A recent piece over on Supply Chain Cowboy on Three Silver Bullets to Solve Nearly Every Supply Chain Fire simultaneously enthralled and shocked me because I cringe every time I hear that air freight is one of the three solutions to your current supply chain dilemma, as it is a prime indicator of a major supply chain issue — specifically, lack of planning.
But there are ways to avoid the issue. The first one is:
Supply Chain Forecasting Systems
A good, modern, supply chain forecasting system is the best way to figure out not only what you are going to need, but when you are going to need it and when you are going to have to get the orders in and production started in order to meet shipping deadlines and avoid the need for air freight.
The second way to avoid the issue is:
Supply Chain Visibility
(Near) real-time visibility into where your stuff is from your suppliers, their suppliers, and their raw-material suppliers. All delays have ripple effects, and the best way to prevent a hiccup, or disruption, that will force you to have to use air-freight is to have real-time visibility all the way through your supply chain so you can be aware of a potential issue as soon as it happens.
And the third silver bullet, I’m sad to say, is:
Standby Air Freight
Good forecasting will significantly reduce the number of emergencies and the number of times you have to ship air-freight to meet a deadline, and good supply chain visibility will reduce this number even further as you will be able to order from secondary suppliers or ship through back-up carriers when hiccups or disruptions do arise to meet the deadlines laid out in your forecasting system. That being said, no technology will completely eliminate the need. There will always be unexpected events that will cause interruptions at the last minute where the only recovery option is to air freight reserve stock. If the Super Panamax ship gets delayed a week in port because of customs issues after your cargo is loaded, there’s nothing you can do. Or if a second tier supplier gets cut off because of a civil uprising and you have to arrange for the first tier supplier to get replacement product from another second tier supplier further away, there may be no other way to get the product fast enough. That being said, the number of instances where there is no way but up should be few and far between with good supply chain planning and visibility systems.