Singapore is an attractive region for multinational companies for many reasons. It serves as an ideal sea and air logistics hub for both Asia Pacific and Europe with a deep sea duty free port and several thousands of international daily flights. It is ranked very high in terms of innovation and IP protection by notable organizations like the World Economic Forum and Bloomberg. But when COVID-19 emerged in late 2019, businesses in the region had to adapt quickly to new restrictions, as well as the ripple effect of lockdowns in other parts of the world.
Sanmina was no exception. With a strong manufacturing presence in Singapore for more than 30 years, the organization was pushed to leverage its industry relationships, local resources and technology innovation to overcome challenges presented by the pandemic. During the process, we discovered new ways to work that are expected to continue long after the pandemic is over.
Leveraging strong supplier relationships and open ports to address supply chain disruptions When COVID first emerged, the biggest challenge for manufacturers was the ability to obtain materials from various suppliers due to changing restrictions and lockdowns in different regions. From a logistics standpoint, Sanmina Singapore was able to capitalize on strong and global supplier relationships across different regions to tap alternative sources and continue receiving the components and materials needed to build products. Because Singapore’s ports remained open, goods could freely flow in and out of the country unlike other regions, enabling us to reduce or remove any negative impact on manufacturing.
Embracing virtual communications to bypass travel and social distancing restrictions Before the pandemic, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) would bring entire teams on site for several weeks to train staff on their manufacturing processes for new products. Once restrictions were put in place, these extensive in-person meetings and trainings were moved to a virtual environment. Sanmina Singapore engineers leveraged video cameras positioned across the production floor, as well as mobile cameras, to zoom into various assembly processes, worker activities, components and part numbers for clear and transparent collaboration with customers at remote locations. Through real-time video streaming and mixed reality technology, customers could see how a part was being assembled or tested in real time.
The efficiency, immediacy and level of detail that was achieved during these virtual sessions saved valuable time and cost for customers located across different parts of the world. It eliminated lengthy business trips, big expense budgets and encouraged deep collaboration in real time, regardless of location. It also enabled the design cycle for products to occur ‘around the clock.’ Changes came in at night and were completed before the customer was back online the next day.
Collaborating with local government entities to tap local talent and alleviate labor shortages Another initial challenge during the pandemic was labor. Because there is a limited workforce available in Singapore, companies typically leverage high-quality foreign talent to help run their businesses. Unfortunately, some foreign workers were unable to return to Singapore after initial lockdowns took place.
What’s unique about Singapore is the cooperation that occurred between the government, unions and companies to keep operations moving, people employed and customers happy. Sanmina Singapore worked closely with the government to identify, recruit and train local labor that had been laid off from other local industries due to COVID-19. This included workers from the food and beverage, service and entertainment, aviation and aerospace industries. Our strong training program helped to assimilate new workers quickly on the job. The site also ran two shifts and extended work hours to meet customers’ demand for urgently-needed products such as respirators.
In the face of COVID-19 restrictions, Sanmina Singapore has not only been able to employ local citizens to meet labor needs, leverage strong supplier relationships to avoid material shortages and create a new around-the-clock product development approach, but also successfully met upside demand for customers. Throughout the pandemic, Sanmina Singapore has been able to continue supporting customers’ R&D efforts, providing new product introduction (NPI) and prototype services. The new and highly virtualized model we’ve established during COVID-19 restrictions will continue to complement our programs moving forward.