In Times of Coronavirus

How is Continental responding to the pandemic?

The novel coronavirus has the world in its grip. Continental is also feeling its consequences. These include, on the one hand, closed factories, working from home and declining orders. On the other, however, production has begun to start up again with Continental establishing a global protective strategy for pandemic-safe production and launching its own production of protective masks. Its employees are also independently initiating local aid campaigns around the world.

A Virus That Knows No Borders

Worldwide, some 60 percent of Continental’s staff, numbering about 240,000, are currently working shorter hours, with more than 80,000 employees operating from home. In Germany alone, 30,000 employees are on short-time work. The huge challenges that a global corporation like Continental has been confronted with in just a few weeks demonstrate the force with which coronavirus crisis has struck. With 595 locations in more than 60 countries, the company has two clear objectives in the current crisis: protecting the health of its employees and maintaining its supply capabilities. This is no easy task in a pandemic that is at very different stages around the world. While China has already largely returned to normality, Germany and Europe are slowly coming out of lockdown, while North America is largely still to reach this stage. 

This virus knows no borders – but neither does our solidarity with one another.

Dr. Elmar Degenhart, Chairman of the Continental Executive Board

It Started in the Far East

China was the first region affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. Continental operates at 50 locations here alone. “At the beginning of the year, the number of people infected and fatalities due to Covid-19 rose in city of Wuhan. The Chinese New Year holiday was approaching on January 25. We'd already started shutting down production for the upcoming vacation week as normal when Wuhan was locked down on January 23, followed by the entire province of Hubei just days later. Then other regions followed,“ says Jing Bi, Head of Communications China, describing the course of events. As a result, the planned restart turned into an unforeseen lockdown with production shut down almost completely. A taste of what was still to come for the rest of the world.

Instead, the message from then on was: working from home where possible, strict travel restrictions and a massive extension of protection and hygiene measures. The crisis teams deployed at the locations decided, in close collaboration with the Group Crisis Team and the local authorities, on which rapid measures were required to protect employees, while minimizing the impact on operations as far as possible.

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From Local to Global Lockdown

Shortly after, stay-at-home orders and production stoppages were imposed throughout almost the entire world. At the same time, demand collapsed in many places. As a result, from mid-March, more than 40 percent of Continental’s production sites worldwide halted production for periods ranging from a few days up to several weeks. Europe, as well as North and South America have been particularly affected.

As a sign of solidarity with Continental’s employees who have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic, the Continental Executive Board has decided to extend its original one-month waiver of 10 percent of fixed salary in April by a further three months until the end of July. 

In the U.S.A., where the arrival of the virus was delayed due to the mode of its spread, arrangements have also been made for a prolonged emergency situation. Here, health and safety standards for workplaces at the locations affected by the pandemic have been adapted in preparation for the return to work. “Moreover, many employees are supporting the emergency services and medical personnel in the hospitals by offering their time and anything else that they are able to provide,” explains Caitlin Smith from the Continental U.S.A. communications team. “We need to remain flexible and also find ways to continue working together as a team, despite the social distancing dictated by the coronavirus." 

However, not all Continental factories are at a standstill. Worldwide, certain production lines are continuing to operate without interruption, manufacturing for system-critical areas of life, such as tubing and tube lines for medical technology, water utilities or the food industry.

Statement from CEO Dr. Elmar Degenhart on the impact of coronavirus at Continental

Protecting people's health is now the highest priority. Our employees will be given protective equipment to ensure this. And we are adapting processes and systems to minimize the risk of infection.

Dr. Elmar Degenhart, Chairman of the Continental Executive Board

Number One Priority Is Health – No Start-Up Without Risk Check

In the end, the lockdown in Wuhan lasted 10 weeks in total. It did not hit the rest of China as hard. On February 10, production was gradually restarted in large parts of the country. As of early May 2020, Continental has halted production at only one-fifth of all 249 of its production sites worldwide. This applies in particular to locations in the U.S.A., Mexico, Russia and India. In Germany, production has been gradually ramped up at all locations since the beginning of May.

