Important learning for future resilience

Chronicle · Catarina Berglund and Bernt Henriksen, Automation Region · 2020-04-30

Right now, we are in a completely new landscape with enormous strains on individuals as well as societal functions and companies. The industry - the base for the Swedish economy - is going at a slow pace and no one knows how long it will be. At the same time, in the midst of the ongoing crisis, we see an incredible commitment and a strong will to support and help.

During March, the burden on healthcare increased drastically and soon the first alarm signals came about material shortages. Protective equipment such as visors, hats, coats and gloves were missing, but also hoses for respirators and more. Private individuals around the country responded quickly and started their own production using 3D printers and sewing machines. However, the efforts needed to be scaled up and many industrial companies were prepared to support with expertise and resources.

Production of plastic coats at Västerås Arena.

Automation Region was assigned a collaboration responsibility for Region Västmanland, where the task was to identify companies that quickly could redirect their production. Based on a list of priority equipment and materials, we have in recent weeks worked intensively to find functioning value chains and connect need owners and companies.

Together with a large number of actors in our network, we have succeeded in starting more or less large-scale production of protective clothing and other equipment for health care operations. Two examples:

In collaboration with companies and public actors, Automation Region has built up a production environment for protective coats at Västerås Arena. The capacity is about 1,500 garments per day and the work is performed by volunteers who in four-hour shifts cut out, weld and package the coats. The recipient is Region Västmanland, which has also approved designs and manufacturing methods.

On its own initiative, Volvo factories around the country have started manufacturing protective visors. Automation Region has investigated the possibilities of starting production in Västmanland and coordinated contacts with Volvo's factory in Köping. 20,000 visors have been manufactured in Köping and when Volvo now resumes its regular operations, the production equipment will be moved to Västerås.

Despite all the good forces and support behind a common goal, we have experienced great challenges in our mission. An example is the coordination between the municipalities and the region - what does the actual need look like in different functions? Where is the shortage most acute and how can the available resources be redistributed when needs change? There is also a great deal of uncertainty about the requirements placed on different types of materials and equipment.

The ongoing crisis has really shown the complexity of requirements, national supply chains and coordination at the customer level. As an actor in the Swedish innovation system, Automation Region has a special responsibility to utilize these experiences to build resilience to future crises. Discussions about base stocks, product templates and backup operations are already underway. Together with the Vinnväxt environment Smart Textiles at the University of Borås, we are already running a project that explores the possibilities with flexible micro factories - a project that feels very important under the current circumstances.

Automation Region would like to extend a warm thank you to all companies and volunteers who in various ways support our socially important functions in the ongoing crisis. We look forward to a continued good collaboration and also a constructive dialogue about how we can learn from what we are experiencing right now. If you want to help manufacture protective coats in Västerås, you can easily register your interest via Region Västmanland's new website Vårdstödet.

Catarina Berglund and Bernt Henriksen
Automation Region