How factories are adjusting as states begin reopening in the wake of the coronavirus

Over a million jobs were lost in the manufacturing industry, where factories must implement new safety measures. Some businesses have adapted. Others face issues with suppliers or finding customers.
8:29 | 05/13/20

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Transcript for How factories are adjusting as states begin reopening in the wake of the coronavirus
I've lived in southern Indiana my whole life. This is kind of my thing, working on engines and hot rods and motorcycles. That's kind of what brought me into it. Reporter: It had been three long weeks at home. But Amanda Harbold was finally headed back to the factory floor. It was kind of emotional because of everything that's going on. Remember the Cummins engine plant reopening last week after shutting its doors amidst the crush of covid-19. I'm not someone who can just sit around the house, so I was ready to come back. Are you suffering from any of the following symptoms? We're asked a series of questions to make sure we're not feeling ill. Then we get our temperature we're given a mask for the day. Then you're ready to go to work. Build some engines. Reporter: Creating everything from engines to baseball bats, manufacturing is a giant industry, employing nearly 13 million in the U.S., powering how we move, how we work, how we live. But now with more than 33 million people filing for unemployment nationwide in the last seven weeks, this industry, too, is feeling the pressure. More than a million jobs lost, as it faces plummeting demand, supply shortages and factories shut down. Today we go inside an industry long called America's backbone. Those who are surviving. Some thriving and others just fighting to hang on. In Colorado, where the governor eased restrictions last month, brothers Barry and Kenny Carson realized the key to saving the family business was doubling down on what they do best. This is a big pile of plexiglass. Reporter: They make workstations for 911 centers. They make dividers. With many trying to to figure how to safely get back to work, these provide a barrier. The idea is the brainchild of customer service rep Karen tennis. I was at the grocery store, and I saw these plastic pieces that they had up. I was thinking, we have this material. They took it and ran with it within a week. Reporter: You said it's taken on a life of its own. Are you getting calls now. Yes, we are inundated. Reporter: Are you keeping up with demand? Do you think you'll be able to keep up with demand? We've been talking with some of our suppliers to make sure they've got a good stream of material available. We've been pre-buying product we don't have sold yet because plexiglass is getting rare. There is an energy here we are doing something above and beyond for our customers. Reporter: Did either of you think you'd be doing this? Oh, gosh, no. Reporter: Now you're on a mission. Yeah, we are. A lot of the people we sell to are the behind the scenes people, the 911 dispatchers. They have to work. Right now they don't have a choice. They have to go to work. It's getting to the uncertainty part of it. Manufacturing in any business hates uncertainty. Reporter: Dennis slater represents equipment manufacturers nationwide. How do they plan for what's next, how many machines to have, how many employees. They will start to react to how can they make work sites safer but make machines more efficient. Reporter: In Indiana where the state has cautiously entered phase two of reopening, the manufacturing industry employs roughly 17% of the workforce. Engine maker Cummins saw early on how the virus would impact their operations. It started for us back in January, because we have a number of manufacturing facilities actually in Wuhan. Reporter: Peter Anderson is the vice president of global supply chain. Over 80% of our suppliers at some point closed down. And we're still struggling with many of the suppliers. Reporter: Down but not out. They chose to close for three weeks to implement new protocols, reducing productivity but prioritizing safety as the state battled with more than 25,000 covid-19 cases, and 1400 fatalities. I was nervous because I didn't know what kind of changes was going to happen. But I feel they've come into work, all the different changes, like the plexiglass in the bathrooms so when you wash your hands you keep your social distance. It's something that everybody has been affected one. A fear for everyone. Reporter: The high stakes are palpable in Bloomington where a pharmaceutical manufacturer has a plan. She holds a key in fleeing the country from the clutches of covid-19. We are manufacturing covid-19 vaccination. Reporter: Many are preparing for clinical trials and find being themselves in an enviable position in high demand. Ten years ago we were around 250 head count. Reporter: Dennis Johnson is the general manager of the plant now using lessons learned from years in the army. Marshal resources and stop doing things you don't need to essential right now is keeping our people safe. Without this team we wouldn't be able to produce treatments. Reporter: Coronavirus hygiene requirements were already second nature here, given the exacting demands of drug manufacturing. Everyone changes into clean room scrubs, hair net, glove, when we get up in the morning we're happy to come to work. Now you have a little more pride when you come to work. You know you're doing something big. We've been lucky enough to speak to some companies that have been able to adapt. But there are a number of companies that are not going to survive this. And I'm wondering, do you see a silver lining? I think the silver lining is some of the things we're doing today will help us as we go forward that we wouldn't have done if the economy stayed going we look at how we make our machines, the technology more productive, more efficient. Reporter: Before covid-19 hit American shores, manufacturing was on the decline, losing 7.5 million workers since 1980, partly due to automation and outsourcing, then the virus causing the American economy to grind to a halt and accelerating job losses across the industry. The oil industry was hit especially hard as prices were already in free fall, thanks to an oil price war between Russia and Saudi Arabia. Here in Texas where they produce 41% of the nation's oil, they haven't had a moment to catch their breath. At one point, in 2008, I had 55 employees here and we were running 24 hours a day. Now I have 13 employees, and we have one shift. Reporter: Kenny east is vice president of Taylor oil field manufacturing. They specialize in repairing drilling tools. He has never seen things so dire. It's never good. You know. A lot of my employees, I feel like they're family. So having to lay people off every time, it's really hard to tell somebody that hey, I got to lay you off. You go to a situation where sometime where you got to pick and choose, that isn't easy either. We're going to battle through it and stick it out like we did all the other times and hopefully we can make it through. We've done it before. Reporter: And once they do, east hopes he'll have jobs waiting for employees he had to let go. I told whenever we can, we're going to hire you back. You don't have to sit and wait. If you find something, that's okay. But I will call you back when things pick up.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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