Category Archives: Manufacturing

A Slow Cautious Approach to Pulling Out of China May Be Justified …

… but the justification has NOTHING to do with geopolitical events or economic factors, as suggested by this recent SCMR article. First of all, those are always in flux. Secondly, neither of these factors are the ones that could be limiting your ability to peel out.

There are two primary factors that could be limiting your ability to peel out of China:

  1. available production capability
  2. source material availability

And these are the only factors you should be considering when you are considering how [do] you reconfigure the global supply chain. Because, unless you are selling in Asia, you HAVE to get out of China if you want stable supply streams.

Available Production Capability

First of all, are there alternative near-shore plants? If not, you’re stuck until you (co-)invest in one, get it built, get it up and running, and verify the quality is acceptable. If there are, can they produce the products you need in the quantities you need, or at least a reasonable percentage? If so, are the quality and service levels sufficient. If there are three or more near-shore suppliers that can collectively meet your needs, you shift a considerable amount of your award to them immediately (depending on existing contracts, the time-frames for the suppliers to fully ramp up to support your business, and the time-frames your organization needs to get ready to support the shift) and start the process of shifting all of your award to them.

Source Material Capability

You also have to consider where the raw materials are coming from, and how easy it will be for your suppliers to get sufficient stacks of the materials you need in steady supply. For example, if you need lithium-ion batteries produced by current processes, you need cobalt. 73% of today’s cobalt comes from the Democratic Republic of Cobalt (DRC). The DRC has considerable trade agreements with Qatar. So while the country has bilateral trade agreements with over 50 countries, its relationship with Qatar could cause you problems if you want to use a producer in the middle east NOT in Qatar if another diplomatic crisis (like the one in 2017) arises.

Also, China is the largest producer of grains, gold, coal, rare earth minerals, and two hundred (200) plus other materials, components, and products, so if your production depends on any of these materials, components, or products, you need to make sure your suppliers are located in countries who have good relations with China or have already locked up enough secondary sources to guarantee your product production will be uninterrupted.

That’s it. Yes, you have to consider the economics, because you can’t pay 50% more and not seriously upset (and lose) your (current and potential) customers with the price increase that will result, but with proper investments in new processes, equipment, and talent, costs can be reduced anywhere in the world, and all it will take for the potential supplier to make these investments is enough guaranteed business from you. (So make it so!)

Digging into Manufacturing Sustainability

In our article on Solving the Sustainability of the Supply Chain is Systematically Strenuous and Surprisingly Serpentine, we noted that while there are easy two-word answers for reconfiguring the global supply chain for greater supply chain assurance and more sustainability at the 30,000 foot level, when you dig into the details, it’s not so easy as you have dozens of facets to get right to truly optimize sustainability across:

  • Support
  • Sales
  • Logistics
  • Procurement
  • Manufacturing
  • Materials

Manufacturing sustainability is much more involved than just choosing sustainable materials and focussing on sustainable design. When you are manufacturing you have to think about all of the following:

  • Materials: are the materials renewable, reclaimable, recyclable, or compostable — if not, the materials are not sustainable
  • Design: is the design using as many sustainable materials as possible; minimizing the use of non-renewable materials in minimal supply; ensuring the product is designed so that non-renewable materials can be fully reclaimed / recycled; ensuring the product can be produced in a sustainable manner? etc.
  • Production: are the lines modern, minimizing energy and MRO material usage (fluids, parts that wear out, etc.), efficient, etc.
  • Waste: does the chosen production method minimize waste, i.e. if cutting, how much waste metal or wood, and can it be reused/reclaimed?
  • Energy all energy production and transmission has a Carbon cost, even solar, as there was an initial carbon production in producing the panels, thus, the production method should minimize energy utilization (especially if producing EVs … considering a battery pack can produce between 2.5 and 16 metric tonnes of carbon in its production, it’s critical all production be energy efficient)
  • Water for cooling and cleaning should be minimized as well, and, if directly reusable, reused, and then reclaimed for future reuse (through an energy efficient processing plant)
  • Workforce as there needs to be a sufficient workforce and training in place to make sure they are suitably skilled for, and efficient at, the job to minimize errors and the resulting waste that comes from every human error

Furthermore, how you think about many of these requirements differs for every type of product you are producing, and often requires extremely specialized expertise to address the design, materials, production process, and waste. Manufacturing sustainability is not easy, but if you can’t ensure your manufacturers are sustainable, then you definitely can’t claim to have sustainable Procurement.

