For years, experts have cited the urgent need for supply chains to adapt and get better. In 2005, Paul Michelman via the Harvard Business Review wrote:
“Threats to your supply chain, and therefore to your company, abound—natural disasters, accidents, and intentional disruptions—their likelihood and consequences heightened by long, global supply chains, ever-shrinking product lifecycles, and volatile and unpredictable markets.”
Fifteen (15) years later, amid a pandemic that has wreaked economic havoc, executives are hearing the need even louder. Supply chains must become resilient and robust in a new normal of constant disruption. Supply chains must change.
Experts have urged enterprises to map their supply chains, identify risks, review their networks, and innovate via technologies such as robotics and automation. But what does an enterprise do when it’s got the maps, identified the risks, and has the network review results? How does an enterprise innovate via technologies?
We cannot just manage supply chains to make them better. We need to build them.
It’s like a house. When we manage our houses, we do things like fix a leaky roof, replace lightbulbs, and unclog drain pipes. But we can only do things ourselves up to a certain extent.
When the job gets too big to handle, we seek experts. Civil engineers help us replace the roofs and retrofit the foundations. Electrical engineers help re-wire our electrical circuits.
The analogy applies for supply chains as well. We can manage supply chains only so much. When we need to make significant improvements, when we can no longer just manage them, when we need to rebuild them, we’d seek engineering help. The most qualified to do so are Industrial Engineers (IEs), or more specifically, Supply Chain Engineers (SCEs).
How can SCEs help rebuild our supply chains?
The following are examples:
- Developing the Digital Supply Chain.
With the advent of Industry 4.0, enterprises, more than ever, are investing in new technologies that marry data and process productivity. SCE’s can help enterprises implement state-of-the-art technologies into their supply chains which will provide the means towards real-time operations visibility and automated process improvement.
- Setting Up Flexible Manufacturing Systems (FMS)
SCE’s can help integrate flexible manufacturing systems (FMS) into supply chains. FMS is an alternative to traditional production systems in that it focuses on short-run small-lot-size manufacturing versus long continuous mass production. SCE’s can build in flexible systems into supply chains via integration with logistics, production planning, and procurement.
- Improving Inbound & Outbound Logistics
Supply chain engineers can streamline the flow of goods coming into and out of storage facilities. They can identify and ubblock bottlenecks, and recommend how manpower and facilities should be laid out such that merchandise can flow continuously and smoothly. SCE’s can also study the economics of procurement and delivery practices that underlie their impacts on logistics flow.
- Simplifying Storage & Handling
Storage and handling are very high on the list of many supply chain managers’ preoccupations. Enterprise executives don’t like them because they connote cost and they’re seen as not adding value. But with the SCE’s help, enterprises can turn them into the assets they really are.
- Tuning Up Transportation’s Last-Mile Productivity
SCE’s can offer options that would boost the productivity of last-mile freight deliveries and services. These include recommending changes in transportation structure, improving route planning & scheduling, and balancing loads maximisation with delivery turnarounds.
- Perfecting Order Fulfilment
SCE’s can come up with order fulfilment systems that seamlessly connect anticipated customer demand with available-to-promise (ATP) inventories. The goal is perfect orders: deliveries that meet 100% of customers’ service requirements 100% of the time.
- Factoring the Worker in the Workplace
Enterprises want efficiency but need to be mindful of the welfare of their workers. Popularly known as ergonomics, SCE’s apply human factors engineering to improve labour productivity by adopting the workplace to the person, rather than adopting the person to the workplace.
- Re-Implementing Total Quality
It’s an old buzzword from a bygone era, but Total Quality still serves as an applicable approach to ensuring supply chains deliver what they’re supposed to. SCE’s provide the in-depth tools and means to make sure processes work right the first time.
- Re-Defining Cost Engineering
To many enterprises, it’s a glorified clerical function that estimates job expenses and checks the billings from vendors and contractors. But it’s more than that and SCE’s can show how cost engineering can not only tame the expenses but also provide competitive value for supply chains.
- Pruning the Value Stream
Value-Stream Mapping (VSM) is the basic tool of Lean, and it tells us where the non-value added and value-added activities are. SCE’s show how to optimise the value stream after we know the results of VSM.
Enterprise executives have heard the need to reform their supply chains. But they can do only so much managing them. Enterprises would need the assistance of Supply Chain Engineers to build in better structures and systems.
The ten (10) examples described above illustrate how SCE’s can help enterprises change their supply chains for the better. And given the ever increasing clamour for change in these challenging times, we could use all the help we can get.