Canada first?

From the April 2021 print edition

Global supply chains rose in prominence along with the COVID-19 pandemic last year, an interest that shows little sign of slowing. On February 24, US President Joe Biden signed an executive order to boost manufacturing jobs and strengthen US supply chains for batteries, pharmaceuticals, critical minerals and semi-conductors. Aside from a supply chain issue, the US sees this as a national security issue and economic risk. The country has grown increasingly reliant on imports of many of these goods, and Biden wants a 100-day review, along with the possibility of increased domestic production.

There’s a case for such interest. Many countries, Canada included, were caught flatfooted by the pandemic kicked in March 2020. Many scrambled to procure enough PPE to manage the new demand. We’re seeing similar global demand challenges now with the vaccine rollout.

An ongoing semiconductor shortage precipitated by the pandemic affects everything from mobile phones to electric cars to 5G communications and mobile devices. No wonder the US administration would like to manufacture more of their own.

Luckily, Canada is making moves to strengthen its manufacturing and supply chains, as well as boosting innovation. In early March, the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario) announced $4.7 million to expand Canada’s first hardware and semiconductor-focused lab, ventureLAB’s Hardware Catalyst Initiative. Those in the program can access technical resources, manufacturing capacity, investment expertise and talent networks.

In another example, Next Generation Manufacturing Canada (NGen), the industry-led organization behind Canada’s Advanced Manufacturing Supercluster, recently announced over $27 million for winners of its Strategic Supply Challenge. The competition saw companies use advanced manufacturing technologies to build a sustainable, made-in-Canada supply of critical products.

The projects aren’t designed to address the pandemic only, said Jayson Myers, CEO of NGen: “They are investments in advanced manufacturing processes and technologies that will help meet the immediate needs created by COVID-19, while also developing a sustainable, globally competitive and cost-effective domestic supply that can be applied to industry needs beyond the pandemic.”

There is an appetite for more homegrown solutions. A recent KPMG Canada survey of over 2,000 Canadians found that most wanted a “Canada-first” mindset to jumpstart the economy after the pandemic subsides. The survey found that 92 per cent want government to create incentives to “buy Canadian” and ensure we build domestic capacity to supply critical needs. As well, 86 per cent want corporate Canada to allocate a share of contracts to Canadian SMEs.

Catastrophes like pandemics can accelerate innovation. Hopefully, Canada continues to support opportunities to build a more innovative and dynamic supply chain and manufacturing base.

Michael Power is editor of Supply Professional magazine.