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Bay Area manufacturers rise to challenges of producing during a pandemic 

Originally published in Silicon Valley Business Journal

Running a manufacturing facility during a pandemic is no easy feat and companies around the Bay Area are slowly adapting to incorporate Covid-19 protocols into their everyday production practices.

Gene Russell, CEO and president of Manex Consulting, says that opening can come with some challenges.

“Most are finding distancing to be the largest issue. Masks are also creating a communication issue, as most plant floor communication relies on the spoken word, not the email of the office world,” Russell said.

“Some environments are high-noise, which makes communicating and distancing more challenging.”

Art Wall, director of fab operations at NextFlex, says the company has introduced video calls over the traditional meetings.

“We have initiated a lot of virtual meetings by Teams, Zoom and GoToMeeting. Our employees are allowed into manufacturing on an as-needed basis and are required to obtain daily approval,” Wall said.

“The approval response reminds them of the social distancing, masks and self-monitoring for any symptoms,” he said.

“We have masks, hand sanitizers and ‘no-touch’ capable doors available,” Wall said. “Cleaning is done each night and mid-day, and we’ve added distancing by limiting one person at a time in the cleanroom gown room.”

Bay Area manufacturers are rising to the challenge of not only educating their employees about safe practices in the workplace, but also making sure they take healthy practices home to their families.

“We’ve been providing weekly reminders that the precautions we are taking at work are working and they should use the same guidelines at home and in public,” said Robert Sanchez, president of Casa Sanchez Foods.

“We’ve also counseled employees on travel and gatherings with family outside of their home. We’ve tried to instill teamwork and protecting each other so that we may continue working safely.”

Michael Benedetti, director of quality and regulations at Clover Sonoma, says that the Covid-19 regulations were easy to accommodate for the company.

Since food facilities already had strict cleaning and distancing protocols, their existing practices were almost enough to pass a Covid-19 standard. Clover Sonoma added a few extra sanitation precautions to their usual procedure.

Benedetti says they have been hypervigilant because their product is perishable and that they need to maintain production lines for the 30 local dairy farms that they work with.

“When we have had to quarantine individuals, there can be tremendous stress put on the crews who are now short-staffed,” said Benedetti. “We have begun hiring to support this labor shortage to ensure we will be able to operate continually.”

The success of a manufacturing facility during a time of pandemic will rely entirely on the company’s willingness to adapt to new standards, according to Russell.

“Manufacturers need to rebuild their pipelines and even pivot to new markets,” said Russell.

NextFlex lab workers inspect flexible circuit boards inside the 15,000-square-foot cleanroom.