Magnetics Industry Adapts Its Operations Worldwide in Battle to Stay Open and Serve Customers Amidst Global Pandemic

It’s too early to tell what the economic fallout will be from the Covid-19 pandemic but it is clear that the magnetics industry has pulled out all the stops in efforts to stay operating safely and to keep supply chains open across the world. Plants in China, where the wave crashed down first, are coming back onstream while ripples of diminished demand for magnetic components and materials are showing up at the order desks of many suppliers due to massive temporary closures by automotive manufacturers.  

“We’re holding up!,” proclaims staff at Matesy GmbH in central Germany, shown above, exuding a resilient spirit that is echoed in manufacturing plants and research laboratories worldwide where, country by country, the pandemic strikes with its by now familiar wave pattern. 

“Dear customers & partners,” declared Matesy early this month as the Covid-19 outbreak escalated across Germany, “the world is in a state of emergency by the name Covid-19. Several industry branches have shut down work partly or even completely now, everything is in limbo. One thing is for sure though: Matesy’s team will keep the normal business up, as far as the surrounding situation allows for it.” An innovative technology company located in the university town of Jena, Matesy was founded in 2008 as a spin-off of the research institution Innovent Technology Development and specializes in the visualization, characterization and generation of magnetic fields. 

More industry events have postponed or cancelled their plans. For a complete picture of event dates, see the Calendar of Events at Event changes since our last update include: 

  • CWIEME Berlin, has been postponed in compliance with the German government’s prohibition on large gatherings. A new date has not yet been given.  
  • CWIEME Americas has been cancelled. 
  • Magnetism 2020, originally planned to commence today in Sheffield, England was cancelled. 
  • TMRC 2020, The Magnetic Recording Conference, has been postponed to August 17-19 in Berkeley, CA. 
  • JEMS 2020, the Joint European Magnetic Symposia, has been postponed to December 7-11 in Lisbon. 
  • Advances in Magnetics 2020 in Moena, Italy has been postponed to December 16-19. 
  • MMM 2020, the Magnetism & Magnetic Materials Conference, so far is continuing with its original plan to hold the event in early November in Palm Beach, FL but things could change, note the organizers. 
  • A biennial event, the 13th International Conference on the Scientific and Clinical Applications of Magnetic Carriers has been cancelled with the next meeting set for two years from now, June 14-17, 2022 in London. 
  • EASA 2020 Convention & Solutions Expo, scheduled for June in Nashville, has been cancelled and will next be held in 2021 at Fort Worth, TX on June 27-29, reports the Electrical Apparatus Service Association. 
  • Europe’s giant Hannover Fair held each year in April in Hannover, Germany, was cancelled with the next staging to be its already scheduled date for April 12-16, 2021. 
  • Biomag 2020 has been postponed for one year, now to be held August 29 to September 2, 2021 in Birmingham, England. 
  • Coiltech, the Italian coil winding trade fair, was planning to stage its first German show at Ulm this spring but has postponed it to March 17-18 next year. 

Meanwhile, companies and institutions increase safety measures to keep operations running, forbid travel, and implement work-at-home practices for many of their masked-up staffs. The picture is encouraging in China as locations hit first are coming back into operation. Some representative updates follow. 

BLOCK Transformer, a global supplier based in Germany, reports that its plant in China is increasingly staffed and has resumed full production, as have many of its Chinese material suppliers. As a supplier to system-relevant industries, it has been able to continue to ensure operations at its plant in the Chicago area in the USA despite a general lockdown situation that exists there. BLOCK expected its delivery performance company-wide to remain relatively stable. Though it has experienced failings by some individual suppliers, it has been working intensively with its full supply chain to overcome any shortfalls. In all our factories we have an extensive stock of primary materials as well as standard products. We are therefore well prepared for current and planned production orders in the coming weeks, said the company. 