SupplHi – A Best of Breed Supplier Management Platform for Industrial MRO

In a recent article, we noted that It Does Not Matter Where You Start, You End with BoB in SXM, and if you in the business of industrial MRO, it’s likely that your BoB will be SupplHi.

SupplHi is one of the broadest, and deepest, solutions we’ve seen for Industrial MRO (and Direct in general, but the fact that they have 90% of the supply base in certain MRO categories makes them extremely suited for that categories, as well as the fact that they have the deepest out-of-the-box categorization for MRO which includes 2,600 categories across 250 families in 45 groups of supply [request download] makes them extremely well suited to MRO), covering (at least) baseline functionality across (at least) 7 of the 10 core areas and information tracking in 2 more (Quality and Performance), a claim that only a select few vendors can make in Direct and, as far as we know, none can make in MRO (Maintenance, Repair and Operation) [for both equipment and services).

SupplHi can be summed out as the Closed Loop Supplier Management Hub for your Industrial MRO Supply Base, which not only allows you to centralize all of the data (if not manage it natively) to support all of the supplier related activities, but also gain visibility through multiple levels of the supply chain while evaluating potential (Tier 1) suppliers for risk, compliance, and performance.

If you tried to read that, you’ll realize that’s a mouthful and tightly packed with impressive claims, so let’s talk about how SupplHi supports the Industrial MRO/Classic Direct lifecycle, and then quickly overview the main features.

  • Discovery: a network of over 100K suppliers that is growing daily focused on Industrial MRO
  • Onboarding: a plethora of features and apps to make it easy to onboard suppliers
  • Evaluation: in addition to collecting information on products AND capabilities, collect and store public/shared information on risk, sustainability, certifications, perform due diligence, etc.
  • Monitoring : track all relevant quality, compliance, sustainability, risk, and performance data
  • Management/Development : performance evaluation, sustainability monitoring (including Scope 3), non-conformity management, and development campaigns
  • OffBoarding : status marking, performance evaluations, (de)qualification, etc.

… and if a supplier corrects an issue (lack of certification), adds a capability (factory upgrade), address a major risk, etc., then the cycle can begin again with (re-)onboarding. It’s truly closed loop — and the (pre-defined) master data management capability is among the most extensive data models we’ve ever seen.

The SupplHi site markets a large number of capabilities (which it calls apps, of which there appear to be 25+, in addition to integration services, ad-hoc services, etc.), but six key capabilities that make SupplHi stand out are:

  • DEEP EXTENSIBLE PROFILE: it’s MDM capability allows it to track any and all data you need to track on the supplier, including products, capabilities, certifications, sustainability ratings, quality (metrics), performance metrics, sub-tier supplier linkages, etc.
  • DOCUMENT MANAGEMENT: all product specs, certifications, (insurance) certificates, contracts, assessments, etc.
  • CERTIFICATION AND BANK ACCOUNT VALIDATION: in the platform, no reliance on a buyer NOT fat-fingering a critical piece of info.
  • MULTI-TIER VISIBILITY: few platforms have this, but due to their deep knowledge of the Industrial MRO space and extensible Master Data Management approach that allows suppliers to identify their suppliers, they can map, and visualize, a typical supply chain to the source suppliers even during the Scouting/Discovery phase
  • SUPPLIER CAPABILITY TRACKING: it can track the types of engineer specialties, the machinery available, international codes/standards supported, sub-tier suppliers by category (down to level 3 in the category tree), policies, energy efficiency, and other data required for a proper assessment of an equipment and/or services Industrial MRO supplier
  • ACTION MANAGEMENT: simple information requests, quality issues, development projects (as part of a campaign), etc. all fall under actions that the platform can manage

In other words, as we said before, it’s broad, it’s deep, it has direct capabilities that only a few competitors posses, and it’s built-in category framework and extensive supplier network make it unparalleled in Industrial MRO.

You don’t have to just take our word for it. You can also see:

Dear Build-to-Order / Make-to-Order — Dumpster Dive if you want to Survive!

A big thanks to Lora Cecere, the Supply Chain Shaman, for inspiring this post as a result of her recent Thoughts on Thriving. I’m sure she had zero intention of doing so, but when inspiration strikes … it’s time to write!

