The COVID-19 pandemic may very well go down as the most challenging moment for Ontario’s economy in decades. These challenges elicited an unprecedented response from all levels of government and all facets of private business. Amid these responses we ask: have Ontario manufacturers done enough to help during the COVID-19 pandemic? 

The short answer is yes. A diverse group of over 200 Ontario-based manufacturers – from global automakers to cut-and-sew clothiers to craft brewers – have re-tooled their facilities and re-oriented their business plans in order to produce goods that are essential in equipping front-line healthcare workers and mitigating the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. A list of Ontario manufacturers that have pivoted during the pandemic is available here. Moreover, manufacturing employees have similarly risen to the challenge, and should be commended for their efforts.  

Can Ontario manufacturers do more to help? Certainly. And our evidence suggests that they are making more and more progress every day. Early last week, Trillium Network for Advanced Manufacturing staff were able to identify only about 100 manufacturers that had pivoted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic since March. The number of manufacturers that have pivoted has more than doubled since, and is growing every day. As our staff identify these manufacturers, we are offered the opportunity to connect with and learn from those that have successfully pivoted. Their stories are fascinating.

For many manufacturers, pivoting is no easy feat. It involves carefully retooling factories to ensure that the work can be done safely and that the eventual product is effective. It may involve obtaining new licenses or certifications to make and sell medical devices and supplies. It inevitably involves locating new customers and suppliers from parts of the economy or province that an individual manufacturer may not be familiar with. These decisions carry a certain amount of financial and operational risk. That said, the ability to pivot during the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrates the exceptional capacity for innovation that exists within Ontario’s advanced manufacturing ecosystem. 

The longer-term impacts of the pandemic are not yet clear. Will it increase the pace at which manufacturers adopt the technologies frequently associated with Industry 4.0? Possibly. Will some of the protocols implemented during the re-opening phase be adopted by manufacturers on a more permanent basis? Quite likely. Importantly, however, the COVID-19 pandemic has made it clear that Ontario manufacturers are innovative, flexible, and critical to Ontario’s economy and to a well-functioning society. Over the next few weeks the Trillium Network for Advanced Manufacturing will endeavour to bring more of this information to light as we learn from the manufacturers that have helped support Ontarians during the pandemic.