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Focus on Business

Sue Mucha

The big lesson from this unpredictable year is infrastructure planning pays.

“Hindsight is 20:20” refers to a vision measurement, not this crazy year. But from a planning standpoint, the year “2020” has rewarded electronics manufacturing services (EMS) companies that built resilience into their operational plans. As I write this, the Covid-19 pandemic continues to spur an era of new normal. The introduction of vaccines will hopefully drive a return to something close to the old normal. While this challenge is ongoing, however, it is important to look at some of the operational investments that have proved most beneficial.
Here are five areas that stand out to me:

IT. Companies that were already supporting employees working remotely as a result of business travel, remote home offices or a need to work in multiple time zones more comfortably had an edge in converting a larger portion of the workforce to work-at-home scenarios. VPNs, internal systems capable of supporting secure and fast access to remote users, videoconferencing tools, seamless transfer of work phones to mobile phones, and existing policies/training on maintaining security in home office environments are all key elements enabling employees to effectively work at home. Companies with these in place simply had to scale up to accommodate a larger user base. Systems strategy has also been integral in managing the supply chain and forecasting disruption driven by Covid-19. Companies with systems that can quickly assess inventory levels, material availability and production status globally were better off than those with facility-specific systems or systems that required much manual interpretation to gather that information.

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Susan Mucha

With travel frozen, rethink and repurpose those marketing dollars.

By making face-to-face sales calls impossible, Covid-19 is challenging electronics manufacturing services (EMS) salespeople to work in new ways. Sadly, that challenge isn’t likely to go away soon. On the bright side, it opens the door to a more productive, less costly sales and OEM relationship, provided salespeople modify their approach.

In the normal flow of EMS selling, there is typically a lead follow-up phase that results in a face-to-face sales call. There may be an additional meeting to present a quotation, depending on the distance between the salesperson and decision-maker. There is also usually a plant tour. When all these activities are local, costs drop to the amount of time the individuals spend on the activity. However, the cost of a sales call that involves business travel may be $1,000 to $2,000, depending on mode of travel and how many sales calls are clustered into that trip.

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Sue Mucha

Ramp the advertising programs and support them with content tied to sales efforts.

In my last column, I discussed the communications strategies that were most important as Covid-19 began to change our working lives. This month, I look at communications strategies that will be most important as we resume the new normal working world.

As I write this (Apr. 16), the strategy for reopening businesses is just being formulated. From everything I’ve seen reported, it appears the strategy will be a rolling relaxation of restrictions, which means geographic advantages for companies in places that either had minimal infection rates or have successfully flattened their curves. Rolling increases of restrictions are also likely if a region starts to see new spikes in infections.

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Sue Mucha

Or how not to make a (potential) problem bigger than it is.

As I write this (Feb. 28), the spread of Covid-19 within the US is still very limited in terms of numbers of confirmed cases. That said, it is already creating a large body of communications lessons to be learned that will remain relevant a month from now.

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Sue Mucha

Why the “rise of the robots” might be a good thing for workers.

Once a year, I like to take a column to look at the trends I’m seeing for the coming year. I think 2020 is going to be fairly good for the electronics manufacturing services (EMS) industry.

The trade war finally appears to be cooling down. Both China and the US have been hurt by it, and I think both sides have reached the point where they realize that not reaching an agreement will cost both of them lucrative manufacturing sectors, since China is seeing production migrate to Southeast Asia, and the US is seeing production move to Mexico. As I write this, the phase 1 deal has yet to be signed. If it does get signed in early-2020 and tariffs begin to lift, that could remove the trade-war-driven drag on the US manufacturing economy. The signing of USMCA will also have some positive effects and hopefully improve the competitiveness of US manufacturing within North America.

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Sue Mucha

Workers need to understand the “why” of manufacturing and how to manage processes.

The pace of technological change continues to increase. Products are getting smaller and more challenging to build. The increased levels of automation needed to build those products are driving a need to rethink the role of the personnel associated with those machines. The worker who fills those new jobs needs to understand the “why” of manufacturing and have the critical thinking skills to manage processes rather than just run machines.

One example of this role rethinking is happening at Burton Industries, an electronics manufacturing services (EMS) provider whose primary manufacturing facility is in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

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