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The answer to your supply chain disruption could lie just outside the box

Richard Spears

Brexit, the pandemic, the Russian invasion in Ukraine, and rocketing transport, energy and raw material costs have become ingredients to a disruptive cocktail of supply chain pains, putting a bad taste in the mouths of every manufacturer. It’s no wonder that so many consider these pains as circumstances out of their control.

The new era of supply chain volatility has hit machinery and equipment manufacturers hard with a broad range of disruptions, from material shortages and price fluctuations to suppliers going bankrupt.

There is no magic ticket out of the mess, but it is a time when businesses with the ability to think outside the box will stand better ground and be better prepared when disruption eventually lifts.

PP C&A has decades of experience in supply chain modelling and strategic purchasing techniques, coupled with a comprehensive global network of supply partners – this experience has never been more valuable.

A successful outsourcing partnership can open the door to better optimisation and supply chain robustness and reliance, even with the combined disruption of these seismic events.

PP C&A has worked closely with several OEMs to prove exactly this – there is opportunity, with the right resources and abilities to think creatively, to navigate the landscape and outperform your competition.

Here are two examples of inventive thinking around a universal problem.

An engineering collaboration and re-design with greatly increased security of supply

PP C&A has been working with a global machine tool builder for close to 30 years. As the years have gone by, the relationship between the two businesses has become more interlinked, with PP C&A increasingly being asked to be involved in the design stage of new machine builds to support ‘Design for Manufacture (DFM)’ and understand how more specification can be added easily to new models.

This collaborative approach lay the foundations to solving a new problem – a continuous supply chain disruption. One part of a machine build in particular, that of a specific design protection system, was subject to shifting delivery schedules and the issue had the potential to disturb build and lead times in a serious manner.

The biggest issue afoot was the fact that only one supplier was the source of the design protection system, but this supplier couldn’t satisfy the demand and so the issue of its supply was out of the customer’s hands.

Supply chain modelling and successful optimisation relies on robustness. In this case, the strategy wasn’t robust enough – how can PP C&A work closely with its customer to build resilience and put the situation back in its hands?

Engineers from both businesses began working together on engineering a design solution that could unlock the use of multiple component suppliers instead of one.

The answer to your supply chain disruption could lie just outside the box » pp 2017 1 1 » PP Control & Automation

Engineers looked at how a new solution could be designed to fit the existing cabinet, paying close attention to mechanical layouts and the availability of alternative and like-for-like parts from trusted supply networks. These parts could then be mixed and matched as directed, building a hybrid supply chain with access to a wealth of options, and no compromise on quality.

It took PP C&A just three months to help develop the re-designed protection system and stock shelves with its newly defined components, ready to build on demand.

If engineers at PP C&A hadn’t recognised that this problem could be a continuous one, and engaged with its customer early on, it would still be an issue today, over a year on.

Even if that disruption does eventually lift, the machine tool builder will likely never look back. The solution is more optimised than ever, mitigates serious risk and provides long-term security. It has become so well received that the solution is now being rolled out to other machines within the range.

Alternate technologies bypass electronics market constraints

A long-standing customer in the packaging equipment market for food applications was suffering from a large degree of risk and supply chain concern.

With shortages on specific power supplies, a range of machines was facing build disruptions. In the short-term, alternative ‘off the shelf’ power supplies could be sourced and swapped like-for-like but this solution was neglecting the bigger picture. It wouldn’t be long before those alternatives were also in short supply, as ultimately, they relied on the same electronic components.

When that appeared to be the case, PP C&A engineers reached out to its wider network of partners and invited a UK-based power supply design company to see if they could help develop four custom power supplies that could replace the existing ones but also appease the component supply disruptions that were drying up production of the originals and now the alternatives.

“PSU Designs has very substantial design and development resource at its UK factory in the Midlands and having looked at the specifications relating to the required power supplies and following discussion between all three parties, commitment was made to undertake rapid development and to launch four replacement models into production.”

Nick Arkell
Managing Director, PSU Designs Ltd
The answer to your supply chain disruption could lie just outside the box » IMG 0579 2000px edit » PP Control & Automation

The answer was yes, and the solution a simple but clever one. They would redesign the four power supplies using more traditional analogue technology, where components were more readily available. It removed the current constraints in the electronics market, effectively creating a disruption-proof solution for the machine builder. Nick Arkell, Managing Director for PSU Designs Ltd comments:

“Having a vast wealth of available circuits, designs and products it was possible to develop new models at speed, with no risk to performance or reliability. Using a patchwork of products and technologies already at its disposal, PSU made it possible to produce the required replacements in a total timescale of 10 weeks.”

The solution will be used long-term and having a UK-based supplier on short lead times makes sense and manages risk. Nick continued:

“All three companies are within an approximate 10 mile radius of one another and so this three-way partnership was able to solve the shortage of power supplies, help secure local jobs and indeed has created jobs at PSU Designs, manufacturing product that was previously sourced elsewhere.

“PSU Designs Ltd supports and believes passionately in local partnerships, wherever possible, and looks forward to the relationship becoming a long-term and mutually beneficial one.”

This particular supply chain headache actually became a blessing in disguise for the machine builder and an excellent example of how you can turn disruption into opportunity. The new solution highlighted improvements for a more optimised design for manufacture compared to the original power supply. This optimised design gave the machine builder the confidence to accelerate a planned production ‘ramp up’ in order to meet a strong order book.

Appeasing short- to medium-term pains and seeing the bigger picture

Supply chain disruption will be here for some time yet, particularly around the electronics industry where long lead times and shortages are forecast to remain well into 2023 – perhaps longer.

When we do see supply chain constraints easing, then the focus will quickly move to the ability to scale at speed and meet customer demands.

A resilient and robust supply chain model that identifies and mitigates risk, coupled with key partnerships with companies that can support growth ambitions in a long-term strategic manner is clearly the answer.

Even some mitigation is better than none at all, but there may also be situations like those presented here, which actually turn disruption into opportunity and help develop long-term strategic choices.

It takes collaboration, exemplary engineering, and creative thinking to overcome the challenges, but with an outsourcing partner like PP C&A, machine builders have access to that in abundance.

Also see

Resilience: a book about supply chain disruption

This book collects a series of published content on the topic of supply chain disruption, including this story and others from leading voices at PP Control & Automation and the wider UK manufacturing community. It details not just the disruption at play, but also the opportunity to break the cycle and take back control. Together, we’ll come out the other side buoyant with greater resilience than ever before.

The answer to your supply chain disruption could lie just outside the box » Feature images resilience book large » PP Control & Automation

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