4 May 2020
Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in Europe, the Afera community has been proactively searching out and sharing their challenges and solutions in the areas of health and safety and business continuity. The power of our industry collective offers the opportunity for all Members to engage and optimise their plans for dealing with this unprecedented situation.
As we navigate the COVID-19 crisis, the context and challenges evolve. In order to identify the existing and future needs and priorities of Afera Members, we conducted a short survey during the second and third weeks of April 2020. Just 4 questions covered the key topics: regulatory, production, future focus and Afera Membership support. Please find a condensed compilation of the main outcome per question below.
The most commonly mentioned challenge related to this survey question was obtaining the correct information and being able to deliver a timely, compliant solution. Compounding respondents’ problems are the varying requirements across the E.U. Member States.
Uncertainty about planned future regulatory developments was a recurrent theme among many responses, including REACH polymer requirements, restrictions on the use of solvents and other chemicals, the Single-Use Plastics Directive, the Green Deal and food contact materials.
As alternatives to regular production processes are being sought in these times of COVID-19 crisis, ensuring regulatory compliance of these alternative solutions is an emergent issue.
Complying with operational requirements (e.g. social distancing and the donning of PPE) does not appear to be of concern to most, but it was still considered challenging by at least 1 respondent.
All companies have demonstrated phenomenal resilience and flexibility in adapting their production processes to meet regulations and restrictions. As new processes are now in place for many companies, the top challenge for supply chain operations remains the availability of raw materials and the related challenges in logistics and cost effects.
Depending on the strategic focus of the company and its specific position within the industry value chain, demand disruption was frequently mentioned as a further top priority. Especially those companies that supply the automotive industry and other durable goods manufacturing sectors mentioned challenges in future demand levels and may be facing strategic portfolio issues.
As personal safety is priority #1 in all companies, staffing challenges remain another top priority. We seem to be entering a new phase across all countries in Europe, with diminishing restrictions on one hand but expectations of a long-term situation of contamination risk on the other. Thus organisational challenges may become a semi-permanent issue for most companies.
Finally, ongoing and upcoming regulations (e.g. use of solvents and chemicals) are a factor that will influence production continuity as well.
As every company is responding pragmatically to short-term changes, many are also trying to find time and energy to focus on future changes and how to anticipate them.
When it comes to the question of how to prepare for a “post-COVID future”, survey respondents mentioned various approaches. First and foremost is increasing contact frequency with customers. It is a rich and real-life information channel for learning about short- and long-term changes on the demand side of business and an opportunity for discussing collaboration possibilities to create that new future together.
In addition to market-side focus, companies are also preparing internally by training their teams, streamlining processes and focusing on the financial engineering of the company (i.e. cash flow, currency management, etc.) to contribute to making it future-proof.
Although future developments are probably not crystal-clear for anyone, there seem to be a number of expected trends on the agendas of many respondents. In random order, they vary from revisiting the geographic focus and portfolio management of the company to innovation and increasing flexibility in all business processes.
Innovation and increasing flexibility in all business processes
Many organisations have positively experienced their ability to respond to change and redesign business processes. Subsequently, many respondents mentioned that they expect to put ongoing focus on embedding the changes and the change culture in their organisations. This covers topics like digitisation of processes, flexibility in production processes and more general changes in personal behaviour on both individual and team levels.
Respondents expected that flexibility will the key to reacting to a future context in which abrupt changes will top agendas more often than in the past across all business functions from supply chain management to production planning, and from sales to business development in general.
For many respondents, a change of geographic focus seems to be a main topic. Both upstream and downstream, shorter supply lines in combination with the aforementioned greater flexibility seem to be key drivers for creating future-proof business processes.
Strategic portfolio management
Various respondents mentioned that they are preparing for potential portfolio management changes. As specific end-user industries for tape applications may enter recession or undergo fundamental restructuring, the supplier ecosystem needs to pivot as well. Respondents are trying to find indicators from industry research and their close personal contacts with their customers, in order to quantify and time those changes and strategise accordingly.
An increased need to innovate in product types and to find new market opportunities was mentioned, probably hand in hand with a focus on sustainability-related changes.
In discussion with the “conversation starters” in Afera’s last webinar, as well as in the outcome from the following survey, the importance of Afera’s network was underlined. “Warm” relationships among Afera’s Membership will facilitate the collaboration necessary to strengthen the European adhesive tape industry after the Crisis. Members can use spare capacity to support each other rather than importing complimentary products from Europe or Asia.
Afera’s role as a source of information was frequently mentioned by responders. During the Crisis, respondents want the Association to adapt and respond to the landscape and remain flexible where information and communication flow is concerned. Members like representation to policymakers and want E.U. directives closely monitored. In order to increase influence with policymakers, Afera can liaise with other industry associations and networks.
Afera’s webinars have been very much appreciated and experienced as supportive and valuable. Afera has developed itself as a strong online network with peers at international levels, where experiences and problems can be shared to discuss and formulate potential solutions. Members would like to see more online surveys linked to demand changes and business outlook.
Sign up for our newsletter.