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3 Ways to Mitigate Production Delays During the COVID-19 Outbreak

January 31, 2020

 by David Collins

map of countries affected by covid

After months of battling the COVID-19 crisis, China finally lifted many of its local travel restrictions across the country as well as the 11-week lockdown on Wuhan. Employees stuck at home have mostly gotten back to work.

Thanks to strict measures from the Chinese government, the country seems to have recovered. However, the many Chinese factories that remained shut or understaffed during the peak of the epidemic are now facing the challenges of hitting production goals and deadlines that haven't moved. There are products that simply cannot be deferred.

Production delays can result not only in the delay of products (that’s a given), but also a costly fall in quality as factories frantically rush to make up for lost time. As a result, COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc on businesses that rely on China for parts of their products or finished goods.

How COVID-19 Continues to Affect Chinese Manufacturers

Delays will not only be from starting later. There is a very strong possibility that factories will be severely understaffed (workforce down by 40% to 60%) and that key people will not be there. Why is that? As you may or may not know, many workers in China return to their rural homes for the New Year and then go back to work at the factories. 

The disruption will likely cause many to stay at home, at least in the short term. Gradually, the numbers will return but it is hard to know how long that will take. A shortage of labor will hurt delivery and quality as well since there will be fewer people to do more work in less time. 

What is a business to do? There are a couple of options which can be divided into two categories: 

  1. Mitigate the problem in China; or 
  2. Set up operations in another country (at least partially). 

I’ll cover the advantages and disadvantages of offshoring contingency plans in the next blog. Let’s focus on mitigating the problem in China. 

3 Ways to Mitigate Production Delays

To mitigate the risk of condensed schedules and the low number of workers, factories need to implement efficiency improvements that are most likely needed anyway. There is little room for slack in this situation. 

Factories have a strong incentive, even if they don’t realize it at first, to improve their efficiencies to avoid hiring new workers at a higher wage rate (due to the scarcity of labor), missing deadlines (which could cost business to other factories or countries), and dealing with excessive rework from poor quality (which would further strain their production). 

I recommend that factories take this chance to do the following:

1. Create standardized work instructions

It may not be a surprise to many of you that have worked in China for years, but most factories do not have standard work instructions meaning that it more difficult to onboard new operators or switch existing operators to new jobs.

2. Implement a sustainable and rigorous preventative maintenance system

Chinese factories often do no perform regular maintenance, meaning machines are more likely to break down and produce products with defects. Preventative maintenance is controllable and improves quality and cost while breakdown maintenance is unpredictable and extremely costly.

3. Streamline your processes

Notice I did not say “automate your process”. Automation is a great tool, but it is just that: a tool. Making your processes more efficient does not necessarily require automation. Chinese factories are typically over-staffed and so poorly organized that many operators are either doing unnecessary and unprofitable tasks (e.g. physically carrying work-in-progress to new stations rather than moving them on a line), or spending time waiting to do their job. 

Reorganizing the workflow and eliminating as many non-value-added tasks can save a significant amount of expense on labor. It is not uncommon for CMC to help our clients bring down labor costs 30% or more. 

These are a few of the initiatives you can take with your supplier or factory during this difficult time to mitigate the delays and costs and emerge better and stronger.  

More Information & Support for Chinese Manufacturers

CMC will remain on the ground and provide regular updates to the situation. We are continuing to work in all accessible areas of China, working with factories to find solutions for manpower or supply chain shortages as long as there is no credible threat to them or our clients. Operations need not stop unless under extreme circumstances dictate otherwise. Our current operations will not slow. 

In the meantime, Renaud Anjoran, President of CMC, is in China right now and has provided some useful insight into the situation (specifically for manufacturers and importers) in these 2 posts from his blog:

What the Wuhan Virus Means for Importers of China Products

As the coronavirus spreads rapidly in China, I want to make sure importers know what the situation is and how it might affect their suppliers.

Diverging Views on the China Virus Outbreak: Whom to Listen To?

What's the truth about the Wuhan Coronavirus outbreak in China in early 2020? Renaud provide a balanced view & some helpful advice for protecting yourself here.


Click below to explore the 11 step process improvement framework CMC manufacturing consultants use to achieve a factory's goals.

Process Improvement for China Factories

Topics: Manufacturing In China, Process Improvement, COVID-19 Outbreak

David Collins

David Collins

25+ years manufacturing experience in computer, automotive, aerospace, furniture, and chemical industries.
Founding Partner, China Manufacturing Consultants.
Built and managed several automotive plants in North America.
Successfully turned around Foxconn’s Mexico plant.

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