Well-structured businesses like to predict everything: supply, demand, distribution, costs, revenues, schedules, staff needs, market changes, the works. The more powerful the company’s crystal ball is – and the better they are at responding to these forecasts – the more business benefits they can reap from forming an accurate view of the future: lower inventory costs (acquisition, storage, obsolescence), consistency in matching production to demand and delivery of the highest quality products across the entire manufacturing landscape.
These forecasts are extremely complicated. Mastering that complexity with the help of technology is a multi-billion dollar industry, with disciplines that span dozens of fields.
But if there’s one thing tough to predict it’s this:
Lately, the supply chain connecting the US to Mexico has been a disaster. The Mexican railroad has been disrupted due to hurricanes; rains have flooded the border crossing at Laredo Texas. The weather can take your delicately laid plans and float them down a river, literally.
The weather is so complex that the world’s leading intellectual minds can’t find ways to create reliable weather predictions more than a few days in advance. Most mathematical theory behind weather predictions recognizes there are factors that cannot be measured or accounted for. So if decades of mathematicians, meteorologists and technologists haven’t figured it out, it might be out of your league too.
Instead, you can prepare for unexpected disruptions in a way that allows you to minimize the potential impact to your customers while reducing your risk. The key is having real-time visibility and control of your manufacturing and supply chain operations. The sooner you have visibility to your shipment “floating down the river,” the sooner you can take control of the situation by executing alternative transportation or sourcing plans.
But even after you have secured the flow of inbound material to your plant and outbound finished goods to your customer, there are a lot of other potential problems that can remain hidden for a long time. Let’s now take a closer look at two examples of how best-in-class manufacturers can reduce their risk when managing the unexpected consequences arising from unplanned events.
Not every weather condition challenge is a natural disaster. Humidity is one of our most formidable weather conditions. It can negatively impact your products through sub-standard components from your supplier or be driven from within your own operations, such as coating and painting processes. By utilizing an inline Statistical Process Control (SPC) tool embedded within your production processes, you can be alerted immediately if test results start to trend up or down or even violate pre-established control parameters, indicating potentially serious production anomalies in your manufacturing process.
These results can drive specific actions within your manufacturing execution solution; from simple problem alarming and alerting to diversion of the product to Quality Inspection labs or alternative re-work operations. In fact, a study by Deloitte discovered that “microclimates” not only occurred between the front and back of an individual refrigerated trailer, but also within stacks of pallets. In one test, the bottom pallets in the middle of the trailer experienced a nearly seven degree temperature variation.
Traceability and Containment
The impact of weather on materials and components may not be readily noticeable until after end-products have been manufactured, possibly even shipped to customers. To protect their operations and reputation from harm, best-in-class manufacturers will typically deploy strong traceability systems in their plants. The best-in-class will utilize interlocking traceability, providing the ability to identify part / component / assembly relationships AND any number of associated process-related variables such as torque setting, operator id, pressure and temperature measures, etc.
Comprehensive traceability at this level of detail is a critical element in the identification of operational issues. Increasingly, best-in-class manufacturers will combine interlocking traceability with advanced defect containment processes to identify, isolate and hold in place all suspected defective material or components within the plant, supply chain and distribution chain. When applied across a complete global manufacturing network, the results can be quite dramatic. For example, an automotive manufacturer recently had a situation whereby approximately 70,000 parts were found to be defective across the entire supply chain. A similar situation occurred a few years back, which took 3 months to identify and resolve, and involved thousands of unplanned labor hours. With a comprehensive traceability and containment solution in place, a similar defective part situation of roughly the same size was resolved in less than a day with no additional labor hours needed. That’s how one best-in-class manufacturer is protecting their reputation.
As much as we might like to think we can control the world around us or have perfect visibility into the future through a crystal ball – you simply can’t control the weather, nor can you accurately predict weather conditions more than a day or two in the future. The next best thing is to have a highly responsive manufacturing operations and supply chain system that is capable of near-instant response to unexpected events, providing you with complete visibility and control of your manufacturing operations when weather or other unexpected disruptions occur.