A challenging year for industry to say the least – and one that has forced companies to adapt by re-evaluating their existing practices and technologies. Over the last weeks we have caught up with industry figures to discuss how leading companies have reacted to and mitigated the global Covid-19 disruption in 2020 and how they will approach 2021 with a renewed mindset.
Kirsty Hazlewood interviewed Ross Berntson – President and Chief Operating Officer, Indium Corp.
Firstly, how did your company initially react to the crisis?
As a global company, our team had a head start due to SARS and MERS infectious episodes that had previously impacted our facilities in Asia. Experiences combating onsite transmission allowed us to institute best practices quickly and efficiently. We established hygiene teams for each facility that implemented site control, health surveys, and social distancing. Most importantly, we approached the pandemic with a commitment to follow the latest guidelines from the CDC, continuous learning and improvement, and open and continual communication. Throughout this time, we reached out to a number of manufacturers to collaborate and share these practices. From these conversations, Indium Corporation and a number of New York State manufacturers, in coordination with the Manufacturers Association of Central New York (MACNY), created and committed to a pledge to enhance manufacturing workplace safety while ensuring production was uninterrupted.
Supply chain challenges affecting production were a major consequence of the pandemic – what areas of the supply chain both regionally and product-wise were worst hit, and how did you overcome the disruption and manage supply chain risk?
The worst hit segments were those that were effectively shut down due to the pandemic, especially elective surgeries which reduced demand for key medical devices that are assembled with bio-compatible solders and brazes. The automotive industry was not forced to shut down, but companies voluntarily idled their assembly lines to tool up for safe practices and wait out the worst of the demand slump. Of course, with the increased electrification of vehicles, this shutdown was keenly felt, especially in Europe.
How did your operating procedures change regarding staff absenteeism and health and safety? Did you implement a work-from-home policy? What did this mean for normal business operations?
As an essential business, Indium Corporation has been fully operational since the beginning of the pandemic. The manufacturing pledge allowed us to keep people safe and our factories running by restricting our operations in a way that protected employees while allowing for continued production. The pledge focused on:
- Controlling site traffic by limiting visitors and intra-facility visits
- Implementing and enhancing safety and hygiene protocols
- Social distancing to reduce density
- Onsite emergency responses
- Frequently and openly communicating to employees, community, and customers
We did and continue to allow work-from-home when possible, but believe we are stronger together as a team. We look forward to when we can confidently and safely engage in person at our sites and with our valued customers around the world.
With exhibitions and other face-to-face sales opportunities cancelled, how did you adapt the marketing and sales of your products?
Like many in the industry, we shifted our marketing and sales focus to digital platforms. We developed and launched our own webinar program—the InSIDER Series—to allow us to continue to share our expert industry insight and products with our customers. We’ve been honored by the success and participation the program has seen so far and will continue to cover exciting topics in 2021 and beyond. For those interested, our archived webinars can be found at www.indium.com/webinar. In addition to our webinar program, we work with industry organizations and media to support them with technical content and advance the industry.
How did you support your existing customers during the lockdown and how successful was this?
Indium Corporation has continued to support its customers, ensuring essential industries are supplied during the pandemic including; the medical community for the production of ventilators and pacemakers; fire suppression in producing fire sprinklers; emergency responders, supporting the development of advanced telecommunication devices; and the transportation industry with the production of automotive lighting and aerospace electronics. We have done so while meeting or exceeding best practices for virus containment, minimizing economic hardships on our communities, and protecting our people, their families, and their communities.
During this pandemic and despite all the challenges, Indium Corporation’s team kept innovating with new materials and processes to meet the demands of new products that are currently or will shortly enter the market. We kept investing in R&D and engineering and installed more manufacturing tools and analytic capabilities than any previous year. To accommodate this increased activity, we increased our manufacturing footprint in virtually all of our facilities in addition to creating a new 42,000 sq. ft. headquarters. You will hear about more expansion in 2021.
Do you believe the COVID-19 pandemic has forced companies to adapt and invent and, in fact, accelerate innovation?
Innovation in materials, data analytics, communications, and processes are essential to a healthy pandemic response and the rapid surges in demand our customers are experiencing. Perhaps even more important is a focus on talent development and cross-training to create flexibility when large groups of associates might be restricted from their production roles. For example, our team is creating new communication systems and data analytic tools that link us to end-user demand while also increasing the flexibility and velocity of our production processes to be able to surge when demand spikes. Our materials, likewise, are being designed for rapid scaleup and faster processing so our customers are able to respond to end-market demands. These materials include products like Durafuse™ LT which eliminates the need for underfill processes and InFORMS® preforms which eliminate stitching process steps. Both products speed our customer assembly processes while reducing costs and increasing reliability.
How do you foresee technologies such as IoT, artificial intelligence, robotics, and 5G future-proofing the industry against possible future disruptive events?
Seeing around the corner will always be a challenge. However, no manufacturer will be able to say a pandemic shutdown is a black swan—it will happen again. All we can do is prepare as AI, IoT, and 5G enhance communication, create flexibility and durability so our response to distributions are more agile. For example, AI can be used to identify weaknesses in inventory procedures and supply chains. It is the ‘hard to see’ through normal analog and digital approaches. For example, we thought we had all critical materials accounted for, but still ran into unforeseen constraints in items such as jar lids. Applied AI can reduce this probability. Communication tools can similarly improve understanding of inventory, demand, and engagement with our customers and service teams. Again, we won’t eliminate shocks to the system, but we will be more anti-fragile.
Has your business model now irrevocably changed and will you continue with some of these changes, even once the world returns to a new normal?
Our commitment to creating materials that change the world will continue with even more vigor. To assure this continues despite anticipated regional disruptions, our teams at the front lines are more autonomous and nimble, and have greater flexibility to act independently. These numerous activity clusters will stay aligned and chaos-averted, not as much through global meetings, but rather frequent virtual check-ins. We can thank the pandemic for bringing more people and multiple functions closer together wherever they reside in the globe. We don’t wait for the next face-to-face gathering anymore.
We at Indium Corporation commit ourselves to excellence in meeting the advanced needs of the global electronics assembly materials market. This has not and will not change.