One of the advantages of working with a LOT of engineers (and I mean a LOT of traditional engineers, not code junkies who may or may not have a formal, accredited, education), is that you get to talk to a lot of engineers in build-to-order / make-to-order direct (reliant) industries, and even three years after COVID started, and a year after the majority of the world proclaimed it over (and secretly accepted its endemic and we just have to live with it), manufacturers with build-to-order / make-to-order divisions are still having significant issues which primarily focus around:

  • a 12-to-24 month wait for (critical) parts (despite getting orders in early, and often being told they are a “priority” or a “customer of choice” [which pretty much only means the supplier chose to take your money])
  • a lack of a modern order management system that can make sure that the parts are properly allocated when they come in to the customer they were for (and not auto-allocated in a group as soon as any “build” can be completed, often allowing a smaller customer to jump the queue over a larger one that’s been waiting six months larger — and, FYI, even SAP installations don’t necessarily solve this)
  • a lack of engineers qualified to maintain / refurbish existing systems until the parts arrive to allow the replacements to be built and …
    as Lora pointed out
  • inventory glut in their pre-manufactured systems divisions as inflation curbs demand from those thinking twice about an unnecessary purchase, or one that can be delayed.

These divisions are usually separately run on different P&Ls, and often entirely different, fully owned, companies, which use different, non-complementary, and often destructive, strategies to deal with their problems.

The inconsistent, wrong, and often destructive, decision by the pre-manufactured consumer / (small) business division, seeing a monthly increase in inventory (storage) costs in conjunction with a decreased market value (as competitors announce newer “better” products), is usually to just find a very large retailer or distributor who will take them at a (massive) discount, especially if, across all units produced, they can break even or minimize the loss, and move on. (And if the organization gets desperate for cash, sometimes fire sale the inventory in a reverse auction.)

Why is this wrong and destructive? In many cases, the products, and more specifically, the parts they contain, have value well beyond what the organization ends up getting and, in fact, with a little re-engineering could often be used to solve the make-to-order / build-to-order crisis in the other division, at least in the short term. Even if the systems say it can’t be done or the engineers don’t tell you that it can.

What you need to understand is that the problems we are facing are exacerbated by business models that are typically built by business people with limited engineering knowledge and often no understanding of a real engineering mindset. Couple this with the reality that most engineers have limited to no knowledge of the larger business, limited knowledge of how to communicate alternative business solutions to a crises in business terms, and usually no willingness to do anything that would rock the boat. (You need to understand that some of the lies in the engineering stereotype are true. [Cue Huey Lewis.] Understanding this helps with effective communication.)

More specifically, the business models that dictate:

  • complete separation of divisions
  • using outdated systems, because there’s still x years on the amortization
  • never deviating from the initial design and bill-of-materials because that’s what was sourced/agreed-to-contracted, or whatever and/or
  • rigid separation of duties between product lines and divisions, even when the engineering team is qualified to work across them

And, ultimately, prevent creativity, re-use, and, most importantly, creative destruction where this could be the only solution to current problems. These business models and systems work(ed) well in predictable normal operating conditions when there was always sufficient, or excess, timely supply, but those days are gone and might never come back. (The next pandemic could be tomorrow, wars are still raging and having global impacts, multiple countries are amidst various levels of political upheavals, inflation and/or recessions are rampant globally, and supply chain disasters that used to be once a century are now more frequent than once a decade.)

Adaptability is key. The control system needs a processor? Who cares if the one in that pre-built unit in inventory not selling is based on a two year old design — it’s probably still more powerful than is needed and more than likely to survive the lifespan of the unit. Or, worst case, you over ordered the high-end model and need to rip out a more expensive component. If you’re talking a multi-million build-to-order contract with a key (strategic) customer, what’s a few margin points vs. not fulfilling the contract at all and possibly losing the customer?

In other words, if you’re going to treat excess inventory like trash, it’s time to dive into your inventory dumpster, find the diamond parts, and send the rest for recycling — individual business unit / P&Ls be damned. At the end of the day, it’s the overall health of the business, and transferring inventory from division A to division B at cost (to keep the accountants happy) so that a unit that would otherwise take a big loss prevents that loss and even makes a profit for the business is the right decision!

And if you let the engineers out of the tiny cubicle you forced them into, you’ll realize that the one thing a typical engineer is really good at, and the one thing a typical engineer wants to do, is solve these types of systems problems. Real engineers love the challenge! It’s the one thing that excites them more than any business process or perk you can offer them (with the possible exception of more pay, but even that is temporary joy because the smarter engineers realize if you’re offering them more pay without them asking, they must be worth way more to a competitor … and if they’re going to work in a box, they might as well be paid handsomely for it).

