Plavecsky's Ponderings By Jim Plavecsky
by Jim Plavecsky
April 16th, 2020

Challenges Await When Business Gets Back to Normal

When this crisis subsides and business gets back to normal, we will all feel a sense of relief. However, challenges also await.

Before this all started, we had a manpower crisis in the door and window industry. It may be worse when we return. Despite the massive numbers of unemployed Americans, many people simply do not care to work in manufacturing. The reason is that many of those who were willing to try a career in manufacturing in the first place are now at home. The people who stuck it out and stayed on the job despite the risks are most likely going to stay working in the plants, but the people who decided that continuing to work was not worth the risk are now at home collecting unemployment, spending time with their families and possibly re-evaluating their lives. When the restrictions are lifted, many of those people simply will not return. Many of them will choose other career paths—other than manufacturing. Will other people laid off during the crisis who were not working in the manufacturing sector choose to switch career paths and go from administrative or service type jobs into this sector? Maybe. But that probably isn’t likely. It takes a special breed of person to succeed long term in a manufacturing position. So, where does that leave us? Still with a manpower shortage that is perhaps even worse!

So, what about automation? Is it still the answer? For many companies that are financially strong and which are able to weather this economic storm, the answer was and still is “absolutely yes.” Door and window plants are now tasked with keeping workers appropriately distanced on the manufacturing floor and this will continue until a proven vaccine is developed. “Automation has the added benefit of spacing people further apart as it takes advantage of automatic conveying systems between stations,” notes Morgan Donohue, VP of sales and marketing at Erdman Automation. However, lead times, which were already long before the crisis, are likely to become even longer as more companies trulyrealize the need for automated equipment and take advantage of low interest rates while they can. I say “truly,” because I know quite a few companies that still have a backlog of orders – yes they actually have a backlog – during this crisis but still cannot keep up with demand, simply because they have lost 20 to 30% of their workforces, most of which walked off the job due to fear of contracting the virus. These companies may have been leaning toward automation during the last few years, but have not yet taken the plunge. Well, this crisis has truly convinced them that it is an essential investment. As Morgan puts it, “I’m not sure how quickly the window industry will start ordering capital equipment again, but when they do, it will be with a vengeance.”

Most equipment suppliers already have a backlog of orders and have been working through the backlog if they have been able to achieve “essential” status and have not seen an interruption in supply of critical components. So, if you are in the market for new equipment, now would be the time to order it as opposed to waiting until the economy gets back to normal and the orders come pouring in. Yes, when things get back to normal there will be a pent- up demand in many areas of the country and orders will indeed come pouring back in!

So, what about companies that perhaps are not in a position to further leverage themselves to invest in new equipment, or perhaps cannot afford to wait until a new piece of equipment is built? Well, the good news is that the used equipment market is alive and well. The door and window companies investing in new equipment, as well as those shutting down operations, will have plenty of used equipment that is still operational and ready to find a new home. Used equipment is a viable option for plants that are on tighter capital budgets or simply need equipment right away to bridge the gap between immediate and future needs, after a new product line has proven itself in the marketplace.

Right now, we are fighting to keep our heads above water. But soon we will begin to swim again, and the race will be back on! Those that can swim the fastest will reach solid ground first. So, it is wise to use these slower-paced times to start positioning your company to overcome these challenges that our industry will face when the race resumes! That day will be sooner than you think!

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