June 26, 2014

If you’re not passionate about what you do, the chances are you’re not going to do it nearly as well as your competitors.

That’s the main takeaway from Thom Campbell’s recent interview with The Future of Supply Chains, an excellent industry  analysis site written by Dustin Mattison.

Here’s the video from an insightful eight minute look at his background and what drives his work at Capacity LLC.

What it comes down to, in Thom’s words, is this:

“What really distinguishes a great provider from a good one is that passion for a client’s business and truly caring about what they do.”

Here are some of the main points he raises:

  • Supply chain partners have perhaps more impact on the success of another business than in any other industry. Often you are literally touching every product before it reaches the customer. 
  • Where others choose to compete on price and square footage, Capacity LLC is rooted in the belief that service starts with that dedication to your client. Learning about their products, industry and customers, and aligning your operations to strive for the same business goals.
  • The people and stories behind their success are what inspired Thom to make the move from finance to supply chain management. His 15 year career in the industry is built on great relationships and people, such as George Korres , whom he refers to in the video.
  • If you have a deep interest in supply chain management and care about a specific area already, you’re half way there in terms of a career in the field. Thom sees far more loyalty and dedication in this industry than anywhere else he has worked.

 

You can read the full transcript of Thom’s interview here.

Thanks again to Dustin and please let us know what you think about the points raised, either here in the comments or on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

April 22, 2014
English: Logging onto to a computer near the M...
Computer and MakerBot (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

3D printing holds a lot of promise and is heavily backed by investors, but only really came to wider media attention this year.

At the Consumer Electronics Show in January, pioneering companies like Makerbot and 3D Systems, Inc. showed off the vast potential for the technology.

 

The 3D Printing Impact on Supply Chain Management

What hasn’t been discussed quite as widely is just how 3D printing impacts the supply chain, not to mention the managers who must predict and adjust to such changes.

At first glance, 3D printing could easily be seen as a damaging development for existing warehouse and supply chain solutions.

The linear make, move, store and distribute model of the supply chain is clearly disrupted when the means of production can be purchased by anyone, for uses personal or professional. So doesn’t this technology bypass almost all of the traditional process?

 

The Current Limitations of 3D Printing

Not exactly. There are a number of limitations to consider before a game-changing technological breakthrough hits your supply chain. These include:

  • Early stage technology – For all the attention being paid to 3D printing, the products themselves are still limited and in the early adopter stage. The hallmarks of this stage are high cost and limited products, which prevent mass adoption. Realistically we have several years before this begins to change, so you have some time to ponder your company’s response!
  • Regulations – New technology is always (eventually) subject to new regulations that govern its use. Home manufacturing takes this to another level because of the ability to produce potentially dangerous items – guns, for example – and the uncertainty over operational safety. Even with 3D printers hitting the consumer market, lawmakers and industry watchdogs will be watching to ensure that safety standards are established and adhered to.
  • Liability – In a similar vein,  companies will need to ensure that any part they play in a 3D manufacturing process, whether providing hardware or the software and blueprints required to use it, is subject to liability insurance. This will be another new field to explore and draw up policies, adding to the many hurdles before providers can enter the 3D printing market.
  •  Quality – The types of product that can currently produced by 3D printers is wide but not so deep, meaning that everything from replacement parts to candy can be created, but not necessarily to the level of quality that consumers expect. The hype around the technology can easily overtake the reality of its current abilities, which again means more testing and transition time before runaway disruption occurs.
3D printed blue treefrogs in different layer t...
3D printed products: Intriguing but still early days (Photo credit: Creative Tools)

For the moment 3D printing is a promising technology with huge potential to disrupt the supply chain, but it will still take many years to realize that potential. The transition is likely to be far slower than the media portrays.

In short this means that supply chain managers should prepare for 3D printing, but not panic over it!

 

3D Printing and Supply Chain Integration

With those limitations acknowledged, it’s important to focus on the areas of the supply chain where 3D printing could have a more immediate impact.

A current favorite is towards low volume production, the scale of which tends to prohibit more extensive supply chain access by its very nature. A small crafts maker, for example, may not have access to a full warehouse assembly solution due to the size of its operation.

In this scenario, a smaller 3D printing solution will be worth the initial investment to produce small run volumes at a lower cost. The same company could employ the device to create basic packaging as well, making the  limited “in-house supply chain” a reality. At higher volumes this same company will currently struggle to keep up with demand, however, at which point they would probably need to move to more traditional high-volume supply chain solutions.

Prototyping and R&D will also be less costly for many companies. The ability to produce small scale test versions will have similar cost advantages to the example above, even when applied to larger organizations before they spend more on larger scale production.

Extending that idea, 3D printing could also be used to bridge smaller production problems at first – tough to obtain products or on-demand requirements, for example – which could actually boost existing supply chain’s ability to react. Think in terms of replacement parts or value-added production items integrated into existing areas of the supply chain, where the need to special order can sometimes cause a bottleneck. In this scenario, traditional production methods benefit substantially from the increased efficiency that the technology affords.

