Help me geek out about emergency supply chains
April 22, 2020 2:50 AM   Subscribe

I recently read Eric Larson's The Splendid And The Vile, which touches on transforming factories during WW2 to produce aircraft. I am also reading a lot in the news currently about the need for factories to pivot to making PPE for key workers. Where can I read in much more depth about how this actually works? How do you take your existing manufacturing plant and suddenly get it to make something it wasn't designed for?

I work in manufacturing supply chain and spend half of my working life in factories - and yet I cannot wrap my head around what would need to happen to move from making one specialised item (e.g. lingerie) to another (e.g. explosives - an anecdotal example, as my grandmother worked in a factory during the war which made both pyjamas and explosives).

Someone must have written about this. Essays, books, whatever - I really want to see under the hood. Please recommend sources for me!

The reason for the change isn't important (i.e. I am as eager to read about civil defence preparations as health emergencies or natural disasters) and I would be happy with anything from in-depth memoirs of a specific factory as a top-line view across an entire conflict or outbreak.
posted by citands to Grab Bag (4 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

This move is sometimes called 'retooling.' Doing various combo searches for manufacturing, retooling, and your other keyword(s) (e.g. wartime, covid etc.) should get you a grab bag of stuff to sift through further. Quotes might make a difference as well. E.g.: "manufacturing retooling" wartime.
posted by carter at 6:55 AM on April 22 [1 favorite]

I'm embarrassed to say that I wrote my master's thesis on this topic, and responded earlier without thinking to go look at some of the books I referenced. So, just did that, and have a few more recommendations for you (in addition to Freedom's Forge):

Engineers of Victory: The Problem Solvers Who Turned The Tide in the Second World War

The Arsenal of Democracy: FDR, Detroit, and an Epic Quest to Arm an America at War

A Call to Arms: Mobilizing America for World War II
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 9:42 AM on April 22 [3 favorites]

Might not provide enough "under the hood" info that you're looking for but might provide a few good starting off points for further research.
posted by jacobean at 3:43 PM on April 22

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