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The Future of CNC Machine Shops Post-Pandemic

Worldwide closures due to the pandemic throughout 2020 and 2021 have taken a huge toll on businesses in every sector. Even businesses considered essential services could not access raw materials from their supply chain due to misinterpretation of essential supplier classifications or varied mandates in different countries around the world. As the economy attempts to open fully with a heavy reliance on vaccines, the future of CNC machine shops post-pandemic will look quite different.


An Abrupt Halt

The first global lockdowns took every business in every sector by surprise. Essential service businesses were open, but all other work had to be quickly re-assigned to remote assignments or closed doors. Restaurants are the first business that comes to mind that suffered extreme losses. Food had to be thrown out. Staff had to be let go. And even offering takeout options, staffing and inventory were difficult to manage based on unknown demand.

These same obstacles faced manufacturing. Even essential businesses had difficulty with inventory control due to their suppliers and partners following different mandates. Automotive production was up to 97% shutdown in 2020 due to part shortages. Many of those parts were from machine shops.

The auto industry was in the company of health care, engineering, technology, mobility, machinery, energy, and chemicals that all suffered from supply gaps. Production is now getting back to full capacity but there is a big backlog.


In the Middle

As machine shops maneuvered changing rules moving in and out of closures, some work was able to be performed remotely, skeleton staff could return, and flexible schedules were established to practice safe distancing and keep shops running for some businesses. Others weren’t as fortunate. Estimates of 1.3 million jobs were lost in the United States in manufacturing due to the pandemic. To date, only about 63% have been recouped.

The rising costs of raw materials, especially affected by dramatic freight charge increases had to be absorbed into pricing on projects already on contract. Some businesses established alternative suppliers, more local, and overcame some of those supply chain issues.

Further, some manufacturers were able to switch over to PPE (personal protective equipment) and that held onto jobs and income. Many other businesses, like Rapid Tool, took on the manufacturing of PPE equipment as a community service and donated products to local healthcare facilities. Staff was retained, but profits weren’t on the agenda.


A Way Forward

One of the things machine shops learned through this process is the benefit of a broad geographic vendor database. Parts from overseas may have been locally sourced but keeping a variety of vendors in different locations allowed local lockdowns or border problems to be kept at bay by adjusting to the changes. Flexibility and a new focus on supply and manufacturing protocols are a necessary way forward. This, along with many of these marked changes will be the future of successful CNC machining.

1)      The initiation (or continuation) of lean manufacturing will increase productivity and reduce inventory to extract cash out of your operation. Efficiency in all areas will keep customers at the centre while you operate lean.

2)      Artificial intelligence will allow intricate communication networks with suppliers and customers to provide just-in-time manufacturing. Partnerships should be re-assessed and improved.

3)      Remote work or staggered work schedules will be accommodated with lights-out manufacturing with investment in Industry 4.0 technology.

4)      Robotics will become more essential to feed raw materials, provide quality assurance, and pack and ship products to continue production in any lockdown measures.

5)      It may be time for you to hire. The skills gap will continue for many years while manufacturing becomes more automated and skilled employees have not caught up to the trend. With some shops closing or laying off staff, quality employees may be available, and the investment will further your leadership in the industry.

6)      New ideas, like 3D printing, may be added to your shop to broaden your product offering.

Continuous investment in improving customer satisfaction and efficiency are trademarks of quality machine shops. The pandemic has increased the demand for automation, creativity, and flexibility to remain a leader in the business. Automation and artificial intelligence will become accepted culture at CNC machine shops. 

These may rely on new equipment or capital investment, but mostly they rely on trusted cooperative relationships. Rapid Tool places a priority on our relationships with staff, partners, and clients. The future of CNC machine shops post-pandemic must place these partnerships first. We are ready to build that trust with you.

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