It Only Takes One: Lessons in Supply Chain Management

By Becky Ferrell

As a seasoned Supply Chain / Manufacturing professional, I know the work required to simultaneously launch a new product while maintaining production of existing ones.  I also know the turmoil created when something goes wrong or not on schedule.


Viability of External Partners

The work inside the factory is non-stop.  And the list of activities to “make it happen seamlessly” seems unending: engineering, material flow, part presentation, part replenishment systems, support for the operator, 5-S, rework plans, quality plans, etc. etc. etc. With all this focus on internal activities, the need to ensure the viability of external partners, specifically your suppliers, must not be forgotten.

Whether your product has 7 suppliers or 70, it just takes just ONE to potentially interrupt the flow of the operation. And chances are, when that happens, you may not know which one until that call comes in, and it’s too late.


Product Launch Interruption

A particular product launch comes to mind when I was the Supply Chain manager at one critical supply facility, and a good friend was the manager at another supply facility.  Both facilities were feeling the stress of launching this new product, and neither wanted to impact the assembly work at our customer plant.  As such, there were daily, and sometimes hourly, phone calls to assess the manufacturing processes, quality status, and material shipments.

Unfortunately, one Friday morning as I was hanging up from one of the status calls, I heard a knock at my office door.  Bill, the plant manager, was standing there with a stricken look on his face. “We just lost part of the machining operation and are not going to be able to meet production requirements for about three hours. You’ll need to call them back and let them know we’re going to shut them down.”

He gave me the details of the machine breakdown and left me to make the call.  I already had current inventory numbers, both on-hand (not many) and in-transit (partial schedule) to my customer.  Armed with that and the information regarding machine status, I prepared myself mentally for the inevitable interrogation that I knew would ensue.  This was not going to be pleasant. As I lifted the phone, my general supervisor entered my office…

Supervisor: “Did you hear?!”

Me: “About the machine breakdown?  Yeah, I’m getting ready to make the call.”

Supervisor: “NO, WAIT!  You didn’t hear about the logistics incident with our sister plant?!”

Me: “Uh, no…what incident?”

Supervisor: “Evidently their trailer was not loaded properly, and as it made the curve on the expressway entrance ramp, the load shifted and it blew out the entire side of the trailer. There are parts all over the median, and they’re going to shut-down our customer until Monday!”


Supply Chain Resiliency

I dropped the phone and sat for a minute. I was silently commiserating with my friend who was making the call I thought I would have to make. Then I lifted the phone and promptly ordered a bouquet of flowers to be sent to her with the card reading, “Thanks for saving me!”

It only takes one…. ONE supplier….. ONE part. Most products can’t be built without all the parts on hand, and if a part can be added after assembly, that activity alone creates a massive amount of waste.

It only takes ONE piece of the puzzle to cause it ALL to tumble!


How are you monitoring your suppliers?  It’s not sufficient to ASSUME the suppliers will make their schedules or even give you an advanced heads-up to a potential interruption.  Have you set them up for success?  Do you have the personnel to help them avert a potential interruption?  Do they trust you enough to allow that help?


Monitor All Suppliers

“Yeah, but I’m watching my problem suppliers.” Here’s some food for thought: I recently worked with a supplier who was EXEMPLARY for 15 years.  Fifteen years… no behind schedules, no quality issues, nothing.  Then they switched material scheduling software suppliers and lost visibility of their in-transit material from ONE of their many plants; they were subsequently forced to shut down one of their customer’s assembly operations.

In short, it may not be a “problem” supplier that impacts you. Do you have the resources you need?  Are you surveying suppliers on a regular basis?


At HVM, our personnel are experienced professionals who have the tools and the capability to assess your suppliers, identifying problems before they impact your operations. In the wake of the economic hardships caused by Covid, many manufacturers eliminated Supplier Support Operations, and therefore can no longer assist suppliers when they run into issues. Let HVM help you ensure your component pipeline reliability.


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