Covid-19 has brought profound challenges for the traditional manufacturing sector.
In a factory – unlike in the service industry – people need to be on-site to run and oversee the processes. However, the Covid-19 lockdowns and restrictions in South Africa and in many other countries required that factories close for some time and that people work from home, posing a great difficulty for manufacturing.
This challenge has highlighted the need to be agile, anticipating and adapting to great changes even while the exact shape of the future cannot be predicted.
Our timber treatment industry has been fortunate. In South Africa, the sector had to cease operations for only a month as we were deemed an essential service. The volumes of timber preservative and treated timber have rebounded dramatically and for our sector, unlike many others, the future is looking good.
The pandemic is accelerating pre-existing trends, including that of robotics. The manufacturing industry should now be looking at how it can use robotics and automate processes that currently need physical intervention. A truly augmented workforce may not be achievable within the next few years but, in time, is likely to become part of the manufacturing environment.
The pandemic has highlighted the value of infrastructure such as electricity and fibre connections. This infrastructure is likely to be fast-tracked in African countries.
Dolphin Bay had the foresight of moving to cloud-based computing a few years ago, so most staff could easily work from home during lockdown. Having overseen production at our Sabie factory from a distance for some time, we have experience in managing processes remotely.
We also implemented shifts at the factories when the lockdown lifted and are now operating seven days per week to maximise production.
One of the big changes we experienced was ‘face-to-face’ communication with our suppliers using Zoom and Microsoft Teams – after working with them largely by email for many years. This improved our relationships and was helpful at a time when we were having to make allowances for the Covid-19 regulations in the countries where most of our suppliers are based.
For the first time we had common ground for conversation throughout the world.
The effect of Covid-19 has shown governments the value of infrastructure such as electricity and fibre connections – especially in most of the African markets Dolphin Bay serves. This infrastructure is likely to be fast-tracked in the future, meaning that in the long term, the pandemic could bring a huge boost for infrastructure in Africa.
In the past, a stable internet connection at work was essential but less so at home. Now suddenly, many governments are seeing the value of the technology.
As far as production goes, Dolphin Bay has managed to do remarkably well given the circumstances, and even had a few months of record volumes.
Interestingly, I found my own productivity much higher working from home as there were far fewer distractions, so it has its advantages!
However, shipping became an even bigger challenge than usual. Some of our orders are placed four to five months ahead of time, so we had containers stuck in harbours and on ships, which could not be moved.
The pandemic is accelerating pre-existing trends, including that of robotics.
Ships could not dock because there was no staff to offload and transport the cargo. Vessel schedules went haywire, with diverted vessels from the East and Europe adding to the congestion – which was especially bad in Cape Town, where ships waited to dock for up to four weeks. This affected the other South African harbours in turn. Shipping lines even cancelled some routings and it was touch and go for all imports due to the pressure.
Nevertheless, for the most part our clients received their CCA as they needed it. The only challenge was when a client had a spike in usage, and this too we were able to manage.
We have learnt a lot, have new insights into what the world will be like in future, and we’re happy that 2020 is done!
We look forward continuing to implement our new systems next year – hopefully with some normality returning.