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Common Issues and Challenges Facing Manufacturers in 2021


We can all agree that 2020 was quite the tumultuous year for manufacturing, and for most every other industry out there. We’ve all had to pivot on a dime to accommodate COVID-19 workplace protocols and procedures, and that one change alone hit manufacturing especially hard. When the simple act of getting onto the shop floor for a shift takes more time than ever before (with temperature checks and other procedures), and with fewer people on the job at one time because of distancing measures, productivity numbers go down very quickly. That’s to say nothing of supply chain disruptions, changes in demand, and employees becoming uneasy and unsure about the security of their own jobs.

A few months into 2021, where is manufacturing today? At USC Consulting, we’re looking at the future of the industry with optimism. Yes, we’ve been through a trial by fire. And it’s not quite over yet. But great opportunities may arise from the ashes. Changes made on the fly in response to COVID might actually lead the manufacturing industry to bounce back stronger, leaner and more efficient than before.

In our whitepaper, “The State of Manufacturing Operations: Then, Now and What Comes Next,” we do a deep dive into the state of manufacturing operations today, and shine up our crystal ball to take a look at what might be coming down the pike in the future.

Here’s an excerpt from the whitepaper dealing with the common issues and challenges manufacturers are facing today.

Common issues and challenges manufacturers are facing in 2021

Safety of people and products

The highly contagious nature of COVID-19 ushered in new procedures and protocols on the manufacturing shop floor. Getting people onto the floor for their shifts took on several layers of complexity, with temperature checks and the spacing of workers for safety. It also meant that products had to be kept safe, especially those in the food industry. All of these new measures slowed down production lines and ate into efficiency and productivity. It’s an ongoing issue for many manufacturers.

Greater focus on automation

Automation had already been prevalent in the manufacturing industry, but during COVID, artificial intelligence took on a new importance. Simply put, if you’ve got bots on the production line, you don’t need to worry about social distancing, temperature checks, absences because of illness, work slowdowns and a whole host of other COVID-borne challenges. This trend won’t go away when the pandemic finally fades. Read more about it in 5 Ways Automation is Changing Manufacturing Today.

Working from home

Obviously, employees on the production line are not able to work from home. But those in support positions in the office can, and have. It’s leading manufacturers to contemplate large-scale changes in where people work. Within those changes are hidden opportunities for efficiency. How much business travel is really necessary now, when most everyone is comfortable with Zoom or other online meeting software? Does your CFO really need to crunch numbers in the office, or can she do the work from home, cutting down her commute time and upping her work/life balance in the process? And, if some work and transactional processes can be performed remotely, can they also be moved to a lower cost jurisdiction?

Rethinking supply chains

Because supply chains from China were disrupted during the pandemic, manufacturers needed to find other sources of materials and product. Where can you source from if borders close again? One issue being talked about in front offices is the possibility of sourcing locally. It’s also a matter of inventory. Manufacturing has always had to do a delicate dance with how much inventory to have on hand at any given moment, but COVID magnified it. Dive deeper into this issue with 5 Reasons Why You Need to Stock with Lean Manufacturing Principles.

Employee issues

COVID has affected employee health, morale and stability across all industries. It’s not unique to manufacturing. Employees who have been furloughed wonder if they’ll get their jobs back. Those who were able to stay on the job wonder if they’ll keep their jobs in the long run. There’s a lot of uncertainty among the workforce out there right now. That translated to employers having to deal with more employee-related issues during 2020 than ever before. Keeping employees safe on the job is job one. But other issues exist, too. Employees may need more time off to care for ill family members or even themselves. Businesses that have experienced layoffs are dealing with low employee morale and distrust of management. People are unsettled and afraid for their livelihoods, thinking management doesn’t care. This is especially true if companies have automated some positions. Many manufacturers find they have work to do to reengage their workforce. It is going to mean taking a new look at policies to ensure employees feel cared for, valued and needed.

Bottom line, manufacturing has seen many changes and trials through the pandemic, and it’s not over yet. But, the bright spot in all of this may be permanent changes for the better that will increase efficiency, production, and employee morale and loyalty.

Read our more in-depth look at this issue in our whitepaper, “The State of Manufacturing Operations: Then, Now and What Comes Next.”

The State of Manufacturing Operations: Then, Now and What Comes Next white paper

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