When the Covid-19 pandemic hit the U.S. earlier this year, Flexcon quickly discovered that one of its biggest challenges would arise from an unexpected source: work scheduling. The Spencer, Massachusetts-based company, which makes coated and laminated films and adhesives, had experienced a 25% bump in sales as businesses began responding to the health crisis this spring. In particular, it was seeing spikes in demand for products used in pharmaceutical and medical-device labeling, food and beverage packaging and labeling, and the floor graphics used to promote social distancing.
To cope with the surge, Flexcon would need to find a way to prioritize orders. But that wouldn’t be easy in pandemic times. Any strategy it devised would have to take into account the needs of all of Flexcon’s customers: “essential” businesses with urgent orders, customers with nonessential but nonetheless important orders, and businesses that had been temporarily shut down and whose orders would have to be held until they reopened.
Complicating matters, Flexcon had no reliable way of knowing which customers were deemed “essential,” which caused shipment scheduling chaos for prepaid customer orders. Adding to the confusion, the “essential” designation turned out to be open to interpretation. When the official determinations were finally handed down by local governments, some customers who had considered themselves to be essential had to close temporarily while others who had deemed themselves nonessential were told they could come back online.
To help its supply chain deal with the unexpected closures amid a surge in sales volume, Flexcon tapped Florence, Kentucky-based warehouse management consulting firm LeanCor, A Transplace Company. For Flexcon, LeanCor was an obvious choice. The two are strategic partners, and their operations are so intertwined that a LeanCor associate literally works on site at a Flexcon facility and functions as a member of the Flexcon team.
One of the top items on LeanCor’s agenda was to help Flexcon track customer closures so it wouldn’t ship orders that could not be received—and would therefore need to be returned. To do this, customer service manually tracked which customers were open or closed through one-on-one conversations. Team members updated the list as they learned of each customer’s status and as that status changed. That information was then shared with the shipping department to put existing orders on hold if necessary. Status updates were also shared with the manufacturing department in order to get customers back onto the production schedule as they came back online.
As for the other urgent order of business—developing an order-prioritization strategy for scheduling—that solution came together quickly as well. According to the two companies, this was handled as a team effort and was completed in about a week’s time. To develop the strategy, team members used lean methodologies to develop a weighted score for all work orders to help the master schedulers prioritize the workload.
As a result of the collaboration, Flexcon now has an automated order-prioritization process it can use to make data-driven decisions going forward. Among other benefits, the new process enables better communication with customers to facilitate scheduling based on priorities and product availability. And importantly, the manufacturer now has a playbook on hand should a similar crisis occur in the future.