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There have been a significant number of articles written recently about the breakdown of the global supply chain. It is obvious to me that these people sure don’t work in it. Resilient, resourceful, and always up to the challenge, the supply chain customers we have and others we have seen and heard from are dealing with demand unprecedented in today’s common market. Covid-19 changed how consumers bought consumable products. Of course there were shortages, but the companies that help run the supply chains (3PLs, 4PL’s) and companies that have their own warehouses and delivery systems, stepped up and put all hands on deck to ensure shortages were, in fact, short term, and that critical lifelines of medical supplies, food and other goods were flowing fast and efficiently. Manufacturers retooled their lines to make PPE - face guards, masks, and ventilators while beer companies started making hand sanitizer and any company that could help, did help. It doesn’t sound like anything is broken to me.
Sure, we have been lulled into expecting everything we want, delivered same day in the amount, color, and size we require. That alone shows the incredible capability and strength of the supply chain. When a wave of unprecedented demand hits, even the best companies that have invested in the highest quality technology can only run 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The best companies use circumstances like these (or similar to them) to foster, investigate and invest in innovative technologies to meet the future challenge based on new experience. The supply chain and logistics arena has so many technical firsts, they are hard to keep track of, including technology such as bar code scanners, mobile voice automation, conveyers, robotics as well as integrated order and inventory management, communications, tracking and delivery, and the list goes on and on. Challenges like today are just another step in the evolution of the supply chain. This behavior is not new, it is standard operating procedure. Nothing broken about that.
Has the reliance on China as a manufacturer of key medical supplies and devices come into question? You bet. All of a sudden, the cheapest price to build took a back seat to controlling production, where products were earmarked for shipment and quality became life threatening issues. Inexpensive to make became secondary to ramping-up higher density productivity and smoother, highly productive processes. Most of the key players we work with have spent thousands of man hours evaluating software applications and technology solutions measuring potential ROI calculations on robotics, promoting improvements in the supply chain to provide the best service, support and products possible. Newer analysis will include high density delivery of critical food, medical supplies, the ability to retool quickly in the event of another pandemic as well as ensure control over where, when and how much can be supported, manufactured and delivered in a very short period of time.
Most importantly, the people working on the floor, the folks supporting them and everyone up and down the org chart in these companies are working diligently to make everything happen. I have always been so impressed with the intellectual capacity of these companies dealing with multiple product sets, multiple customers, changing tastes, increased visibility, a technology that evolves at the speed of right now, fiscally responsible spending (your saving another 12% this year right?) and a workforce that currently is one of the highest with respect to turnover we have ever seen. What has occurred during this challenging time is a newfound respect for the supply chain and the companies that make it go…these companies are technology companies, they lead. These companies are process driven companies. These companies make other industries look like they are running in the slow lane.
Are there problems, sure. Now more than ever there just aren’t enough people to work the floors. Are some just working so darn hard that there may be consequences and repercussions, yeah. But these are unprecedented times and there is an all hands-on deck mentality prevailing through companies that have a documented history of treating their employees properly, and there are a lot more of those out there than not. These are new circumstances, requiring doubled down efforts. And the supply chain up and down the line is coming through for all of us unbelievably well.
A broken supply chain? Seriously? No. It’s not perfect, no one saw this coming, but no industry was more prepared, with constant improvement initiatives, evolutionary thinking and process evolution than the supply chain. There is plenty of food, water and supplies to get us through this. So, from me, a huge thank you to all those supply chain professionals who are making this entire situation so manageable by being so well prepared.