Plastics Manufacturing in a Volatile World

5 minute read

As the old saying goes, “when it rains, it pours.” And for plastics manufacturers, these words have been particularly true in recent years.  

The pandemic has highlighted that the need for flexibility and adaptability in manufacturing operations is crucial for navigating uncertainty in a volatile world.  

As humans, we are usually reluctant to change the way we work unless change is forced upon us.

Often it takes a crisis to compel us to adapt and make systems stronger and more efficient. 

Covid-19 has accelerated the shift towards digitalisation, working remotely and flexibly and a rethinking of supply chains.

Manufacturers that are thriving in this volatile world are those that have adapted and innovated rather than stuck to their old ways of working.  

In this article we discuss the unique set of ongoing challenges that plastics manufacturers face and provide effective tips to help overcome them in order to move the dial from survive to thrive. 

1. Supply Chain Challenges:

The plastics industry, like so many other industries has been greatly impacted by the lack of availability of raw materials, which is compounded by delivery delays. Suppliers themselves are struggling to maintain capacity, which creates more disruptions getting the required inputs to manufacturers. And it doesn’t look like it’s going to improve anytime soon.   

China’s zero Covid tolerance, the war in Europe and the ongoing Brexit issues are severely affecting the supply, reliability and transportation of resin. The impact of climate change means organisations need to improve their corporate social responsibility (CSR) and green credentials, which adds additional layers of complexity to overcome. 

Plastics manufacturing relies on a global supply chain and given the myriad of challenges, it can be a daunting task to know where to focus to mitigate risk and vulnerability whilst maintaining the best ROI.  

This requires a change of thinking in terms of the reliability and the effectiveness of global and single-source supply chains. 

It’s not a quick fix, however here are some things you can do to build resilience and reduce risk with your supply chain: 

  • Vet your suppliers thoroughly – you can never do too much due diligence 
  • Plan for the worst, with effective crisis planning. The pandemic has shown us we can’t always know what’s round the corner 
  • Don’t rely on a single supplier, wherever possible
  • Step away from JIT (just in time) and carry a larger stock of material, which will obviously affect cash flow in the short-term  
  • Continuously monitor the political and economic climate 


2. Remote working/agile hybrid working:

Covid has forced new ways of working for all businesses and manufacturing is no exception.  The physical nature of manufacturing means the switch to remote or hybrid working is a challenge.  

Whilst it is reassuring to monitor the status of production by walking around the shop floor and seeing the machines humming away productively, it means that if you remove the manager from the shop floor, they have little to no insight of the status of production. Not only are manually filled reports slow and inaccurate, they force manufacturing leaders to be on-site. 

The good news is that there is a very easy and affordable way of overcoming this challenge that not only enables your workforce to work remotely, but can boost your production efficiency by 6-20% at the same time. 

Make the shift to remote production monitoring. Machine and operator data needs to be collected and contextualised in real time, so managers can get insights on production no matter their location.  Implementing a manufacturing execution system so that all machine and operator data is collected digitally and contextualised in real time, will give managers insights on production no matter their location. 

Digitising your factory will enable more remote working, but not at the expense of production performance; in fact, the 24/7 visibility will give you a significant uplift in performance, and lower downtime. That’s a win-win for everyone. 


3. Labour shortage and skills gap challenge: 

Covid and Brexit have led to labour shortages. Manufacturing as a whole is struggling to attract new workers – part of the problem is finding people with the right skills, and as the older staff retire, they are difficult to replace and the slightly old-fashioned image that the industry has is not attractive to younger people. 

It’s true, that technology once took away manufacturing jobs from people, but now it’s the key to bringing them back. With most people using technology to facilitate their everyday lives, it is something people have come to expect and require in their work lives too.

Manufacturers that are investing in modern systems and remote monitoring tools are more likely to attract and keep staff. It will enable remote or flexible working which is something not often associated with the sector and the cutting-edge technology will take care of all the boring and repetitive jobs, leaving the more interesting jobs for people. 

Digitalising as much as possible means that a production can be maintained with a smaller workforce. Using only humans to do the work that cannot be done by machines.

The future of manufacturing is bright

So, what does this mean for you as a manufacturer? If you haven’t started to digitise your factory yet, now is the time. The COVID pandemic has forced many businesses, large and small, to go remote. This means that the factories of the future will be digital – machines will do the work and only humans will be needed to oversee them and make sure everything is running smoothly. And thanks to advances in technology, we can now be more efficient than ever before – we can manufacture 24/7. Are you ready for the future of manufacturing?

Don't just take our word for it

Ewelina from Talisman Plastics was able to switch their medical machines to a 24/7 unmanned operation, improving their BT Cells (NHS) machines from 70% to 90% OEE and overall OEE from 62% to 67% 


Simon Anderson from LVS Small Plastic Parts was able to drop from 18 shifts to 15 shifts per week after just 3 weeks


Helena from Andel Plastics said ‘we didn’t know how much we were missing, until we had it!’. She also really values the confidence it has given her at meeting production deadlines


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