Goudsmit Magnetics, based in The Netherlands, echoes the experiences of many companies that things are constantly changing. It also has had to deal with closure of production facilities in China, as well as imposed quarantine measures and travel bans. Meanwhile, production in China is partly getting back on track. Air freight transport from China has resumed and Schiphol airport in Holland is open for cargo flights. Nevertheless, a lot of work will have to be done to catch up and, unfortunately, delays must still be dealt with, said the company. Health is paramount while outstanding orders, production schedules and current stocks are being monitored. There is a continuous evaluation of the situation with the corresponding adjustments, said the company. 

Kendrion, a major supplier of electromagnetic products to the automotive industry, reports that until recently any adverse impact on revenues and profitability because of the Covid-19 pandemic has been limited but the company is preparing for setbacks. “With the decision by most car manufacturers to temporarily discontinue production, we do observe a negative impact on revenues and order intake in Europe and the U.S. for our automotive business going forward”, said the company. Its industrial businesses and operations in China have seen less of an impact so far. “At the moment, it is too early to assess the consequences for overall financial performance as there is limited visibility into the magnitude and duration of the crisis”, said Kendrion. 

As many employees as possible have been working from home. In its factories, safety practices have included strict separation of production shifts, maximizing the social distance between colleagues, additional cleaning and disinfecting of relevant surfaces, temperature screening and the use of face masks, where available. 

Kendrion has also taken a range of measures to reduce costs and protect its financial position and liquidity. Short-time work has been put to effect in several of its European facilities while management has agreed to a temporary salary reduction. Discretionary spending has been limited and the company has suspended all uncommitted and non-essential capital expenditure including an upcoming dividend that was planned. 

Steel manufacturers that produce electrical steel and other automotive-grade steels are among the earliest to register business declines. Voestalpine AG, a producer of electrical steel and other steel products, reports that it has already suffered a negative financial impact from the pandemic amounting to about 40 million Euro which began in mid-March. Likewise, Nippon Steel, facing an immediate sharp drop in demand for steel products, has been lowering the tapping ratio of blast furnaces, extending the time between blasting, and taking other measures to reduce overall steel output volume. 

In the U.S., operations at many plants have been curtailed or ceased while, at the same time, many others which are suppliers to defense and critical infrastructure markets– including life-saving medical equipment — have been able to continue full operations or significant activity. For others, restrictions have varied from state to state. 

Magnetics factory in Xiamen, China 

Magnetics, division of Spang & Co., headquartered in Pittsburgh, reports that its factory in Fujian province in China was subject to a work delay in February but since then has reopened and is fully staffed. While closely monitoring port closures in countries that it ships to, the company is not experiencing any delays in manufacturing or shipping from its factory in China. Magnetics also operates a large warehouse in Phoenix, AZ which has remained open. Office staff have been working from home, but all order delivery dates are being met and no interruption in its customer service is expected, said the company.  

Bunting, a diverse provider of magnetic materials, custom magnetic assemblies and industrial magnetic products headquartered in Newton, Kansas, established a policy in March for keeping production operations intact at all its worldwide locations while protecting its staff and supply chain. “In our daily business, we provide many different products to the medical industry that go into respirators, ventilators and insulin pumps to name a few,” noted Robert Bunting, president and CEO, in a statement announcing the policy on March 23. “We also supply products specifically designed for the protection of our food supply. Since our business is ‘life sustaining’, we are exempt from orders of closure currently in place.” 

Where permissible with government mandates, non-managerial, non-production support staff were divided to work remotely from the safety of their homes on a bi-weekly basis. During normal business hours, one-half of the support staff would operate from home and one-half from their respective offices, with all their services remaining at full operation. Production personnel would continue normal hours unless otherwise directed by federal, state or local mandates. 

Depicted in the image above, its online store which is operated from the company’s Bunting-Elk Grove Village site in Illinois, has particularly been up and running in business-as-usual mode since it serves as a 24X7 online storefront for magnets and magnetic equipment.