The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry—and nowhere is that more true in the worlds of manufacturing and supply chain management. Sometimes it seems like even the most visible and adaptable supply stream is always one disruption away from chaos. For production planners in particular, you’re constantly battling the risk that new, unexpected orders will come in and you won’t know how to slot them into your existing flows, or that a machine on your production floor will break down and bring your whole operation grinding to a halt. To some extent, occurrences like these are just a fact of life. But that doesn’t mean planners can’t work to prevent them, just as it doesn’t mean that planners can’t work to gain more value from the processes that are already working smoothly.
Picture a scenario in the near future: you’re driving down a long stretch of highway between your home and a vacation destination a few hours away, when all of a sudden your car gives you an alert suggesting that you pull over and wait for assistance. You’re confused, and maybe a little annoyed, but you know that if your car’s sensors are going off there’s probably a real issue at hand. Luckily, your car didn’t just alert you that something was amiss—it also alerted a nearby garage, giving a detailed account of which parts the issue affected. Thus, within five minutes a repairman pulls up beside your car.
Topics: Automotive Industry
A few years ago, three days was considered a reasonably quick shipping turnaround. Today, for many consumers three days is considered glacial, two days is considered standard, and only shipping times shorter than one day really count as fast. These changing expectations have put numerous businesses, from manufacturers to logistics providers, in a position to either optimize their transport processes for greater efficiency or cede transportation management as a competitive advantage. The latter is obviously not something that any business really wants, but the former can be a tall order.
Let’s talk about Sherlock Holmes for a second. When you think of this famous English detective, a few things probably come to mind: his iconic deerstalker cap, maybe his pipe or his violin, and his magnifying glass—that critical tool for finding clues that Scotland Yard might have missed. Though Holmes was a fictional construct, sprung from the mind of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the method he employed in his stories and novels actually had a real-world impact on how detective work and criminal investigations were conducted in the 20th century.
How many of you reading this remember the skepticism that came with the release of Apple’s first iPad? It may seem strange now, given how ubiquitous these pieces of technology have proven to be, but there were plenty of detractors of this early tablet: was it just a large iPhone that couldn’t make phone calls? Or a tiny MacBook without a keyboard? What was the point, and who would gain any real value from such a thing? Nowadays, those objections seem misguided. Why? Because we’ve seen the ways in which iPads and similar tablets have transformed numerous processes across various industries, starting with Apple’s own stores: instead of cash registers at the ends of individual checkout lines, Apple sales and support staff use iPads not just to ring up completed transactions, but to check in customers for their appointments and gather additional data about their needs or issues.
One of the explicit goals of Industry 4.0 in the long run is to empower autonomous machine decision making within production processes. This is a lofty goal—requiring highly visible and highly legible data streams combined with AI or machine learning integration—but it does have the potential to add considerable value to supply chain management processes. How does it do so? By freeing up human decision making capacity for larger-scale choices, and by automating the process by which data is turned into action—i.e. creating an implicit set of procedures for different situations that might emerge on the factory floor. In this way, manufacturers can build new efficiencies into their existing processes and drive towards an increasingly optimized supply chain.
Supply chain management can often be a stressful task, sure, but so can planning a successful potluck. You often don’t know in advance who’s going to bring what dish to your event, which means that any meal-planning you do on your end is essentially guesswork. Though it’s not likely, you could end up with a party where everyone independently decided to bring potato salad, and no one brought any main dishes or desserts. Luckily, in the 21st century, there’s an app for that: party planners can let attendees specify what they plan to bring in advance, and that information can be displayed in real-time for other attendees who are still deciding. In this way, party planners reduce the likelihood of too many repeat items, while putting themselves in a position to fill in any gaps that may arise.
If you work in supply chain management or manufacturing, you probably hear the words “agile” and “lean” thrown around a lot. Both of them seem to be good things, and they both appear to be ways of cutting costs and improving operations, but beyond that one sometimes feels like they’re being used interchangeably. To make matters worse, both terms seem to have been coopted by the tech industry, making it harder than ever to figure out what each of these terms actually means in an industrial context.
Topics: Lean Manufacturing
Most businesses in the manufacturing sphere have some form of sales and operations planning (S&OP) workflow that covers the monthly or quarterly timetable that’s often left unplanned in longer term business goals. In the Industry 4.0 era, a newer, even more granular level of planning has emerged to supplement S&OP by covering the daily, weekly, and monthly supply chain activities that might otherwise go without any cohesive planning structure. The name of this new level of planning? Sales and operations execution, or S&OE.
When Henry Ford introduced the assembly line into auto manufacturing, he changed the nature of the industry forever. What people sometimes don’t consider is that that revolution sparked a subsequent revolution in distribution and logistics. As cars became less expensive and more widely used, they quickly became the preferred method for transporting goods between producers and consumers. In turn, the introduction of automobiles into the distribution of materials changed the nature of auto manufacturing once again. How? By offering new avenues through which to source raw materials, resulting in new efficiencies in the manufacturing process.
Topics: Logistics 4.0