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JDI Roundtable on Manufacturing Competitiveness in New Brunswick

Manufacturing in a COVID-19 world

By Sarah McRae

On May 11, the JDI Roundtable on Manufacturing Competitiveness hosted a webinar exploring how manufacturers can adapt their operations for a COVID-19 world and how they can prepare for changes that may come after the pandemic.

The main presenter was Martin Davis, who has 30+ years of C-level executive experience in the manufacturing and IT sectors. He is currently Managing Partner at DUNELM Associates Ltd., a management consulting firm. Also speaking was Dr. Herb Emery, Vaughan Chair in Regional Economic at UNB and program director of the JDI Roundtable on Manufacturing Competitiveness in New Brunswick.

Martin Davis’s presentation covered several key issues facing manufacturers as they adapt to COVID-19, including:

  • Business disruption;
  • Workers;
  • Supply chain issues;
  • Adapting operations;
  • Financial risks;
  • Economic recession;
  • Thriving in a COVID-19 world;
  • Post COVID-19 actions; and
  • Key themes to succeed.

Davis placed particular emphasis on the topic of “thriving in a COVID-19 world,” which should be of particular interest to manufacturers now that we’ve been dealing with the reality of COVID-19 for several months and most have adapted their operations to comply with public health requirements for operating during a pandemic. “Thriving” in this new setting, Davis suggests, including preparing for possible future spikes or a second wave, exploring options for offering products online, pivoting to in-demand products, acquiring and seeking funding for additional infrastructure for new products or to improve productivity, and making adaptations or conducting maintenance during periods of downtime due to COVID-19.

A key theme Davis pressed was the possibility of adapting operations to increase Industry 4.0 maturity, which refers broadly to using technology adaptions to improve manufacturing productivity. He emphasized that this doesn’t have to be an expensive proposition. Industry 4.0 is fundamentally about using data to make better decisions to eliminate waste, reduce downtime, increase efficiency, and free up additional capacity – and it all starts with getting data to have a better picture of what’s going on. David explained even really basic data about what’s going on in a typical day of operation can be used to find efficiencies.

Dr. Emery shared the message that now is the time to think about what can be done to position NB’s manufacturing industry to compete in a post-pandemic world. Currently, local manufacturers are largely dependent on older vintage equipment and labour-intensive processes, which means it’s time to think about what factors are holding the sector back from modernizing. COVID-19 has shocked the system more abruptly than anticipated, meaning firms can’t expect labour intensive production to help them remain competitive. If we want to be competitive in a global trading system, what policies and conditions can help the industry going forward?

For more conversation on manufacturing in a COVID-19 world, listen to the webinar recording.

July 20, 2020

Dr. Sarah McRae is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of New Brunswick and a member of the JDI Roundtable research team.

The JDI Roundtable on Manufacturing Competitiveness in New Brunswick is an independent research program made possible through the generosity of J.D. Irving, Ltd. The funding supports arms-length research conducted at UNB.

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