When the COVID-19 pandemic shut factories earlier this year, many manufacturers found themselves asking some hard questions.

How do we keep our doors open? How do we keep workers safe? How can we give back to the frontline workers who need support?

Faced with hard circumstances, the manufacturing community rose with an outpouring of creativity and hard work.

Since March, the concept of “resilience” has become part of the industry’s conversations.

Rather than give an abstract definition of “resilient” in manufacturing, we think it’s better to share some of the amazing work that a few groups did to keep production going and to adapt to an uncertain future.

Here are how three innovative groups showed us what it means to be resilient.

MasksOn – Supply Chain Issues and the Distributed Workforce

Early in the pandemic, frontline workers faced a dangerous shortage of PPE.

Recognizing that groups with complementary expertise could help keep our medical workers safe, a group of clinicians, manufacturers, and academic institutions collaborated to help meet the increased demands for PPE.

The result was the grassroots manufacturing project MasksOn.org. This group designed, prototyped, and produced a reusable snorkel mask fit with an air filtration system through a small 3D-printed adapter.

Orders started to pour in. It didn’t take long before demand outpaced their ability to fulfill orders. Their existing systems were strained to the breaking point. According to Bradley Sauln of MasksOn, “We were hand taking in inventory, marking everything, hand creating tracking numbers for the parts, and even creating shipping labels manually.”

MasksOn had to quickly find a solution that would meet the demands of the frontline workers without breaking the supply chain or overworking their operations. So they decided to focus on a few key problem areas: bottlenecks in the production process, the manual work required to fulfill orders, and their distributed communications systems.

Tablet with Tulip app next to PPE units produced

After identifying what parts of the production had to be streamlined, they built a homegrown logistics solution in just 4 days. They began by bringing the existing framework of their operations online. They took their fulfillment processes and broke them down into discrete steps to fit their new digital system.

Screenshot of work order tracking app on tablet

When they were fulfilling orders by hand, they produced 200 orders total. After implementing their logistics system, they were able to ship over 1000 units per day.

You can read more about the details of their solutions here.

Rise Ventilator – Guiding New Assembly, Running Quality Checks, and Record-Keeping

The Rise Emergency Ventilator was designed by Meter, a startup with experience in engineering, manufacturing, and automated resuscitator design. When the Pandemic began, the group paused their core business to focus on addressing the ventilator shortage.

After quickly iterating through several ventilator designs, Meter validated that their product was manufacturable, and began the process of scaling production through operational partners.

Here, Meter ran up against a challenge. Outsourcing production can lead to variability. When it comes to medical devices, each unit needs to be produced according to rigorous standards.

To ensure the success of their partners, Meter built a system that guided first-time builders through complex procedures. By providing what they call a “turnkey manufacturing package,” they could guarantee that partners got up to speed fast. Partners would receive a detailed BOM (bill of materials), a list of suppliers, manufacturing work instructions, and all factory calibration and testing routines.

By creating a digital package that partners could follow, they were able to draw on a much larger network of manufacturers and scale the total number of ventilators produced.

You can learn more about the details in this video here.

Double H Nurseries: Wholesale to new B2C Offering

Double H Nurseries, the leading supplier of houseplants in the UK, experienced their highest demand ever in early March of 2020. Just a few weeks later, they saw demand drop 50% overnight with their core customers.

It takes a year to grow an orchid for sale, and with no notice, they found themselves with over 50k orchids in their greenhouse.

To prevent their inventory from winding up in the compost heap, Double H set up an online shop. This meant switching their business model from selling to supermarkets to selling directly to consumers.

While orders for their orchids quickly came in, they found their ability to fulfill them stretched. To account for the error occurring at each hand-off stage between order processing and fulfillment, they digitized the entire process to focus on other parts of their operations.

Screenshot of pack and send app

Since Double H already had fulfillment capabilities, they simply had to create digital touchpoints where manual work was being done. They integrated their production systems into their eCommerce storefront, logistics system, and ERP. This created a source of truth for their orders and automated manual work.

Ultimately, they rolled out a new offering while creating a foundation for when their core business returns to normal.

You can learn more about the details in this video here.

What we can learn about resilience

Resilience is as much creative thinking as it is grit. It’s as much finding and empowering your community as it is activating decisively.

If we take a cue from these groups—acting fast, thinking generously, moving digitally—we’ll all be in a better position to handle whatever comes next.