Ray Huang, head of Asia and principal engineer with Exponent, provides an update on the progress of factories in Asia and elsewhere in resuming full operations — and discusses the obstacles that might stand in the way.
Factories in Asia have come a long way from being completely shut down at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. They are “fully functional and operational, and infrastructure and systems are back on line without significant risk of outbreaks,” Huang says. With the exception of some pockets of resurgence of the virus, “we are embracing light at the end of the tunnel.”
All is not completely smooth, however. The restarts have been accompanied by a large number of quality failures, as well as issues around intellectual property transfer. A lack of transportation options, as well as travel restrictions imposed by China, means that staff based in the U.S. and Europe are unable to be on the factory floor in Asia, to ensure that operations are proceeding correctly.
Part of the problem lies with manufacturers that are making certain products, such as face masks, for the first time. Thousands of such producers were newly established over the last couple of months, yet lack the proper procedures, knowledge and experience to turn out items of sufficient quality.
All factories have had to adjust operations in line with precautions that ensure the health and safety of their workers. But Huang says many Asia operations are accustomed to taking the necessary measures, having experienced the SARS epidemic in 2003. Knowing how to deal with such situations “is kind of built into their DNA.” Office workplaces, too, are implementing distancing measures that are meant to protect workers from infection. Huang says many of those techniques will become a permanent part of factories in future.
Timely, incisive articles delivered directly to your inbox.