US Photonics Companies Respond to COVID-19 Pandemic

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The COVID-19 pandemic has shifted business practices around the world, and photonics companies have had to adjust accordingly to the economic impact the situation has had on finances and supply chains.

According to analyst IHS Markit as reported by SPIE, the number of active world cases is expected to top out by the third quarter; however, forecasts are dependent on individual government responses. Also, sharp drops in oil prices will help energy consumers and hurt energy producers. The net effect on global growth is likely to be negative, but small.

U.S. photonics companies have issued their own responses throughout the pandemic, including Raytheon Technologies, KLA Corp., FLIR, Intel, II-VI, ThorLabs, and Coherent.

According to a memorandum issued by Raytheon, the company was identified by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security as part of the Defense Industrial Base (DIB), a critical infrastructure sector. Companies aligned with the essential critical infrastructure workforce definition are expected to maintain their normal work schedules. In addition, according to a web conference hosted by John Miller, Raytheon’s deputy associate administrator for the SBA Office of Capital Access, Raytheon Technologies formed a Small Business Supplier Stimulus Team focused on coordinating support to its supply base to support its small business suppliers. Raytheon says the team brings together cross-functional members from each of the company’s businesses, creating a hub of knowledge, expertise, and experience.

“There are various tools we can leverage, and our supply chain representatives all have these in their toolbox as they talk with the suppliers,” said Andrea Desaulniers, program manager of supply management at Raytheon.

KLA Corp. announced in March that the KLA Foundation would be creating a $2 million fund to focus on global relief efforts benefiting nonprofit organizations in regions with the highest number of individuals affected by COVID-19, and locations with high-risk populations. The two-phase charitable funding initiative will provide support for food banks, elderly communities, public hospitals and medical units, and educational infrastructure.

"The KLA Foundation has the vision and active framework to support the communities in which our employees live and work, and we are leveraging this capability to address the immediate concerns facing our global community during a time of unprecedented uncertainty," said KLA CEO Rick Wallace. "By providing direct financial support to organizations on the front lines of the pandemic, we hope to help enable these groups to continue supporting vulnerable populations and meeting educational needs."

FLIR has experienced minimal disruption to the supply chain, and says it has contingency plans in place to mitigate potential disruptions as the situation evolves. FLIR announced strong demand for its thermal cameras to be used in elevated-body-temperature screening, and are working to ensure that governments, first responders, and entities working to mitigate the spread of the virus have all appropriate resources.

Intel provided one million units of PPE including masks, gloves, and face shields from its factory stock and emergency supplies and donated them to health care professionals. The company also allocated $10 million for coronavirus relief to be distributed to community foundations and organizations that are focused on food security, shelter, medical equipment, and small-business support. Intel also pledged an additional $50 million in a pandemic response technology initiative.

In May, Intel issued its annual Corporate Responsibility Report targeting industry-wide collaborations in health and safety, pandemic preparedness, tech inclusion, and carbon-neutral computing.

“The world is facing challenges that we understand better each day as we collect and analyze more data, but they go unchecked without a collective response, from climate change to deep digital divides around the world to the current pandemic that has fundamentally changed all our lives,” said Intel CEO Bob Swan. “We can solve them, but only by working together.”

II-VI operates in over 60 locations in 18 countries. Its website notes that II-VI plays a key role in the supply chain for polymerase chain reaction (PCR) genetic sequencing instruments that are helping to determine the outcome of patient testing for COVID-19.

ThorLabs believes it has sustainable inventory sufficient to support the continued availability of its products for the foreseeable future. Current lead times are reflected on the company's website and communicated by customer service teams at time of order placement.

Coherent has not yet experienced supply delays and says it has a business continuity plan in place to help mitigate supply issues. Manufacturing in California and Connecticut is affected by stay-at-home mandates. Additionally, service in Italy, France, Spain, Indonesia, and the Wuhan area of China have limited ability to help customers due to government rules prohibiting movement of personnel for nonessential industries. Service for essential industries will continue.

“I think the honest answer is absolutely nobody knows exactly how long this crisis is going to last, and where and how and how fast we’re going to get out of it,” said Coherent CEO Andy Mattes in an interview with Photonics Media. “We’re not medical experts, but we’ll listen to all the expert advice. All I can tell you is that, in relative terms, as brutal as the decision was to shut operations down in places [Coherent is deemed an essential business; production has been ongoing but it has been a fluid situation, as office workers shifted to work from home], it’s actually the easier of the two decisions. ‘How do you ramp back up?’ and ‘how do you do that in a manner that is helpful for your customers while at the same time making sure your workforce is working in a safe environment?’ is not trivial.

“It’s very hard to predict, but that’s why we have implemented a central nerve center [the executive COVID Steering Committee], and under COO Mark [Sobey]’s leadership we can ensure that we stay on top of things and we know how to respond and put our best foot forward.”

Published: June 2020
BusinesseconomicsCOVID-19coronavirusU.S. supply chainsAmericaslight speed

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