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Tuesday, 12 May 2020 17:12

'Phase 3': MI Manufacturing Begins Methodical Restart

Written by Breana Noble and Jordyn Grzelewski, The Detroit News
Technician Randy Ford works in the final measurement check area on a transfer case for a Ford vehicle May 11 at BorgWarner in Auburn Hills, MI.  Technician Randy Ford works in the final measurement check area on a transfer case for a Ford vehicle May 11 at BorgWarner in Auburn Hills, MI.  Daniel Mears, The Detroit News


May 11 was a dress rehearsal for automotive suppliers and other manufacturers across Michigan as employees began returning to work at places like Mahindra Automotive North America following a seven-week shutdown because of the coronavirus pandemic.  

"We are going through every single function on every possible path before we let people come back," said Matt Pearson, head of prototype services in North America for the India-based automaker, which recalled a small crew to test safety protocols.


Hundreds of thousands of manufacturing workers across Michigan are returning to work this week for the third phase of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's plan to re-engage the state economy as COVID-19 cases continue to fall. Detroit's three automakers won't begin making vehicles until next week, but their suppliers and other manufacturers now are reopening facilities---albeit slowly.


"There's a lot of moving pieces before they produce parts," said John Walsh, CEO of the Michigan Manufacturers Association. "There's a lot of warm-up work with getting employees accustomed to what the new world might look like for a bit and then actually beginning production. It's going to take time."


Mahindra expects its 120-person manufacturing team will return for the real show next week. Even then, it will be a gradual ramp-up to producing up to 25 of its Roxor off-road vehicles per day. Safety plans will be re-calibrated as often as needed. And employees, who are returning to work even as the coronavirus poses a continued threat, will be given time to adjust to a new normal of wearing face masks, maintaining distance from fellow workers and daily health screenings. 


Manufacturing represents 19% of the economy for the state that put America on wheels. Before May 11, less than 5% of business activity had been considered "essential." Roughly 622,700 Michiganians worked in manufacturing in March, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates, and at least half were sidelined because of executive orders limiting commercial activity, according to the state manufacturing association.


Some companies had expected they would not be able to resume until May 18 with the Detroit automakers. The allowance starting May 11 had some, including Troy-based Precision Global Systems, hustling to prepare, said Lisa Young, the company's sales and marketing manger.


The Tier 1 and 2 auto supplier that offers derusting, machining and other services called back 42 of about 100 employees May 11 to resume some production after spending much of May 8 ensuring new safety protocols were in place.


"It does take a little bit of time to get things started up, and it's not just a push of a button," Young said. "We made it work. It was a quick response."


Precision began limited production May 11 and intends to return a second shift next week. Other manufacturers are recalling their workers in phases, as well.

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