Adapting to Manufacturing Challenges with Innovative Automation

It’s been an unpredictable year so far, especially for the manufacturing and automation sector. As COVID-19 became a reality to North America in early March, many manufacturing companies were faced with the decision of slowing production to a halt or re-tooling to adapt to a new set of demands. 

At Innovative Automation, we are always evolving and adapting to change – in fact, we welcome it! Our past (and present) challenges have been the biggest catalyst for innovation and allowed us the opportunity to provide stability to our customers and industry. IAI has succeeded and grown over the past 31 years because of our culture of constant innovation, our adaptability to change, and ongoing investments in our team and these qualities will enable us to continue even in these uncertain times.

Adapting to Covid-19 Challenges

Canadian manufacturers in all provinces have reacted swiftly and efficiently in the face of a crisis by pivoting from their usual production and taking on the task of creating hand sanitizer, face masks, and ventilators for hospital use and public distribution.  

As COVID-19 restrictions shut down the border to non-essential transportation between Canada and the US (along with most other countries), there were many concerns about disruptions in the manufacturing supply chain. However, the economic downturn and a significant reduction in demand were the true factors that slowed regular production to a halt in many sectors such as automotive, oil & gas, retail, tourism, and of course, manufacturing. In the manufacturing sector, medical suppliers and food producers weren’t as hard-hit as others, although many were restricted to operating at a lower capacity due to COVID-19 safety measures or employee illness. 

From the outset of the COVID-19 crisis, Innovative Automation quickly refocused the automation engineering team toward new tasks – creating face shield and ventilator prototypes to address the medical shortage in Canadian hospitals and clinics. After identifying the need, manufacturing automation equipment was then re-purposed to produce a lightweight, comfortable face shield. Meetings between Innovative Automation staff and local hospitals set the tone for exactly what was needed, which allowed IAI staff to get started producing and testing. From the initial investigation on March 19th, 2020 to March 30th, Innovative Automation began producing 3,800 face shields per day, and by April 6th, this number had doubled, and 6 new staff members were hired to meet the demand and fill orders. As of April 24th, more than 100,000 face shields have been produced, and demand continues to increase as more sectors head back to work and require protection.

Crisis Planning Procedures

Unlike many companies at the time, Innovative Automation had a plan in place during the SARS event of 2003 and the H1N1 virus of 2009, and this allowed IAI to react quickly to the COVID-19 crisis. Innovative Automation has adopted the following safety measures to protect staff and combat the virus:

  • Since early March, a cleaning crew disinfects high-traffic areas three times daily
  • Doors are kept open between rooms to avoid spread through contact.
  • One group is set to monitor health risks and develop a plan to limit the spread by making informed decisions. 
  • Any employee who had recently travelled was restricted from entering the workplace unless their presence was critical. Deliveries and shipments were handled with caution and limited interaction. 
  • Employees who were able to work remotely were sent home, and essential staff still working within the building were divided into 3 lunch shifts with enforced distancing. 
  • Meetings occur daily from 3:30 to 4:30 which allows management a chance to discuss changes and potential issues.
  • Employees are kept informed about any changes by daily alerts sent to their cell phones.

Manufacturing Disruptions Prior to COVID-19

The manufacturing sector in Canada is no stranger to hardship. From the early 2000s, manufacturing jobs have been in decline for a number of reasons:

  1. Globalization: From 2004 – 2008, Canada shed 322,000 manufacturing jobs due to an ageing workforce, outsourcing production to countries such as China, and tariff reduction. This downturn not only affected automotive production in Canada, but also coal and oil, computers, electronics, and textile manufacturing. 
  2. Electricity Costs: From 2008 to 2015 75,000 manufacturing jobs in Ontario were lost due to high electricity costs. This is largely due to the Green Energy Act which made operation and competition in the manufacturing market much more difficult. 
  3. Economic Crisis: The 2008/2009 recession had a massive impact on manufacturing, especially in the automotive, lumber, and paper, and the market was slow to recover. Now, since the pandemic has either halted or severely impacted manufacturing production, the fallout from the financial loss will be significant. Companies who were able to re-tool and begin manufacturing items that are needed such as PPE may be in a better position, but will still feel the hit. 

During these past challenging times, and now during Covid-19, we’ve reframed challenges as opportunities and while our main focus has always been on maintaining our client satisfaction and keeping project timelines on track, we’re glad for the chance to engage with and give back to our Canadian community.

Our Innovative Culture Provides An Advantage

Our greatest strength as a company has always been our people. We hire new team members who exemplify and promote our philosophy and by investing in their continued growth, our skills and offerings advance with theirs.

Our company promotes sustainable manufacturing practices that take into account the health and well-being of our employees and our environment. Within our business, we value the input and ideas of our employees, encourage creativity and want all employees to see that they have the ability to move upward in the company. Each of our employees is a valuable asset, and we believe that having the right people on your team is the key to success. Our philosophy when hiring is:

  • Good people will do good work.
  • It’s essential to hire people who understand the company’s core values and help uphold them. 
  • Our employees thrive when using the formula, ‘Plan, Execute, Succeed’. 
  • We believe that young, enthusiastic staff, combined with those who have decades of experience create the best teams.
  • Automation is the key to manufacturing in the future and we are happy to offer this unique opportunity to automation engineers and other professionals.
  • We work closely with local colleges and universities to find the best talent available to join our team. 

Innovative Automation Future Endeavors

Continuous adaptation and growth are the cornerstones of our business. COVID-19 helped us diversify even further by adding new products – Tidal Pump, Face shields and RoboTape. Our company-wide goal is to continue to grow and succeed by pushing the boundaries of manufacturing automation for generations to come. 

To learn more about our company, products, or job opportunities, contact us today!

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