Manufacturing during COVID19 Q&A with Bobcat Company Public Affairs Director, Stacey Breuer
Monday, July 6, 2020
Manufacturers across the nation saw a plethora of challenges usher in due to COVID-19. This industry's response looked different than others; falling under the category of essential, remote work or work from home was not an option for these companies. Across the state, GNDC heard from manufacturers who were designing and implementing changes to their production floor, practically overnight, for the safety of workers. Other impacts included supply chain issues and repurposing lines to produce high demand supplies such as PPE and hand sanitizer.
Manufacturing employs 5.9% of the state's workforce, equating to 25,830 positions and comprises 6.71% of the state's GDP. To further understand a North Dakota perspective on how the industry shifted gears quickly and are working toward a new normal, GNDC visited with Stacey Breuer, Corporate Communication and Public Affairs Director for Bobcat Company.
GNDC: Did Bobcat step-up in any way to provide products for COVID-19 response? Breuer: Yes, in April our engineering and innovation teams worked together to design face shields. They downloaded an open-source design from the University of Wisconsin Madison, and we iterated on that design by getting feedback from healthcare providers. We were then able to procure enough supplies to build over 3,500 face shields. The shields were donated to smaller medical facilities and long-term care facilities in North Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin in the communities in which we operate and then some. Some were also saved for our employees to use as PPE, on the job, in our factories.
What were some steps Bobcat took to protect employees in a working environment not designed for social distancing?
During the pandemic, the situation has changed and evolved. When we closed our factories in April, many of the protocols we put in place are still in place today. We have done a variety of things. We have limited visitors to our facilities including encouraging employees not to visit other buildings around our operations to minimize the number of people who go into one facility on any given day. Floors have been marked to make sure that we have the six-foot distance clearly defined so employees have a sense of spacing and understand how important it is. This is especially true in the more public areas where employees punch in or heat up their lunch. There is a limit on the number of people who can eat in our cafés and we have put markings in our conference rooms to limit the number of people who can sit in any given room at the same time. Employees have received masks and face shields and we take temperatures every day as employees enter the facility. International travel for employees has been banned for now. Office employees were sent home for two months at the beginning of the pandemic. They are now back at work in the offices with the same safety protocols that I mentioned for the factory employees.
How is Bobcat planning for the future specifically related to sales and workforce demands?
Like I mentioned in the video question, our goals have not changed. 2019 and 2020 are big years for Bobcat. In 2019, we invested over $100 million in our facilities. We are tripling the size of our Litchfield, Minnesota factory to give us more manufacturing square footage. There is a new paint line in our Gwinner, North Dakota facility. The engineering software lab at the Acceleration Center in Bismarck was upgraded. We opened The Studio, a data innovation center, in downtown Fargo. Our facility in Statesville, North Carolina is being remodeled. Some of these projects will continue into 2020 and we have continued to fund them, because we are optimistic about the future. We know our customers need our equipment and a larger variety of equipment. As a result, many of our product launches are an expansion of our product lineup and we remain committed to those goals.
There is no doubt that supply chains are disrupted, what has Bobcat done to source the raw materials needed to continue manufacturing and getting their product to market?
At Bobcat, we have three functions that are global: IT, Engineering and Procurement. These teams are working around the globe, every day, to make sure that our operations can function. They focus on a variety of IT systems and software, supply chain and global designs. Not a lot changed in terms of our global procurement team working together to ensure we have strategic sourcing strategies in place. They are constantly working with our suppliers to make sure that we have enough parts on hand to be able to build our products. There is no doubt that there were interruptions, but our procurement team is a global team for a global marketplace. We have been able to successfully supply our factories at a reasonable level during the pandemic.
Can you tell us about sales – is it what you expected? Better or worse? Long Term outlook?
The pandemic has certainly had an impact on our business. We have had dealerships around the country that have been able to remain open and others have not been able to do so. We are working closely with our dealerships to help them through this time by getting them the resources they need and educating them about the new products we are launching. Recently, we launched the first models of our R-Series loaders and our R2-Series excavators. Our compact tractor lineup and small articulated loaders have also launched. We have our eyes set on the long term. Although business may have slowed down due to the pandemic, our goals have not changed. Our long-range plan is to be number one in compact equipment globally. We are doing that through an expanded product lineup to give our customers the products they need, to do the jobs they need to get done.
As an essential industry, what should decision-makers at all levels of government be thinking about as we work to restart the economy?
Bobcat was fortunate to be designated an essential business during the pandemic. Our equipment is used to support critical infrastructure, construction projects, and energy development. We have customers who need us and dealers who need equipment. Because of the essential business designation, we have been able to keep almost all our factories open across North America. We are thankful for that and have spent considerable time making sure the health and safety of our employees were not compromised. Moving forward, it will take time for things to ramp-up, as not all communities or states or even countries are at the same place when it comes to opening up and loosening restrictions. So, it is important for elected officials to understand that businesses are trying to navigate through a very uncertain situation. There is no playbook for how to manage your business through a pandemic. Keeping this in mind will be important for leaders as they look to guide people through a landscape no one has experienced before.
Anything special going on at the Acceleration Center? Anything that you can tell us about?
The Acceleration Center always has cool stuff going on. The center hosts a variety of innovation, R&D and new product development teams. There are always projects being worked on, new products being designed, new things being tested, lots of technologies that we are looking at to continue to drive the compact industry forward. There are also things that I can’t tell you about (laughing). The products that I can mention include small articulated loaders and more models of R-Series loaders. Bobcat MaxControl Remote Operation is one of the really cool technologies to come out of the Acceleration Center. This allows you to operate a Bobcat loader with an app on your iPhone. This has been an exciting development for the team. Not only that, it’s exclusive to Bobcat and is another product developed right here in North Dakota.