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The future of the global supply chain

As business returns to normal, supply chain disruption remains a risk. A panel of industry experts debate the latest methods of managing–and modernizing–the process.

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What happens now? That was the million-dollar question posed to panelists at the recent ATMS conference on May 10 in Mississauga, Ontario. The group, including Kathy Bodnar, Director of IoT Transportation & Asset Management for Rogers for Business, gathered to discuss the current global supply chain model and offer options for more resilient and sustainable models. The panel used their collective experience to evaluate potential solutions and opportunities. As moderator Rahul Gangal explained, “A supply chain is as weak as its weakest link.”

Lessons from the semiconductor shortage

One of the most well-known victims of COVID-19 supply chain disruption is undoubtedly the semiconductor. The small processing chip is a key component of digital machinery and because it’s manufactured primarily in Asia, prolonged shutdowns and delays led to factory bottlenecks and a shortage that’s expected to last until 2024. Because of this, businesses are searching for new suppliers, revising schedules or even delaying product launches.

Is 3D printing the answer?

Panelist Jason Ball of Burloak Technologies is exploring a completely different avenue in his work with manufacturing and relies on 3D metal printing in a local Oakville, Ontario facility as an alternate to traditional part sourcing for aerospace, defense and advanced commercial companies. Of course, right now with costs and scalability, it’s not feasible for the method to completely replace the current system. Still, Ball argued that the process can be used to optimize parts and allow for the faster creation of prototypes and in the interim, compliment the traditional system.

Can a supply chain be localized?

The group also discussed the inherent disadvantage of a global supply chain in terms of shipping delays. “Putting component manufacturing close to where its required eliminates a ton of cost,” explained Ball. But is that realistic? At the moment, there is significant investment in fabrication plans in the US, but the short-term crisis with semiconductors is still very apparent. “This takes years of effort. It’s not just the actual manufacturing, you have to have the whole ecosystem of partners and suppliers as well,” said Sebastian Koper of Roland Berger.

Visibility: Using location data to your advantage

As Bodnar explained, at its core, the challenge with supply chain delays centres on visibility. If a business lacks real-time information on the status of their assets, they cannot adjust schedules, inform customers or find an alternate provider. The ambiguity leaves them in a stalled–and potentially costly–position. “The timeliness of shipments is one of the most important promises you can make to a customer,” said Bodnar.

In fact, this data can be used for more than just location tracking but can also be applied to decision making and produce a value-add for organizations. “With tracking technology, customers found they were able to compare the efficiency of different carriers and perform a cost-benefit analysis,” explained Bodnar. “They were also able to more effectively assess their existing solution. In one instance, a customer realized that despite paying for a direct flight for their supplies, they were actually taking three days to arrive and had two stopovers! This level of visibility would not be possible without implementing a supply chain visibility solution.”

Prioritization: Determine critical components to focus your efforts

Because businesses have multiple areas of focus, leaders need to define which assets are core to their operations and focus their efforts accordingly. “Think about an automobile which costs around $30,000 to build,” said Koper. “There’s a single component that may cost $3 but it’s very difficult to replace. Without the $3 part, that $30,000 car can’t be built.”

Data: The key to a resilient supply chain

Though supply chain challenges continue to affect Canadian businesses, the panel believes information and shared data is key to re-imagining the current model. “Supply chain visibility is so important,” said Bodnar. “Not only are you able to get a clear picture of where your shipment and supplies are, but you can also take actionable steps to mitigate any disruptions.” Gangal agreed. “There’s a saying: In God I trust, in data I believe!”

For more information on tracking and monitoring shipments, explore our asset management solutions. Watch our video to see our solutions in action.