that we’ve had a relationship with but not necessarily a partnership with, to figure out if now is the right time to partner," he said.
That allowed the SoapBox to secure 23 tanker trucks of ethyl alcohol. It also formed a partnership with manufacturer Garcoa Laboratories, which was already set up to make hand sanitizer in accordance to FDA guidelines. Garcoa had the required bottles and caps and pumps for sanitizer bottles.
"It takes some sort of forethought in that you make sure your supply chain is secure prior to this happening."
VP of Operations, LCR Hallcrest
SoapBox plans to make one million bottles of hand sanitizer in three weeks. Starbucks will use it for employees and customers, and it will also be sold at Wegmans, Stop and Shop and Walgreens.
"You have to be building up good will and positive sentiment for your brand over years," Doll said. That way, he said, when a company makes a bold ask to push off another company’s PO in order to make hand sanitizer, it can get a yes. "If you’re calling them off the street, you’re not going to get it."