To restart production without any risk, the corporation has developed a global pandemic protective strategy. The key element here involves carrying out a risk assessment at all workplaces and implementing the ensuing protective measures, such as the installation of Plexiglas partitions, a massive increase in cleaning frequency, shortened or staggered shifts, shift handovers without personal contact and extended canteen times, as well as increased distances between seats in canteens and break rooms. Working from home for employees who are not actively involved in production will also remain in place for the time being to avoid unnecessary contacts. In terms of its experience, China is ahead of us: “For example, according to the current epidemic situation in China and resumption of production driven by the government, we have carefully adapted the ramp-up plan, which is critical to resume our business operations,” explains Jing Bi, Head of Communications. “In addition, we're recording exactly who works on which day and time in order to trace possible infection chains. Masks and social distancing are compulsory in the workplace, while online meetings are recommended."

Ultimately, what counts is coming up with practicable solutions on site: “The situation is different in every country,” explains Continental CEO Dr. Elmar Degenhart. “This is why our global and national crisis teams are in contact with each other day and night. They regularly exchange information with the authorities, support each other and share their experiences."

Despite The Crisis: Continental Is Well Positioned

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In any case, Continental considers itself well-equipped to come through this crisis. The corporation has been performing well in recent years. At the same time, every effort is being made to independently ensure pandemic-safe production. Continental will, for instance, also produce its own masks to protect employees in future. These are disposable surgical mask for use in accordance with the risk assessment of the respective workplace. At the same time, the aim is to ease the tight situation in terms of the number of masks available on the market, which are urgently needed in the healthcare sector. Mask production is distributed across three continents – Winchester (U.S.A.), Hanover (Germany) and Shanghai (China).

Furthermore, staff are also putting forward their own ideas on how they can help in the crisis. (See info box below for details). When it comes to rapid production in small-volume batches, 3D-printing is also proving to be the method of choice worldwide during the pandemic. 

Ideas During the Crisis – How Continental Is Helping

Medical Tubing for Lombardy

Despite production having been ramped down, Continental has been producing tubing at its Daverio site in northern Italy for the medical sector in Lombardy and the badly hit city of Bergamo. The tubing is used for conveying air and medical gases in ventilators such as CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) systems, which help patients breath spontaneously.

 

Idea Exchange for Volunteers

“For One Another” is one of Continental’s four corporate values. Employees within the corporation are demonstrating this by sharing ideas on the intranet and launching initiatives to help others around the world. Further ideas are in a concept phase or early stage of being implemented.

 

"Rubí Makers” Produce Face Shields

At the Continental plant in Rubí, northern Spain, more than 30 employees have joined the “Coronavirus Makers”. This is an initiative involving almost 15,000 Spanish people who make their knowledge and technology available for the production of medical protective materials. Some use their 3D printers, while others help with planning and distribution. The Rubí Makers are currently producing certified medical face visors, with an output of around 80 units a day.

 

Professional Face Visors from Virginia

The plant in Winchester, Virginia, U.S.A., usually manufactures surface materials for the interior of automotive and commercial vehicles. This expertise is now being used to manufacture more than 6,000 face visors a day, which are delivered to local hospitals, healthcare facilities, police station houses and fire departments. The initiative began with the aim of assisting first responders in the municipality. In the meantime, more visors are being produced than required, so they are now being offered nationwide. 

 

Home-Made 3D Printing as a Remedy for the Virus

In Bangalore, India, Manu Krishan, an engineer at the R&D of the Continental Technical Center India (TCI), has together with his brother developed and produced face shields for local hospitals. For this purpose, they used a home-made 3D printer using local off-the-shelf components. The result of the first production batch: 300 face shields each at a price of less than 43 INR, which is less than half a Euro per piece. The masks are already in use by health workers in his hometown, and production has run continuously, 24/7 from the outset.

 

 "This virus brings our normal lives to a standstill, but not our driving force,” says Chairman of the Executive Board Elmar Degenhart. “Continental has had almost 150 years of experience in handling highs and lows. We are a strong team that has weathered previous crises. With a strong balance sheet to support us, we're in a financially sound position. This is why I firmly believe that we will come back even more strongly from the current crisis.”

 

The novel coronavirus has led to an unprecedented global crisis. In order to protect employees and due to the declines in demand, Continental had shut down temporarily large parts of its production. However, progress in China and the commitment of the employees show that there will be an economy after lockdown. 

 

 

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Face protection visors are a useful addition to mouth-nose covers, but they do not replace them!
The face protection visors shown in this story additionally protect the mucous membranes of the eyes and serve mainly as additional splash protection. Therefore they are a useful addition to mouth-nose covers, especially for certain occupational groups. However, they are not an equivalent alternative to mouth-nose covers. Illustrated employees who wear visors without additional mouth-nose coverings do so only for demonstration purposes!