So, don’t be afraid to be creative, flexible, and dumpster dive! (And don’t tell me the customer won’t accept any variation on the order … if their business is being held up or seriously impacted by your delay, and they know they can’t get what they need any faster anywhere else, they’ll work with you on a modification they can get next month that will do the job versus having to wait another year.)

And if you don’t have a pre-manufactured division, this advice still applies to you. Except, instead of dumpster diving in your organization’s own inventory, do so in pre-manufactured systems being sold at heavy discount (for the purposes of dumping), local suppliers with excess inventory of products with usable components, and even consumer electronics stores (where deep discount computers can yield perfectly good processors and memory that can be worth as much as the entire system to you).

Another Decade Has Passed. How Are You Doing on the 10 Rs?

Ten years ago (yes, this blog has been around for a long time, especially in internet years), we picked up on a great article by SupplyChainBrain on Ten Steps to Green Packaging in the CPG Industry which was a great article not just because it demonstrated just how many ways there were to make packaging green, but because it gave us so many ideas on how to make our entire supply chain green.

In brief, the ten steps were:

  1. Replenish
    Purchase raw materials from suppliers who employ sustainable resource management practices.
  2. Re-use (Re-explore)
    Use recyclable material.
  3. Reduce
    Use ergonomic design and optimization to minimize the use, and size, of packaging material.
  4. Replace
    Replace hazardous and harmful substances with eco-friendly materials.
  5. Reconsider
    Use renewable materials whenever possible.
  6. Review
    Inspect, monitor, and control waste in the packaging process.
  7. Recall
    Immediately recall harmful packaging and put processes in place end harmful packaging.
  8. Redeem
    Collaborate with retailers and collect reusable and recyclable packaging materials.
  9. Reinforce
    Set up a Centre of Excellence (COE) to disseminate environmental best practices.
  10. Register
    Sign up for a carbon reduction commitment initiative and follow-through.

And they are globally applicable.

  1. Replenish
    Regardless of what you are buying, you want a supplier who is focussed on sustainability.
  2. Re-use (Re-explore)
    Modern science has advanced us to a point where most materials are reusable and recoverable. You should be working to get to 90% re-used/recycled/replenished content within a decade.
  3. Reduce
    Modern structural analytic techniques (especially with the low-cost availability of high-powered computing, low-power cores, and the ability to host data centers in naturally cooled environments) allow for the usage of much less material than before, without compromising any structural integrity
  4. Replace
    There is no need for hazardous materials in the majority of products on the market today. Science has delivered us alternatives.
  5. Reconsider
    Non-renewable materials are becoming limited. It’s not just a cost or green consideration anymore, it’s becoming a necessity.
  6. Review
    Waste should be minimized inside your organization and eliminated in your supply chain. Waste to you can be raw material to someone else. Food stuffs don’t meet your level of quality for human consumption? Might more than surpass the level of quality for animal consumption and, if not, there’s always bio-mass energy production. Metal scraps? Straight to smelting and recycling. And so on. Your waste can always be someone else’s inputs if you are smart about your process.
  7. Recall
    Whatever you are creating should be benefiting the consumer, not harming them. If you screw up, recall the product, immediately fix or recycle it, and improve your processes so it doesn’t happen again. (Don’t reprimand the workers, but fire the pointy haired idiot who requested it or was responsible for guiding the workers. And yes, SI still disdains the average Master of Bullshit Administration.)
  8. Redeem
    Make all of your packaging reusable and get it back. (Considering how many empty miles exist in the trucking industry, this is not a big deal or big cost if properly planned. Coupa Sourcing Optimization and Jaggaer One Advanced Sourcing Optimization in particular have models customized for transportation and reverse transportation. USE THEM!)
  9. Reinforce
    … and mandate! Set up the COE, make an executive mandate that policies must be followed, and green your operation.
  10. Register
    Make a public commitment to carbon reduction, waste reduction, and energy usage reduction, measure annually, publicly report, and follow-through. (And don’t just buy carbon credits or carbon offsets. Don’t make your problem someone else’s.)

Sustainability isn’t hard anymore … and the organizations that start now will be the ones that will be around in the decades ahead.