A good 18 months after the start of the pandemic more acceptable vaccination rates meanwhile allow some kind of normality to return. However, shortage of materials is a constant source of stress. What does “new normality“ look like in the EMS industry?
The effects of two years of crisis management can be felt throughout the whole organization,” this is how Markus Aschenbrenner board member of Zollner sums up the current climate. While thanks to improved vaccination possibilities, the signs are slowly pointing to an easing of the situation, disruptions caused by “material shortages” are fueling the fires of constant stress for the entire EMS industry. One can hardly call the current environment the new normality because there can be no talk at present of “normality”, in the sense of things being predictable, in electronics production. “Hats off to the workforce in our industry for the flexibility they have shown,” says Gerd Ohl, shareholder and Managing Director of Limtronik. The effects of the pandemic on everyday working life are still being felt everywhere and are putting a strain on both employees and management. But while on the one hand a tentative easing is in sight, the supply chain is becoming a nightmare when it comes to materials procurement. Sometimes there are not enough components to manufacture, and sometimes all the parts for numerous orders arrive at once. The pressure on employees and management is immense. “We are currently discussing introducing new regulations about how we will accept orders in the near future to reduce pressure on the organization,“ explains Andreas Schneider, Managing Director and Procurator at BMK. “But explaining this to customers requires very delicate handling.“ Marco Balling, Managing Director of productware, sees it as management’s responsibility to cushion stress and pressure, and says very clearly: “I hold discussions with customers about what their expectations are and what we can realistically achieve, because you can’t solve a difficult situation by pressure alone. We will not work better if we increase the pressure. There has to be a dialog and there are limits, which we also communicate.“
Short-time working can help,
but not for companies of all sizes
Where production lines are forced to stand still due to shortages of components, short-time working can be deployed despite full order books; this is a bitter pill for those affected. Felix Timmermann, EVP of Asteelflash is nevertheless grateful to have this possibility: “We have flexibility tools here such as short-time working and working hour accounts that are not available elsewhere. Colleagues in the U.S. have no choice but to lay off in such circumstances.“ As is well known, in the US such terminations are relatively easy, but then the employees are gone and with them their know-how. For the companies concerned this is a huge gamble, because: “When production ramps-up again, new employees must first be trained. Having such tools available to us has helped a great deal here in Central Europe. They allow us to retain the employees and access their knowledge again.“ Timmermann emphasizes. Roland Hollstein, Managing Director of Grundig Business Systems however, is skeptical about accepting the advantages of short-time working: “You need a critical mass for this in order to be able to implement certain things. For example: short-time working is certainly a good instrument, but if you put individual employees on short-time work to achieve a quota, a whole house of cards could collapse on you, because overall the critical mass needed to implement certain projects is no longer there. The bigger you are, the easier you can scale.“
At many manufacturing sites concepts are currently being fine-tuned which are intended to allow for more normality again without neglecting hygiene measures. For a long time, most EMS companies worked with strictly separate groups on the shopfloor. This was a heavy burden for the employees to carry, confirms Michael Velmeden, who is Managing Director of cms electronics of Austria.