Before partially restarting production in North America, automotive suppliers planned ahead by analyzing facility reopenings in China and Europe, opening communication with suppliers and planning new ways to present products to customers amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Aurora Ontario-based Magna International Inc. followed policies in its 60-page Smart Start Playbook that, so far, have led to a successful reopening of its facilities in the region, said Grahame Burrow, president of Magna Exteriors.
"Virtually all of our plants are running now globally at some level of production," Burrow told Plastics News. "Some are early in the ramp-up, some are further along. China is well on their way. Europe has been going for a few weeks and North America for the last one or two weeks."
The only region yet to start back up for Magna, he said, is Mexico, which is still slowly lifting lockdown orders to restart economic activity state by state.
"Until you see it, it's hard to appreciate the amount of work that it really takes to prepare workstations, put up physical barriers where they need to be and redo workstations to achieve social distancing," Burrow said.
Beyond educating employees on the protocols in its playbook through remote training, like a required daily health screening before workers go in for their shift, Burrow said the company is encouraging accountability outside of work hours for employees to keep their coworkers safe from illness.
"We're asking people to make sure they show a similar diligence when they're out in the public after work," he said. "As businesses all around us start to open up and people feel more comfortable going out and doing things, we're asking them to exercise extreme caution, be just as vigilant about things because that certainly could be a place where someone comes in contact with the virus and they end up spreading it around. … You want people who are responsible not only for their own well-being but also for that of their coworkers.
"There are concerns about people coming back, out in public and around other people," Burrow said. "We've had to work closely with our employees and keep communications strong so they understand what's happening and what we know to ease the fears."
Magna hasn't seen any issues so far with workforce turnout, he said, but if the company tried to go back to full production on the first day of reopening, "it probably would have been a different story."
"In some cases, we're only starting with one shift vs. two or three," he said. "As we phase in gradually, that's been helpful in terms of good attendance and having enough people back."
Restarting production successfully did have a couple of "close calls" regarding Magna's own suppliers' readiness to ramp back up, Burrow said. "We were able to work through those."
"We had a few suppliers we were watching a little closely," he said. "We had to do a little bit of hand-holding. We haven't had any significant supplier disruptions that have stopped our production.
"I'm pretty impressed with the overall supply base and their ability to get back up and going as well," Burrow said. "We had to get a little creative to make sure our manufacturing and deliveries to our customers weren't disrupted."
Magna also got creative with the way it will share new products and ideas with its customers remotely, as travel for meetings has been minimized or nearly eliminated and most expositions or trade shows have been canceled, he said.
"We're using and exploring further technologies that allow us to do that really well," Burrow said. "We can do a lot virtually with the right software and equipment."
Some customers, he said, suggested Magna use a virtual lens technology in which someone straps on a set of electronic goggles while touring a plant or showing a product.
"We've conducted meetings using some of this new technology with 15-20 people all dialed in to be a part of it in a very interactive way," Burrow said. "I don't think we're in a situation where we'll never see large gatherings again. … Looking at the end of 2020 and into 2021, there are some that are scheduled and we'll assess the situation as we go forward to see if they remain scheduled and secondly what's our comfort level is in terms of attending."