On March 31, Dr. John Mitchell, IPC president and CEO, gave Barry Matties an update on the industry response to COVID-19 since their conversation on March 20.
Mitchell provides an overall update on the industry, commending U.S. manufacturers for their proactive responses. He also reports on the essential business status efforts taken by IPC on behalf of manufacturers, including the letters to the governors and other similar communication initiatives. As a result, most manufacturers have been authorized as essential businesses, are open, building products, and practicing appropriate protocols to minimize or eliminate transmission and keep the employees safe.
Mitchell shares that, through IPC’s Executive Forum weekly teleconferences, business leaders are cooperatively sharing news and methods, and the industry is engaged in a true community exercise. He also observes that participants in medical applications, infrastructure, and communications sectors have been very busy. Furthermore, facilities that have had their order queues paused are generally repurposing to pick up business in these urgent areas.
Mitchell wraps up with an example of manufacturers and the IPC working together to respond to supply chain issues, sharing component part inventories between member companies in order to help deliver critically needed equipment on time. He summarizes by reminding us all to communicate and stay engaged and positive.
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- Listen to our March 20 interview with IPC President and CEO John Mitchell.
- Industry Leaders Speak Out: Responses to COVID-19 Outbreak.
- Read Dr. Mitchell's letter to the nation's governors.
- Check out IPC's latest COVID-19 updates.
- Download this article's audio .mp3.
Barry Matties: Today, we’re speaking with John Mitchell, president and CEO of IPC. About a week ago, we talked to John, and he provided our listeners with an update on the IPC’s response to the COIVD-19 outbreak. A lot has changed in the last week, so we’ve invited John back here to join us again for another update. John, welcome, and thanks for taking the time for this interview.
John Mitchell: Thanks for having me, Barry.
Matties: John, let’s start with maybe an overall update from the IPC on what’s going on, please.
Mitchell: There is obviously a lot going on, as you can imagine, and everyone is hearing on the news that the industry as a whole though is responding in a stellar fashion—especially in the United States, where a lot of these shelter in place rules or rulings are being instituted. We had some initial confusion when that first started happening about whether or not certain facilities would be viewed as essential, as I mentioned last time. But around the time that we last spoke, IPC sent out letters to all 50 governors, trying to help them understand why keeping the electronics factories working where they can is critical to the infrastructure because we don’t solve these or get these devices created without the electronics industry functioning in a proper manner.
That has probably been the largest piece that has changed. And then we’ve had several different points where we’ve interacted with the government and other things like that. But overall, though, the report from the industry has been very positive, where people are working, and factories are generally open. They are practicing some very good and safe practices to make sure that even while they’re remaining open, they’re keeping employees safe, which is wonderful. They’re giving options. In many cases, attendance is optional and not impactful on your job position in terms of keeping factories open, so those are a few of the general updates that I would share to start off.
Matties: Good. And in our previous conversation, you mentioned that you had a conference call to invited guests to talk about the industry. Have you had any additional calls, or do you have any additional calls scheduled?
Mitchell: Actually, we’re now doing that each Wednesday. It’s called an executive forum. We invite the heads of companies or people in executive positions of companies to join us on that call. Honestly, the second one was very fulfilling as well because the whole industry is willing to share what they’re doing, openly asking questions and supporting others in terms of, “Hey, you mentioned that. Can you give us more details about how you’re doing this kind of practice?” For example, somebody shared that, “We have people typically we’re running three shifts and we have an overlap of maybe 30 to 60 minutes you can share information back and forth. Now, it’s gone to be opposite; there’s now a gap of 30–60 minutes, and people are coming in single file, and they have things blocked off, as well as different levels of alerts that they’re able to do.
