Transforming Global Manufacturing to Protect Workers and Serve Customers During COVID-19

Who could forget the images of empty supermarket shelves and stockpiling of essential goods seen around the world during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic? A stark reminder that many consumers held a real concern that factories might simply grind to a halt.

While some companies may have had significant production impacts, Lenovo benefited fully from its globally balanced supply chain. Lenovo’s supply chain:

  • Consists of 30+ manufacturing sites globally, made up of a mixture of wholly owned, joint venture and contract factories.
  • Ships 100s of millions of finished products every year around the world to end customers, retailers and partners.
  • Has locations as far afield as Argentina, Brazil, China, Germany, Hungary, India, Mexico and the United States.

COVID-19 has shown a spotlight on the robustness of global supply chains across every industry, something Lenovo’s Vice President of Global Manufacturing, John Egan, shared his thoughts on.

How has Lenovo’s manufacturing had to adapt during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Before the start of the COVID-19 situation we were not reliant on only one location around the world for our manufacturing. With our 30+ factories we have an incredible amount of flexibility in the way we can adjust capacity and rebalance production based on the situation.

In January and February our multiple factories in China had to either adapt to local restrictions or shut down altogether – as was the case for our smartphone factory in Wuhan. When you’re faced with that kind of situation there are two thoughts in your mind:

  • How am I going to maintain production levels and fulfil customer demand?
  • How do I ensure a safe environment for every team member?

Like every other manufacturer around the world, identifying how to operate our factories safely in a COVID-19 world was a new situation for us. As lockdown restrictions eased in China our focus was on how we brought teams back to work safely and demonstrated we had the right checks and balances in place to protect everyone who was associated with our manufacturing processes.

This required collaboration across multiple teams in the organization and focused on two key areas:

Orders and supply

Always having the right level of insight to our supply and factory situations was critical. We ran a daily ‘war room’ from January onwards to ensure every leader involved had full visibility and understood the situation end-to-end.

This enabled us to get ahead of the potential impact and have clear communications to our suppliers, sites and our local leaders. A key part of this was the ability for the team to work seamlessly working from home thanks to the digital capabilities we have built over the past few years.

People in our factories

As we ramped up towards reopening and increased production, we needed to increase our team size. We faced a situation where we could not hire face to face due to restrictions on the ongoing movement of people, so we adapted and used tools to allow us to hire virtually. In parallel we had to look at every element of our employee’s end-to-end experience.

Outside of the production lines this meant looking at everything from bus transportation to the site, to the layout of the cafeteria and on-site accommodation. There was also great innovation in how we adapted production line designs.

We adopted a methodology of pairing new and experienced team members together to ensure quality and used digital tools to rotate staff so we could balance rest time with production capacity. These tools also helped us manage daily staffing arrangements, supply forecast, capacity management and performance management.

We’ve taken what we’ve learned from our experience in China into how we look at all our factories around the world.

What are the long-lasting implications for the future of manufacturing?

There will certainly be more protocols on general health and well-being across the industry. I expect PPE will become a mandatory requirement around the world and the way production lines are designed will need to consider the balance of efficiency of production with social distancing. It’s likely therefore that we will see automation have a better payback.

We will see the acceleration of SMART/Digital transformation to manage manufacturing, which will not only drive smarter manufacturing overall, but will also drive smarter decision making around people, delivery, quality, cost and inventory management

What have you learned during the last few months as a leader that you will take beyond this situation?

Firstly, caring for our people has taken on a deeper meaning for me. The role and responsibility I and my team have for every employee in every factory has never been in sharper focus.

We’re challenging ourselves every day to look at new protocols and ways of improving what we do to ensure employee confidence and well-being across the world.

Secondly, crisis management requires early executive engagement and decision making that sets clear direction, communicates clearly and often and aligns the whole team end to end.

And finally, how we build on Lenovo’s global footprint and build an even more ‘resilient and agile’ manufacturing network for the future. So that when supply disruptions come, we can continue delivering for customers around the world as we have this quarter.

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