In the wake of COVID-19, many are looking at manufacturing operations that have already restarted.

Many manufacturers in North America and Europe are now pausing manufacturing operations due to the coronavirus pandemic just as manufacturers in China did previously. The shutdown has raised concerns about the economic impact and the prospects for a rapid return to normal production operations. The experience of Arch Systems’ partner Flex in recently pausing and then rapidly restarting manufacturing operations in Shanghai provides an encouraging example for manufacturers elsewhere who are planning a return to production operations. Flex leveraged remote video communications, cloud technology, and IoT to drive fundamental efficiencies such as Machine and Line Utilization and decreased maintenance during this Black Swan business disruption. Flex has shown that it is possible to save critical margin and return to full production in less time than many expected and even to deploy new technology to raise productivity and improve global operational visibility in the process.

The challenge

Like other manufacturers in China, Flex was required to shut down manufacturing operations at its Shanghai factory in February to help China’s fight to stop the spread of coronavirus. After ensuring its employees were notified and safe, the real work began as Flex immediately started planning for a return to production.

Collaborating technologies and the cloud as the foundation for manufacturing resiliency

Like other manufacturers, Flex has been moving more and more of its information technology and manufacturing operations systems to the cloud. Business continuity in the face of the loss of a physical site has always been one of the selling points of the cloud; most people just never expected that it would be a virus that would shut down a site. Fortunately, cloud deployment of business systems ensured that employees retained full access to critical systems even while working remotely.

Flex has also been using remote video communications and collaboration tools for internal communication for many years. Video conferencing and chat became critical technologies for efficient communication and planning during the shelter in place period.

Using downtime for business advantage

Flex already intended to deploy a new Manufacturing IoT solution from Arch Systems to provide global visibility into manufacturing Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and the status of production operations. Global team members outside China continued working on the underlying technology infrastructure so it could be implemented once team members in China returned to work.

Rapid recovery with improved global visibility

Once factory employees did return, joint team members started implementing the additional infrastructure developed during shutdown to transition from manual to automated production operations. As employees rushed to restart operations after an unprecedented supply chain disruption, Flex deployed the manufacturing IoT monitoring solution to enable enhanced production. A combination of hardware and software monitored the status of key machines and fed data back into the Manufacturing Execution System (MES) to automate scheduling, WIP (Work In Progress) tracking, order fulfilment, material backflush and other MES features driving fundamental efficiencies. It also reported the operational data into the cloud. The cloud based Global KPIs Solution from Arch aggregated all reporting data and automatically calculated KPIs like Machine Utilization (MU) and Line Utilization (LU).

As Flex and its suppliers work to resume normal production operations, there is intense interest among company executives about their progress. The cloud-based Global KPIs solution gives executives remote visibility into Shanghai and other sites’ progress as they resume operations.

A strong foundation for future productivity gains

Instrumenting its manufacturing assembly lines during the recovery period also offers the possibility for further productivity gains going forward. As each line automatically reports performance data, Flex can begin developing predictive models to avoid unplanned downtime as well as to optimize production schedules for further efficiencies.

The results

With no new cases of local transmission in recent days, China has become the first country to halt community spread of coronavirus after a serious outbreak and is giving hope to other countries that are now facing their own outbreaks. Flex employees made a conscious decision not to lose forward momentum during the crisis and, in doing so, has positioned itself to return from the shelter in place period as an even stronger competitor with higher productivity and profitability than ever. The COVID-19 pandemic shows how the combination of remote-enabled technology tools including Manufacturing IoT, cloud computing, and video collaboration can drive fundamental progress in manufacturing.



About Flex

Flex (Reg. No. 199002645H) is the manufacturing partner of choice that helps a diverse customer base design and build products that improve the world. Through the collective strength of a global workforce across 30 countries and responsible, sustainable operations, Flex delivers technology innovation, supply chain, and manufacturing solutions to various industries and end markets. For more information, visit

About Arch Systems

Arch works with top tier global manufacturers to extract data from machines, both legacy and new, and drive uniform metrics for enhanced productivity and predictive analytics. Arch focuses on high tech manufacturing and the discrete manufacturing chains around auto, medical devices, enterprise and consumer electronics with deployments rolling out in 30 countries. For more information, visit or follow us on Twitter @Archsys_io.


Tallis Blalack is VP of Marketing & Business Development for Arch Systems. He is a revenue-driven marketing and business development executive with over 20 years of experience. He has been in senior leadership at Texas Instruments, National Semiconductor, Cadence and multiple startups, including two he co-founded. His experience spans industries including semiconductor electronics, clean tech, electric vehicles, and software. Tallis holds a PhD in Electrical Engineering from Stanford. He is energized by addressing customers’ needs with innovative solutions and by building strong relationships with strategic partners.