Building redundancies into global supply chains

The FT takes a look at global supply chains in the wake of the recent tsunami:

In the past decade, many manufacturers have shifted component production to multiple contractors, often in low-wage Asian nations. This is to cut costs but it is also part of a general shift to slim operations and concentrate on what they regard as core areas, such as product development and marketing.

However, concurrent moves towards “lean production” – shaving inventories to the minimum and pushing parts through the system as fast as possible to cope with sudden variations in demand – have made supply chains increasingly susceptible to the kind of disruption seen in recent weeks in Japan…

“If all a manufacturer based in the US thinks about is unit costs, then it’s likely to have a global supply chain in which it transports components long distances [to a US assembly facility],” says Matthew Lovejoy, Acme’s president and owner. “But once you think about all the hidden costs that such complex chains involve, including disruptions in transport, the need to vary production to meet changes in your customers’ demands, plus the impact of unpredictable events like the Japan earthquake, then you realise these kinds of networks do not make sense.”

Accordingly, Mr Lovejoy has established three supply chains – each built around Acme’s three factories in Chicago, Brazil and Shenzhen, China. Each is largely autonomous but capable of supplying components to other parts of the business in the event of a sudden, localised disruption…

The lesson for industry from the Japanese disaster is that the consequences of such events on the global production system are always likely to be considerable. There are ways to reduce the sensitivity of supply chains to the effects of such incidents, through better planning and more distributed operations, but too few companies are taking advantage of them.

The whole article is worth reading. I previously mentioned this topic here.

Hat tip: Seb