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With pandemic-related challenges affecting businesses worldwide, we checked in with John Hsing, Ocean Insight’s Chief Operating Officer, on how employees are staying safe, the state of company operations, and progress toward a new facility.
Q: Safety is a company priority, and with COVID-19, the company has taken additional precautions ranging from face masks and temperature checks to regular disinfection of work areas. How are employees faring?
John Hsing (JH): So far so good, knock on wood. The focus on employee safety has always been the priority since I joined Ocean, so the global pandemic has just brought more visibility to that. There are certain things that we can control within the factory, but employees spend two-thirds of their time outside the factory. So, the message around safety is not just for employees to practice [safe measures] while they’re here, but also when they’re not on site and working. Things like washing hands, using face masks, and so on. Most importantly, I want to say a special “thank you” to our onsite employees around the company on their dedication in these difficult and uncertain times.
Q: I'm sure customers are interested to know how safety steps have affected production.
JH: The good news is, we have not seen a significant disruption to production. From an efficiency perspective, we have more than ample capacity to cover any interruptions.
Q: How prepared are we to address any issues that could affect production personnel?
JH: Well, COVID-19 is just one of the things that could cause absenteeism. There is redundancy in every work cell, as over the last few years we have made a concerted effort to cross-train employees, whether that’s in the spectrometer bench area, or fibers, or light sources, or accessories. We also have multiple people cross-train for the work cells that support our largest-volume customers.
Q: And we can shift production among different ISO-certified facilities, correct?
JH: Yes. That played itself out recently with fiber production for a large customer, where we had to shift production from China to our Winter Park (Florida) location. The fiber team in Florida ramped up very quickly to continue to support the customer.
Q: Do you think that some of the recently adopted safety procedures will become the new “normal” of operations?
JH: There's no question that until a vaccine or effective treatment comes out, or some sort of mitigating factor emerges in terms of how we can fight COVID-19 in a more effective way, there is going to be a new normal in terms of some safety practices. The use of shields and partitions separating workstations is a good example.
Q: Some industries have experienced supply chain problems related to the pandemic. How is our industry faring?
JH: So far, so good, for a couple of different reasons. Like us, many companies in the photonics industry are considered “essential” businesses. So, for a lot of these supply chains, it's been robust. We have seen some sporadic issues, but they've been small and contained.
The second thing is that we have dual sources for critical components. This give us the ability to switch suppliers if one supplier has issues with COVID-19. Also, because of our scale, we may have more influence with some suppliers than our smaller competitors do.
Q: Ocean Insight has continued to update and refine how we assemble spectrometers, fibers and accessories. What might customers not know about our operations?
JH: Two things come to mind: First, how much our operations employees care about our customers, and second, how our level of automation gives us capacity.
Our operations employees really care about how they are making a difference in the world by producing Ocean’s product. Operations employees are really motivated when they work on projects that can make the world a safer, cleaner, and healthier place.
On the automation side, we recently had a visit from a big tech company that underscores what we can do. We told them how many spectrometers we can produce per station, and the customer didn’t believe us because of what they had seen with other spectrometer companies. So, we walked them out to the line and showed them how automated our processes are, and they said, we get it, we believe you now. Some customers may not realize how much automation we have put into our processes to drive quality and delivery. We need that level of automation to manage the needs of those large-volume customers.
Q: Later this summer, we will move Winter Park production a few miles away to a new 52,000-square-foot location in Orlando. What opportunities will this provide?
JH: From a manufacturing perspective, it will give us more capacity and flexibility, and more opportunity for automation. And it will give us the ability to change production lines, so we can build a better-quality product and increase our capacity with the same number of people that we have now. We also wanted a space that reflects Ocean Insight as a high-tech photonics business.
Q: We’ve been dealing with COVID-19, and we have a major move in our near-term future. Should customers be concerned about delays or interruptions when working with us?
JH: Not at all. We have a plan and an active project team in place to maintain business during the move, which should be managed very quickly. In terms of COVID-19, we put safety procedures in place and our capacity has not been mitigated in any way. Customers should know that we’re here to support them.
Thank you for your time, John.
Listen to Leticia Duncan how she explains what is behind every spectrometer, fiber, light source, a piece of solution we create at Ocean Insight.