One person said, “Wait a second. You mentioned levels of alert. I heard what level three was. What was level one and two?” Then, they took the time, so it’s been a great community exercise to see the industry coming together and helping each other. Some people have been through more of this having Asia factories as well, so they’re sharing their experience. For our call tomorrow, we’ll start the conversation with one of our board members from Europe as well, sharing their experience and how they have facilities all over the world. It’s been a really good place to come together and air some concerns. IPC then takes those issues and goes back out and tries to take action and create awareness around any issues we hear about that are brought up in that fashion.
Matties: It’s a great form to have, and it’s interesting how—and I know many have said this—we’re at more of a distance from one another, but we’re also coming together and for many positive ways, and this is another example of that. Well done. Thank you. When you look at the impact that this outbreak has had on the industry, what do you see the immediate impact is of course? And then what do you see for the longer-term view?
Mitchell: The crystal ball things a little tough, but in general, those in the medical industry are busy as can be trying to meet needs and demands. Infrastructure, communications, and things like that are also clearly very important to maintain and keep those things up. Military defense and all of that is what I would call stable if you will. Then, in other areas that have been hit a little bit harder—aerospace, automotive, and consumer electronics—there may not be as much of a demand in some of those areas right now, and many of them are able to repurpose.
We have one story of one of our smaller facilities—and you hear this on the news—that GM or Ford is repurposing to help build ventilators or things like that. They don’t build electronics, so what that really means is they’re repurposing their factories to do some assembly of the final product. But really, the electronics are getting built at our member’s locations. We had one member who was contacted specifically about that and said, “GM would like us to build harnesses for this ventilator system.” Things like that that are going on, so there will be ups and downs, and there are some people who are going to have a better business because of this, but others are going to struggle a bit. The challenges are how can we weather through this dip, and how quickly can we control the virus to the point where we can start getting back to business as usual?
Matties: I’m not sure “usual” will be anything like what we had in the past, but we’ll see.
Mitchell: We’ll see. I mean, people felt the same way around other big events. You find that after a while, things start moving back; if anything, humans are fairly resilient.
Matties: There is that, for sure. One of the things that we know is there’s a lot of focus on shifting supply lines. Do you have any stories to share about the supply lines, and what’s going on there?
Mitchell: Sure. Specifically, that same company that I mentioned that had been contacted by GM, there were three or four different parts that they didn’t have in stock, so they reached out to us. We’ve put out a call to the industry and said, “Does anybody have these parts? If you have available, can we move them to this factory so that they can use them if you’re not doing something of a critical nature right now?” Again, it’s the industry reaching out and helping each other meet whatever needs might be required of them. Even on supply chain issues, it’s like going down to your neighbor’s house for a cup of sugar when you’re trying to do some baking or something and run out. It’s the same type of thing. The industry’s working in the same fashion.
Matties: That’s good to hear. Finally, John, what advice in closing thoughts would you share with the industry?
Mitchell: Stay positive. There will be dips, but there will be upswings as well. Keep communicating. The better the industry understands the needs of even the individual companies, the better job that IPC can do in trying to help. We put together—based on a few of these calls—what we called the IPC roadmap to economic recovery. As these trillions of dollars are becoming available, we publish these reports to the government and share, “Here’s the way that you can help build and improve the electronics industry through this effort.”
First, as part of that effort, we said, “We need to keep essential manufacturing open. We need to support supply chain resiliency and do some things to spur global trade.” A couple of days after we pushed this out there, one of the suggestions was that we’d been pushing for was, “Can you stop burdening us with some of these tariffs?” Then, a couple of days later, they announced that for at least the next 90 days, they’re going to stop doing the tariffs. These things can make a difference, and ideas that you can share with us will help us make an impact on the industry. My advice would be to keep communicating and stay engaged and positive.
Matties: Excellent. John, thank you very much again for taking the time to share your thoughts and insights with the industry. It’s really helping our industry stay well informed. We appreciate you very much. Thank you.
Mitchell: Very good. Thank you.
Matties: Once again, you’ve been listening to John Mitchell, president and CEO of IPC. Thanks for listening.