Lean manufacturing principles are rooted in the practice of genchi gembutsu, or “go and see”.

In other words, if you want to solve manufacturing problems, you need to be closely connected to the day-to-day operations of your shop floor.

However, since COVID-19 rapidly spread around the globe in February and March 2020, the predictable conditions that allowed Lean to flourish have disappeared.

Supply chains have been thrown into disarray.

Manufacturing operations have been stripped down to mission-critical staff only.

The entire manufacturing department must find a way to work from home.

In this volatile period, there are a few things that you can do to continue to level up your skills so that you are ready to act quickly when production restarts.

1.) Learn Digital Manufacturing Principles

The World Economic Forum (WEF) has identified “upskilling” and “reskilling” as two major barriers to increased productivity from manufacturers.

In practical terms, this means that manufacturing engineers around the world need to train themselves (or be trained by their employers) in order to be able to use the latest wave of technology.

Fortunately, these new technologies are frequently cloud-based or cheap enough to buy at home.

Unfortunately, they also have learning curves that are significantly steeper than the traditional Microsoft toolset (Excel, Powerpoint etc.)

So, manufacturers can use this lull in production to learn digital manufacturing skills. With a little effort, they will be able to apply them immediately upon returning to work.

For example, companies like OnShape have set up online academies to teach CAD software.

Tulip has set up its own free online University to teach students how to build manufacturing apps for free.

The courses teach any manufacturer about digitizing common shop floor assets, like work instructions, quality inspections, and batch records.

That means that if you have access to any paper or Excel-based documents from your shop floor, you can build your own app that tracks data in real-time and deploy it immediately when you return to work. No code required.

Here’s an example of an app that tracks room status in the pharmaceutical production process:

This information is traditionally tracked on whiteboards in the facility.

These skills are not theoretical. They can be applied immediately across many types of manufacturing operations and can be learned from your personal computer.

2.) Get Involved In an Open-Source Project

As of March 2020, hundreds of open source projects have sprung up around the globe to combat the spread of COVID-19.

Many of these projects focus on increasing the production of medical equipment to aid overburdened hospitals.

Some examples of products that are being planned and developed by open-source groups:

  • Ventilators
  • Face shields
  • Snorkel masks converted into PPE
  • Hand-sewn face masks

Some examples of open-source communities are Endcoronavirus.org and Helpful Engineering.

These projects are built by people with varied skillsets. Some participants are experts in medical device testing, others are experts in supply chain/logistics, and others are medical practitioners that are desperate for help.

By adding your manufacturing expertise to a project, you can be exposed to a range of experts that you would not otherwise be able to meet. And, you will learn about the full range of activities that are needed to successfully build and distribute a medical device.

3.) Build A More Resilient Manufacturing Organization

Finally, you can take this opportunity to build more fallbacks and processes within your organization to avoid future disruptive events.

For example, if your supply chain is dependent on manufacturers in one specific country, this may be a good time to search for suppliers across multiple countries.

Or, you can find ways to allocate tools to different associates that allow them to continue to do their job from home. This “distributed” approach to manufacturing may not be as productive, but it will allow you to lessen the shock from future disruptive events.