Workplace cooperation leads to surprising gains during the COVID-19 outbreak

For one company in China during the Covid-19 pandemic a shift in production, reduction in costs and waste were just a few of the immediate benefits following SCORE Training.

Article | 03 June 2020
A manufacturer of sleeping bags, furniture covers, car covers, and boat covers in Longgang District, China participated in the ILO SCORE Training Workplace Cooperation module in October 2019.

Shortly after due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the on-site visit originally scheduled for January was postponed to late April. At this visit, the SCORE Trainer learned that management and staff were successfully applying the workplace cooperation knowledge they learned from SCORE Training Workplace Cooperation to keep production running efficiently during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On-site consulting by SCORE expert trainer

COVID-19 completely disrupted the company’s plans to re-start production after the Spring Festival. The enterprise was facing a backlog of customer orders and the factory director was trying his best to get staff back to work as soon as possible. To ensure workers could safely resume work, the company purchased personal protective equipment, carried out comprehensive disinfection procedures, established quarantine rooms, and provided safety training. Thanks to these efforts, the company successfully passed the on-site verification led by the Longgang safety supervision office and obtained a letter of consent to resume production in early February.

In late April, the SCORE Trainer spoke with EIT team members, managers and front-line employees from various departments such as packaging, fabric cutting, and procurement. Through this discussion the SCORE Trainer learned that in the two months since work resumed, they had achieved some remarkable results.

1. Productivity increased through workplace cooperation

When work resumed on February 10, only 180 out of 360 staff were able to return. This created a large gap between capacity to fill customer orders and actual demand. On-time delivery is crucial for the company. Through on-site training, online courses and other visits conducted as part of SCORE Training Workplace Cooperation module, the company learnt about how workplace cooperation can improve enterprise efficiency.

EIT team members determined that optimizing processes between departments could increase production efficiency. The cutting table is the first step where all raw materials get sorted, matched and cut. This step was identified as key for efficiency gains. If there is a color difference in raw materials at the cutting stage, the fabric will be prone to color mixing problems when it arrives at the production workshop. When encountering these problems in the past, it often took a lot of time for the production workshop to separate materials. This not only wasted staff time but also caused friction between the cutting table and production workshop.

To solve this problem, EIT team members created a plan to optimize the process. After the materials are brought from the warehouse, cutting department employees organize the materials to reduce color differences as much as possible. Materials that used to be stuck at the production workshop for days are now quickly organized at the cutting table in just a few hours. This change has greatly improved overall quality and production efficiency.

All departments needed to coordinate and support each other to shorten production time in order to package the product in time for shipment. By considering the interests of the whole factory, staff efficiency has significantly improved.
- Factory Director

2. Converting raw materials into valuable protective equipment 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, an essential factor in enabling the resumption of production was a sufficient supply of masks for workers. In early February, the company had purchased 3,000 masks, which was just enough to meet the local district requirements. However, they has nearly 360 employees. Once all employees eventually returned to work, they would quickly run out of masks.

Some employees noticed that the enterprise already had plenty of raw material fabrics which were suitable for mask-making. With the raw materials available and several excellent pattern-makers, workers asked: Why not produce their own masks?

Under the leadership of the factory director, staff worked rapidly to gather nearly a ton of fabrics and produce masks of their own. Because they have ample raw materials, thousands of masks can be produced for its workers if necessary. This ensures a sufficient supply while also reducing costs. Management estimates that the factory has saved hundreds of thousands of dollars by making their own masks.

3. Saving costs and improving quality by reducing waste

After seeing how discarded raw materials could be turned into protective masks, the production workshop began to pay more attention to other opportunities to minimize unnecessary waste, such as:
• Properly training lathe workers to ensure raw material waste is reduced;
• Optimizing the cutting and use of raw materials. After cutting, the surplus materials can be used as small parts, which helps reduce unnecessary waste;
• Carefully inspecting final packages to prevent rework and returns. Before December 2019, the company had three or four customer returns per month. Now, returns have been reduced to just one per month; and
• Increased information sharing between the procurement and packaging departments. As a result, the wait time for work and materials has been reduced.

4. Ensuring safe production through effective epidemic prevention

Safe production is particularly important during the COVID-19 pandemic. The safety department actively cooperates externally with the local government and internally with staff to ensure all necessary epidemic prevention measures are taken.
• In the staff canteen, workers must ensure they maintain a safe distance from each other at all times. The original dining time of each shift interval of five minutes has also been extended to ten minutes to ensure that employees do not cross paths when going to the canteen.
• Quarantine rooms have been set up for workers who may require quarantine. Any person that has left the province and returned may need to be quarantined for one week. During the quarantine period, the canteen supplies all meals to the quarantined worker.
• Epidemic prevention information is posted on the factory bulletin board, personal protective equipment is provided to all staff and everyone is encouraged to implement safe production practices.

Significant progress after participating in just one SCORE Training Module left a very deep impression on their SCORE trainer. Their ability to not just resume work, but also improve production efficiency during such a difficult time is remarkable. The SCORE Trainer looks forward to seeing how the company continues to progress at the next scheduled site visit.

*company name has temporarily been removed while this article is under final approval process