Dr. John Mitchell: IPC’s Ongoing Efforts Related to COVID-19



On April 14, IPC president and CEO, Dr. John Mitchell, described IPC’s ongoing efforts related to COVID-19 with I-Connect007 Publisher Barry Matties.

From a standpoint approximately 30 days into the U.S. shutdown, Mitchell reported that 94% of the executives attending the executive forum are expressing concern. He also outlined many of the chaotic drivers and influences in the industry, including shifting over to different, mandated products; supply shortages; potential declining demand for normal products; and increased shipping costs. Worker and staffing shortages have also become an emerging concern. 

Mitchell’s opinion was that there are numerous indicators that an economic comeback is in the offing, but with some “drag” on the system as it restarts. The industry is responding well overall. 

While ventilator manufacturing is a high priority, only properly qualified manufacturers can build medical equipment. Nevertheless, Mitchell pointed out that there are shifts in the market that touch everyone. As the ventilator needs wane in the coming weeks, the market will likely move closer to normal. Mitchell noted that China today shows a market engagement closer to 90% or 95%—not quite fully recovered but well on its way.

Lastly, Mitchell shared his pride in the cooperative response to this challenge shown by the electronics manufacturing industry and offered a reminder to pay attention to the real numbers and the statistics—not just the fear. 

I-Connect007 continues to deliver original reporting and coverage of the electronics design, electronics manufacturing, and contract manufacturing industries, including up-to-date information from the companies, associations, and supply chains globally. Find the latest news and information at www.iconnect007.com, and on our new topic bulletin board, “Industry Leaders Speak Out: Responses to COVID-19 outbreak.” 

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Audio Transcript:

Barry Matties: Welcome. Today, I’m speaking with John Mitchell, president and CEO of IPC. During the global shutdown, which has reached about 30 days here in the U.S., we’ve talked to John several times regarding the state of the industry today. We’re getting another update. John, welcome, and thanks for taking the time for this interview.

John Mitchell: Thank you, Barry.

Matties: Let’s start with an overall update on the state of the industry, please.

Mitchell: As you know, we’re doing an executive forum where we invite the executives from across the industry globally to join us and share in a very safe environment the challenges they’re facing, their concerns, and what other people are doing so that the industry can learn faster from each other to respond to this pandemic crisis. At the one that we just finished, the concern at the executive level was higher than it’s ever been. We did a quick poll, and 94% were either somewhat or extremely concerned. That is way up, as you can imagine, with a lot of these shelter-in-place rules.

There are several things that the industry is concerned about. One, of course, is weak demand. We’ve seen a lot of shifting back and forth in terms of demand for specific products, but also having to shift focus over to different products that are in higher demand now and being mandated. You have a very large concern from the majority of the group on weak demand for their current products and services. There’s also a very strong concern about supply shortages.

Another thing is about a third of them are facing is worker shortages. Many are under shelter-in-place orders. Most of what I’ve heard from electronics manufacturing facilities and factories is they are making it optional for their employees to come and work in the factory. Now, they’ve changed the layouts of those factories to try to be safer and maintain social distancing within the factory. They’ve also changed boundaries for people as well as the timing of various shifts. Instead of having a half-hour to an hour overlap, you might have a half-hour to an hour gap between shifts, more staggered lunch breaks, and things like that to try to keep people safer.

But with that, we already were very strained in the industry. We have been for years in terms of having worker shortages. Now, this just adds more to that. If you have an employee who’s concerned, they might not want to come out during the shelter-in-place. And as we’ve talked about on other occasions, there’s still some confusion and disparity between states and the way certain shelter-in-place rules are being put into place; all of that is coming together.

The last area is shipping costs. We have one factory that has been asked to help build PCBs for the ventilator shortage that is happening in North America. They’re building those boards, but once they built them, they’re shipping them to another manufacturer in China to have them populated because they’re more capable of doing that. They populate them there, and then they’re shipping them back. With shipping costs being higher, not only does that add delays, but it’s also driving costs up as well. There’s a large, chaotic set of circumstances that are keeping the entire industry on its toes and making everybody’s life not only challenging but ever-changing.

Matties: That’s certainly the case.

Mitchell: That was a long answer.

Matties: That’s quite all right. It’s comprehensive, and as we’re moving into the conversation of the economy re-engaging, there are going to be new challenges. You’ve mentioned a few supply chain employees. What challenges, aside from those, do you think we’ll face as the economy re-engages?

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