For the near future, 3D printing’s impact on the supply chain is likely to be limited to these low volume and targeted operational ends. This will inevitably expand in the years to come, however, so supply chain managers must understand the changes and be ready to react.

In future pieces we’ll be looking at specific industries and how 3D printing will impact supply chain logistics in those fields. Keep up with these updates by connecting with us on Facebook, Google+, or Twitter.

 

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April 8, 2014
English: Industrial robot for wood processing ...
Will the future of manufacturing be about more than just machinery? | Image Credit (Wikipedia)

Is it time to replace robots with humans?

No, that’s not a typing error, it’s a question that more and more companies seem to be asking, as the human side of manufacturing fights for focus in a world of automation.

It’s not just small-scale local artisans, either; mass-produced vehicle maker Toyota is also now considering the efficiency advantages of a larger skilled human workforce.

 

Man vs. Machine?

Although it’s tempting to pit one against the other (even if only for sci-fi fantasy reasons), the future is likely to be one that blends both the robotic and human side of manufacturing.

We wrote last month about it being only a matter of time before the limitations on commercial  drones are lifted. Combined with the promise of 3D printing technologies and the general trend towards automation for many decades, there are plenty of arguments for a machine-heavy future.

But the reality, as Toyota points out, is that efficient manufacturing requires the best of both worlds; human and machine working in sync.

There are two main reasons to return to a more balanced production process. For one, an over-reliance on automation drags human workers down to the level of the robotic parts of production, removing common sense and an ability to improvise.  At the moment – and probably the forseeable future – even the most advanced production systems can’t replicate the complex human reasoning that adjusts to assembly issues, fluctuating resources, or a thousand other complications that can arise.

Secondly, the drive for increased quality while remaining cost-effective efficiency is a concept that requires some input from knowledgeable, skilled human workers. When reviewing processes for long-term improvement that continues to pay back via better products and fewer defects, being able to call upon the expertise of those who do the job is vital.

Robots can’t yet offer flexible reporting or weigh all the alternatives, including the seemingly crazy ideas that often prove valuable. That takes an individual or team that not only knows the production process inside out, but who also have the skills and intelligence to devise and implement improvements.

 

Consumers Demand Quality

 

At the other end of the spectrum, there’s also the consumer perspective to consider.

A sizable segment of buyers is demanding a return to more verifiable production methods for a variety of reasons, including economic and ethical considerations. Whatever the drive behind the movement, there’s now room again for businesses to set themselves apart by their methods of manufacturing, rather than merely the cost that feeds in to the final price.

From this angle, companies can use their skilled human workers as a unique selling point. Our second point above becomes even more important, as the people involved in production are a visible, vital part of the marketing process, as well as the manufacturing.

Taken from either angle this demonstrates a sound basis for a return to not only human manufacturing, but also locally-made products. As we discussed last year, this might well help to fuel a wider ‘Made in the USA’ movement that creates more jobs and products closer to home. We certainly don’t want to rid ourselves of robots, but we’re always excited to see skilled people making a difference in the production process!

 

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December 18, 2013
Made in USA tag
Image Credit: Phil Roeder

There’s pride in that “Made in the U.S.A.” sign, and the reshoring trend is making U.S. businesses realize that there are advantages to sourcing products closer to home.

After decades of sending more and more manufacturing work to Asia – and particularly China – research on both sides of the Atlantic suggests that companies are reevaluating those decisions.

‘Reshoring’, the process of returning some previously offshored production  to a company’s home country, is beginning to take hold in not only the business world, but also the wider media.

Bringing Manufacturing Back Home

The stats support this notion, somewhat.

Across the pond in the United Kingdom, the Manufacturing Advisory Service (MAS) found that one in six U.K. manufacturers is bringing a proportion of its production home in 2013. Although quality and supply chain complexities factored into these decisions, the primary driver is, as always, cost. The massive expansion of the manufacturing business in popular Asian locations has permitted many suppliers to continuously nudge up their rates, helping to make domestic suppliers attractive again.

Back home on this side of the Atlantic, popular news segments such as ABC’s ‘Made in America’ mix with good old fashioned patriotism to encourage business owners big and small to think global but buy local. Domestic production has not widely reached a cost at which it can compete outright with countries like China and India, but reports suggest that the U.S. has already reached parity with neighbor Mexico, and could hit that status with its Chinese rivals as early as 2015. No mean feat for a supply chain proposition that would have received little attention just a few years ago.

Expectation vs. Reality

In reality, the dream of a resurgent U.S. manufacturing base is still some way from becoming a reality, as companies prefer to balance between domestic and foreign suppliers. This is a prudent supply chain decision that mitigates risk while managing fluctuating costs. Even so, the pendulum is undeniably swinging back in favor of U.S. suppliers.

In the longer term, public opinion and public officials may play a critical role in just how much business is brought back home. The realization that China is more of a competitor than a supplier these days has helped the movement gather steam, as had the desire of politicians to rekindle a sluggish economy.

If these factors continue to grow, and if consumers feel pride swelling within them and swaying them to buy American, reshoring could make “Made in the U.S.A.” a common sight once again. And as a proud American company, Capacity LLC will be happy to move those products to feed that demand!

 

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