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Coronavirus forces changes to manufacturing facilities, highlights trucking’s importance, CSCMP panel says

The COVID-19 pandemic has upended the supply chain business, and one sector that has had to quickly deal with the new normal is the manufacturing space. Companies deemed essential have been allowed to continue operations during this time. But Jason Moss, the CEO and founder of the Georgia Manufacturing Alliance, said these companies have had to think on their feet about keeping the supply chain secure and their employees, and the drivers that pick up their goods, safe.  

During yesterday’s CSCMP Atlanta Roundtable Supply Chain Resiliency Webinar, he detailed the precautions that have been put into place.

“Facility hygiene – that’s a big thing that’s going on right now,” he said. “Most of the manufacturers that we’re working with had already put in place new hygiene qualifications for their workstations.”

He noted that conversations among manufacturers began well before COVID-19 was widespread in the United States. Many of the businesses he spoke with were implementing handwashing stations, spreading out employees to comply with best-practice social distancing guidelines, and limiting the entrance of workers into the shipping and receiving areas of their facilities. These companies have also “changed the way they deal with inbound and outbound freight,” he said.  

“They are really working through their labor in changing shift schedules … and moving people around so they can still get the man hours in,” he said.

Manufacturers are also taking a close look at what their supply chain currently looks like, both upstream and down.

“The silver lining on all of this is that every manufacturer I’ve talked to has shared their new appreciation for folks in the shipping industry. They are committed to being better partners moving forward, both in service but also for safety. They want to make sure they keep the drivers that come into their facility safe.”

As group director of planning and logistics at Coca-Cola, Rob Haddock said his team had to quickly figure out how to implement the best practices presented by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to make sure their facilities were safe for everyone. These policies will likely stick moving forward, in some fashion or another. In addition to safety, the pandemic has also emphasized the importance of technology, he said.

“As this really picked up, people are exploring electronic bills of lading versus paper bills,” he said. “The focus on the importance of the truck drivers moving the economy across the United States has really now gotten to the forefront.” 

Those truckers have seen wide swings in activity, according to Zach Strickland, director of freight market intelligence at FreightWaves. He noted that there’s been an overall decrease in the length of haul during the pandemic. Demand has focused truckers on goods that need “a lot of DC to store transition” due to panic buying, he said.

In late February, Werner Enterprises had begun to transport spring goods, which were beginning to flow up through the country from the south. “And then this hit, and the essential goods started flowing and it became very much of a surge,” said Todd Struble, associate vice president for dedicated services at Werner Enterprises.

“But now it’s very much more towards a weakened period, where goods are still flowing, but it’s softened from that surge.”

He said there’s a feeling in the industry that things are starting to pick back up again. It’s anybody’s guess, though, what that increased activity might look like. Also up in the air? How long these new safety procedures and social distancing methods throughout the supply chain might be around.

As a neutral advocate of the freight transportation industry, SMC³ supports a number of industry organizations, including the CSCMP Atlanta Roundtable.  

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Categories: Supply Chain, Transportation