You have the manufacturing equipment you need to make the parts your customers want.  The fixtures and tooling required for good, efficient processes are in place. All seems good, until… there is a fire, a flood, an earthquake, an unexpected freeze (think semiconductor manufacturing in Austin in early 2021), or some other disruption to your operations.  Manufacturing equipment is complicated. Often you cannot just power up and go. The machines may need to be cleaned, calibrated, and certified. Product-specific programs and settings may need to be retrieved. How well prepared are you to resume quality, productive operations using that equipment? Disaster recovery plans are designed to address this and more.

Such plans should include more than these machine-specific areas – human resources, quality, warehouse inventory, etc. COVID-19 has shown us the value of extending this beyond the factory walls to redundant supply chains – an area of renewed attention for many manufacturers. However, in this article, we will focus on aspects related to manufacturing equipment. While having effective emergency response procedures in place (such as how to safely evacuate people and ensuring the proper firefighting equipment if available and functioning) is critical, that will not be covered here.

The first step is to define the team and responsibilities so that the members can be prepared.  Reacting to a disaster requires quick, decisive action, and confusion about who holds which duties will only slow that down. It is important to create a cross-functional team, including facilities and engineering members who are familiar with the manufacturing equipment.

“The first step is to define the team and responsibilities so that the members can be prepared.  Reacting to a disaster requires quick, decisive action, and confusion about who holds which duties will only slow that down”

Next, it is useful to understand what potential disasters to plan for. While there is an almost infinite number of things that could happen, we do not have an infinite amount of time to plan amongst other responsibilities, so it is helpful to focus on those with the highest likelihood of significant negative impact on the factory and its operations. One way to do this is to create a priority score through risk analysis – multiplying the likelihood of a particular disaster by its level of impact should it actually occur. For example, a flood could cause major damage to the facility and equipment but maybe unlikely in your location. A minor fire may be more common but the damage may be limited to specific areas. In many cases, conducting that analysis after the onset of COVID-19 will result in a higher overall risk score (and thus higher priority focus) for pandemics than if conducted several years ago. One of the first contributions the cross-functional disaster recovery team can make is to brainstorm the possible disasters and prioritize them based on likelihood and severity.

With these priorities in mind, the following step is to understand what would be needed to recover from a disaster: how would you re-start, repair, or replace this equipment? Is all this information stored electronically and backed up online in case the local IT systems are also impacted by this disaster? Process documentation, work instructions, checklists, training aids, calibration and preventive maintenance requirements, and product-specific settings should similarly be handled. 

After a disaster occurs, assessing the damage and implementing the appropriate portions of the plan for this situation is the first effort for the team to coordinate. With the above and other relevant information available after a disaster, the appropriate team members will need to have the knowledge and training to guide other factory personnel in accessing those documents and taking the necessary actions to repair, re-start, re-order, calibrate and/or qualify the equipment.

The disaster recovery plan is not intended to be a document that is created and then sits on a shelf collecting dust. It should be reviewed at least annually – are there new pieces of equipment, new process or product data, or a change in disaster recovery team members to update? A current plan will make it easier to implement and more effective in the unfortunate case that it is needed. It is also helpful for the disaster recovery team to conduct a simulation annually so that they practice working together (which will be important during a stressful actual recovery) and can reveal gaps or opportunities for improvement in the plan itself.

Similar to an insurance policy, while we hope we never need to use a disaster recovery plan, should the situation arise, we will be very happy, much more effective and able to resume operations faster if we have one in place.

About East West Manufacturing

East West is a global manufacturing services company based in Atlanta, Georgia focused on the realization of products, from design through distribution. As specialists in onshore, nearshore and offshore manufacturing, we offer a seamless path to scale and an exceptional speed-to-market strategy while driving down costs and adhering to the highest quality standards. We are one integrated family, working together to support our customers throughout the entire product lifecycle. Our vision is to make the world a better place – cleaner, safer, healthier and smarter.