What Were the Majors Ways that Covid Disrupted Food Manufacturing?

Rafe sits down with Simon Murray – Reliability Coach at Your Maintenance Coach to discuss all things regarding maintenance, reliability and asset management in the food industry. He explains that Covid had four significant effects on the food manufacturing sector:

  1. Panic buying leading to product shortages on shelves
  2. Changes to packaging requirements with the shift to home schooling and work-from-home
  3. Supply chain disruption affecting equipment and spares
  4. Personnel shortages

Rafe Britton: Like many industries, I’m sure [the food industry] went through a lot of disruptions as a result of COVID. Most industries have gone through different changes in supply and demand.

I guess one thing with the food industry is that generally everyone eats the same amount. Unlike, for example, the transportation industry. Have you seen any changes in the way that the food industry has had to operate?

Initial surge from panic buying of food products

Simon Murray: Very much. I think most most manufacturers were hit with this panic buying – the big surge where there was just a massive ramp-up. “Let’s just make whatever we can and get it out the door because we know we can sell it”. So that was seen very much in the early stages where it was just, how do we get this stuff out?

Changes in food packaging resulting from behaviour change

Then what I’ve seen happen as things started to settle is a change in what is being supplied. This came as quite a surprise to me because if you think of a chip manufacturer, lots of the product is actually smaller packs that might go away to the office or go to school kids. None of that exists [in the current environment where schools are offices are closed].

So what they’re actually seeing is this big change from even a multi-pack product or a small serve or single serve type product going to someone’s school bag or briefcase. Now everything is the big family size packs or big tubs of something. So it’s been a real shift.

And obviously some of these sites are actually geared up to produce the specific balance. So in some cases they’ve got lines sat idle and other lines at double the capacity. It’s created interesting dynamics in a lot of people trying to adapt to that; to balance their production needs across equipment.

Supply chain disruptions affecting food production

The third thing I’m starting to see are the supply chain issues with materials and equipment coming from overseas. Some of that is packaging equipment, for example. Lots of people now trying to try to source their packaging materials in Australia.

The global supply chain has experienced significant disruptions resulting from Covid-19

And lots of businesses are looking to how we can manufacture locally where they were buying in finished goods from overseas. So lots of changes and challenges.

Inability of staff and contractors to get on site

Now the biggest, I would say the biggest challenge I see pre COVID, most of my time was spent on site; tinkering, training and actually being out there looking and feeling what’s going on.

I would say by far the most, the biggest challenge I’m seeing people face is just having to deal with the complexity of what’s going on. There are lots of projects I’m working on where people are saying “we know it’s a good idea, we want to do it, we need to do it, but I’ve just got too much going on at the moment.”

Just trying to get through the day with all this other complexity of who’s going to turn up on shift? What machines are we got to roll on?