Is collaboration the way forward for Ontario manufacturing?
It could be, according to Simcoe County manufacturers.
The COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed the way we communicate and go about our daily lives. It has also reinforced the value of manufacturing to a well-functioning society. Over the past three months, manufacturers from a diversity of industries have pivoted, reorganizing their operations and supply chains in order to produce the goods necessary to keep people safe and healthy. During this time, important questions have been raised about international supply chains and the value of a strong domestic manufacturing base.
The well-developed network of manufacturers and partners in Simcoe County, Barrie, and Orillia including Georgian College, Lakehead University, and several other stakeholders have played a critical role during the pandemic. A number of these manufacturers have long been involved in the production of medical technologies (e.g. Southmedic, Interspec Systems, Baxter Canada), while no fewer than 20 others have pivoted (e.g. Molded Precision Components, Industrial Filter Manufacturing, Canadian Mist, Techform, Innovative Automation, Beatties Distillery, Heretic Spirits) away from what they normally produce to focus on essential goods such as PPE, medical supplies, and sanitizer. Working collaboratively, the Trillium Network for Advanced Manufacturing and County of Simcoe Economic Development Office had an opportunity to speak with and learn from some of these innovative manufacturers, who shared their perspectives on their pivots and the way forward for manufacturing in Ontario.
All of the manufacturers with whom we spoke emphasized the value of collaboration during the COVID-19 pandemic and moving forward. Most saw tremendous value in moving beyond traditional customer-supplier relationships and towards collaborative relationships with manufacturers across different industries. This means sharing expertise in industries such as automotive, plastics, medical technologies, electronics, automation, and agri-food as a means to help address shortages of essential products to keep Ontarians safe during these challenging times. It also means sharing and developing resources and best practices in collaboration as a means to improve efficiencies and reduce bottlenecks.
At the forefront of this pivot and move towards a more collaborative manufacturing sector has been Oro-Medonte’s Molded Precision Components (MPC). MPC, which normally supplies precision injection molded components to the automotive industry, pivoted toward the production of personal protective face shields. To date, they have produced more than 2 million face shields for front line workers. Andrew Bird, MPC’s Director of Strategic Business Development, agreed that collaboration is critical to Ontario manufacturing moving forward. He notes that for MPC, their collaborations with government partners such as the Next Generation Manufacturing Canada Supercluster, medical device manufacturers such as Toronto’s Sterling Industries, and other local automotive parts suppliers such as SBS Drivetec and R&M Plastic Products builds upon existing relationships with customers, but focuses more on bringing together the shared knowledge, expertise, and capacity of each company. David Yeaman, the President of MPC, made similar comments at the May 14th ‘Pivot Point’ event held virtually and organized jointly by the County of Simcoe, City of Barrie, City of Orillia, Lakehead University, the Sandbox, and Georgian College (whose students collaborated with Kubota Materials Canada to produce face shields for local frontline healthcare workers):
“Everyone has a talent – a ‘superpower’. Recognize your superpower – and although it’s very difficult to start and understand how you might apply it to a specific challenge, there’s always a way to succeed or even exceed what you expected. If you surround yourself with other people whose own skills and superpowers are complementary or add other expertise that you don’t have, you can achieve great things.”David Yeaman, President, Molded Precision Components
Dan Williams, the President of Penetanguishene’s Industrial Filter Manufacturing, agrees about the importance of collaboration moving forward. He notes that collaborations between manufacturers of all sizes will be important not just in the production of essential goods, but in determining what to produce. He also suspects that many of the protocols being implemented by manufacturers to keep employees safe during the COVID-19 pandemic will become permanent. As such, manufacturers – some with hundreds or even thousands of employees – will require consistent and reliable sources of PPE. Given that this may be the case in Canada and abroad, we may have no other option but to manufacture these products locally in order to ensure that supply, while creating new opportunities for manufacturers.
Scott Morrison, the CEO of Collingwood’s Heretic Spirits, was among dozens of Ontario-based distillers who pivoted from the production of spirits to hand sanitizer during the pandemic. Working tirelessly to produce thousands of litres of sanitizer over the past several months, Mr. Morrison was appreciative of the support his company received from both the local, provincial and federal governments throughout the process. According to him:
“The province and the feds have done an exemplary job cutting red tape and helping us pivot our operations. Both have been proactive, asking us questions to fix problems on the spot – things that used to take weeks to sort out.”Scott Morrison, CEO, Heretic Spirits
He also notes that the pandemic allowed Heretic to locate and develop new relationships with suppliers within southern Ontario in attempts to mitigate the risk associated with international supply chains.
Kevin Mullins, the Manager of Administration at Honda of Canada Mfg., Simcoe County’s largest private sector employer, also agreed about the value of collaboration, especially during the pandemic. He spoke specifically to the strong relationships between Honda of Canada Mfg., logistics companies, and local suppliers, and lauded everyone’s willingness to successfully address challenges collaboratively and in short order. Doing so, he noted, proved both efficient and useful in advancing what he perceived to be already-strong relationships.
Many of Simcoe County’s manufacturers and partner organizations are optimistic that collaboration will be key to the future success of Ontario manufacturing. These perspectives were consistent across manufacturing segments from automotive to agri-food to medical devices. David Yeaman provided some apt advice to manufacturers and their partners at the Pivot Point event, advice that appropriately summarizes some of the key lessons learned during the pandemic: “Be willing to collaborate and innovate with others – don’t be proud. You don’t have to do it all on your own, and in all fairness, you can’t do it all on your own.”
Trillium Network for Advanced Manufacturing
The Trillium Network for Advanced Manufacturing is a provincially-funded non-profit organization dedicated to raising public and investor awareness of Ontario’s advanced manufacturing ecosystem, with the intention of supporting growth and improving competitiveness.
County of Simcoe Economic Development Office
The Economic Development Office works with Simcoe County’s sixteen municipalities, the Cities of Barrie and Orillia, and with regional service providers to help businesses thrive and grow. In Simcoe County, experts in healthcare, technology, food processing, aerospace, automotive and more, work hard to design, refine and innovate solutions that impact lives well beyond our borders. Manufacturing is a thriving industry, employing thousands of talented people who are proud to put their stamp on the products and services they create.
For more information contact:
Brendan Sweeney, PhD
Trillium Network for Advanced Manufacturing