It is human nature to try and poke holes or find faults with an industry leader. The benefits of expanding market share are typically offset by greater scrutiny of every action, stumble or potential public relations snafu. This has just been the case with Apple. According to a Wall Street Journal article, Sharp, a major supplier of liquid crystal displays to Apple, had planned to start shipping iPhone screens by the end of August, but mass production has been delayed in part by manufacturing difficulties. It remains unclear when the company can start shipping the LCD panels.
This is the type of production challenge that many manufacturers face, especially when launching a new product with complex, innovative technology.
After reading about this story last week, a couple of thoughts came to mind. First, good move by Apple to have three different suppliers lined up to produce this critical part to their upcoming new product introduction. If ever there was needed a reminder of the importance of having multiple suppliers involved with your manufacturing operations, here is a textbook case of why this is a best practice. Second, I am sure there are several process reviews currently underway with Apple seeking to extract greater visibility into their supplier’s operations, to see if they can help or assist with what is necessary to overcome this production delay. At this point, it is a win-win if Sharp can collaborate with Apple to jointly solve this most pressing matter. Third, Apple may now have to shift some of their production to different factories, based on this possible supplier disruption. I am sure they will want to defer this decision to the last possible moment, pointing to the incredible importance of manufacturing agility and being able to make quick scheduling and production decisions at the last minute.
Most importantly, this situation highlights the value of manufacturing intelligence. Right now, I am sure that Sharp is carefully reviewing all of the production specifications, analytics and other manufacturing data that they can get their hands on; with the objective of understanding what part of their production process needs to be addressed. The value of this data is probably approaching an infinite level, given the fact that solving this problem in a timely manner will make Sharp’s business relationship with Apple go a whole lot better than if the opposite occurs! Here is where Sharp needs to have real-time access to not only their manufacturing intelligence, but to the processes that comprise their production activities, so as to have access to all the necessary data to solve this most pressing need.
With regards to the publicity surrounding the iPhone 5 launch, one thing is for sure – there will certainly be pointed questions about the impact of this production challenge, which will undoubtedly cast somewhat of a shadow over the exciting news about what new features and functionality will now be possible with this next generation iPhone from Apple. This brings me to my final observation – the potential for impacting brand-integrity. With this much attention on your brand, manufacturing practices and supplier relationships, the last thing you would want to experience is regret for not having made the appropriate investment in your systems to address this type of situation. Public expectations for world class manufacturers are flawless execution on product launches. Anything less and public opinion and perception of your brand might be at risk. At what cost is it worth risking not using a state-of-the-art intelligence solution capable of addressing any of the often random acts or disruptions that are so much a part of manufacturing?