Supply Chain Resilience: Lessons from Recent Challenges

For most people, the COVID-19 pandemic hit in earnest in March 2020. That’s when organizers started modifying or canceling their events, governments initiated steps to mitigate the spread of the virus, and it was clear we were facing a significant crisis. Depending on your frame of reference and experience with the pandemic, it can feel like it occurred long ago, or you bought your first mask just the other day.

From a business perspective, most companies today are past the worst of the supply chain disruptions and their crippling effects. While little about the pandemic or supply chain problems can be considered “good,” some aspects could at least be labeled “instructive.” One is that the pandemic exposed just how fragile our supply chains are.

Given the historical lack of issues, it was easy for manufacturing companies before the events that began in 2020 to assume that the raw materials, parts, and components needed to produce their products would continue arriving on time indefinitely. That assumption evaporated for companies the first time they heard from a supplier saying their shipment would be delayed for an unknown period. The mad scramble to find an alternative supplier, contact customers, and take other actions to address this shocking scenario was stressful for procurement professionals and painful for company owners.

Manufacturers who survived those challenging times are wiser now. They know how to insulate their operations from the effects of potential future supply chain disruptions.

This article addresses issues related to supply chain resilience — another term few had heard of five years ago — including the impact of supply shortages, general tips for creating stronger supply chains, and how industrial manipulators help manufacturers operate with increased resilience.

How Supply Chain Disruptions Affect Manufacturers and Others

When people think about the consequences of supply chain disruptions, they often picture stalled production lines, idle workers, and stressed managers. However, that snapshot is just a fraction of the full panoramic picture, which also includes the following:

  • Increased costs. Competition is typically fierce for resources that are suddenly scarce, and the law of supply and demand says that prices will rise, often suddenly and dramatically.
  • Service delays. Production line downtime is ideal for servicing and repairing parts of it. Unfortunately, supply chain disruptions can also mean service providers don’t have the necessary materials to complete the required work.
  • Lost customers. Some loyal customers may wait out supply chain issues that delay their orders, but many will not. They face customer demands and are under the same pressures that the manufacturer is experiencing to meet them.
  • Employee frustration. Not having all the resources needed to do your job but being expected to find a way to do it anyway can be very frustrating for a company’s workforce.
  • Labor shortages. If a supply chain disruption drags on, employees may leave, seeking work with companies unaffected by the problem.
  • Damaged reputation. A company’s reputation is a valuable asset that can have an immeasurable positive effect on its market. Failing to handle a supply chain disruption effectively can have an equally incalculable negative impact on how people view a manufacturer.
  • Lost business opportunities. Imagine that a prospective customer says, “We like what we’ve learned about your company and want to place an order. How soon can you deliver it?” and you respond, “That’s unclear, as we’re currently unable to get the materials we need due to a supply chain disruption.” That prospect will likely take their business elsewhere.

So, supply chain resilience is essential in preventing several issues that can damage a company.

Tips for Developing Robust Supply Lines

Ensuring your manufacturing business has uninterrupted access to supplies requires a multi-pronged strategy, including some or all of the following:

  • Supply chain diversification. Over-reliance on a single source for raw materials or components leaves manufacturers vulnerable. Diversifying suppliers across different regions can mitigate risk.
  • Nearshoring and onshoring. Companies are reassessing their global supply chains and considering bringing production closer to home (onshoring) or to neighboring countries (nearshoring). This approach can reduce dependence on long-distance transportation and potential disruptions.
  • Inventory optimization. Finding that sweet spot between minimal and adequate inventory levels is crucial. Investing in technology that provides real-time data and accurate forecasting can help manufacturers optimize inventory management.
  • Collaboration and data sharing. Closer collaboration with suppliers and distributors can create a more transparent supply chain. Sharing real-time data on inventory levels and potential disruptions allows for better planning and proactive responses.
  • Investing in automation. Automating tasks can increase accuracy, reduce errors, and help a business get more from its resources. Industrial manipulators can play an essential role in this strategy (see below).

How Industrial Manipulators Support Resource Resiliency

Despite a manufacturing company’s best efforts to prevent supply chain disruptions, they can still occur. In that case, lift-assist devices, material handling equipment, and other industrial manipulators help minimize the impact of a lack of materials, labor shortages, and other problems.

They do that in several ways, including:

  • Quality control. Manufacturers can program industrial manipulators to perform consistent and precise tasks, contributing to improved product quality and reduced waste.
  • Flexibility and adaptability. Industrial manipulators are increasingly versatile and can be deployed to handle a wide variety of tasks. This allows manufacturers to adapt production lines quickly in response to changes in demand or resource availability.
  • Increased efficiency and productivity. These systems can automate repetitive tasks with precision and speed, allowing human workers to focus on higher-value activities. This can help manufacturers maintain production levels even with labor shortages.
  • Improved safety. Of course, worker injuries are bad for those experiencing them, but they can also worsen labor-related challenges for the company. Industrial manipulators can help to create a safer work environment and prevent injuries.
  • Accelerated output: Manipulators can operate for extended periods with minimal maintenance downtime. That capability can help manufacturers address backlogs when the disruption is resolved.

These advantages are essential in the face of supply chain disruptions but also benefit companies when supplies flow freely.

Take Action Now to Shield Your Business From Unexpected Threats

After an event like the pandemic has subsided, it’s tempting for businesses (and people in general) to think, “We should be in the clear for a while. After all, how likely are we to encounter another pandemic soon?”

There are multiple problems with that mindset. First, a virus can mutate overnight and cover the globe in weeks, if not days, in today’s connected world. We hope another pandemic isn’t on the horizon, but there’s no way to be certain. Second, a contagious disease is just one of many issues that can slow or stop supply lines.

Who would have thought that a container ship could become lodged in the Suez Canal and stay there for six days, blocking traffic and adversely impacting the flow of goods in the region and, by extension, worldwide? That issue in March 2021 created ripples felt many months after the ship was freed. People might have had a similar “What are the odds?” mentality about a cargo vessel losing power and steering, crashing into a bridge, and bringing it down. However, recent events affecting the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore proved that the nearly unthinkable can happen.

So, the time to assess and strengthen your supply chains is now. When a new illness is making headlines or a vital piece of transportation infrastructure has been damaged, it’s essentially too late to respond effectively. All you can do at that point is make frantic phone calls and send emails, hoping your business doesn’t take the brunt of the issue.

Fortunately, manufacturing companies that survived the pandemic and have been watching the news now understand that they can’t take the availability of supplies for granted. They’re increasingly adopting a proactive stance regarding their supply chains.

Final Thoughts

Recent supply chain disruptions have exposed vulnerabilities in global manufacturing. However, they have also served as catalysts for innovation and adaptation. Manufacturers can build resilience and navigate future disruptions more effectively by implementing proactive strategies such as supply chain diversification, inventory optimization, and automation.

With their versatility and wide-ranging capabilities, industrial manipulators will undoubtedly play a significant role in supporting a more resilient and adaptable manufacturing landscape. However, that’s just one benefit of these systems. Increased productivity, improved worker safety, and several others make lift-assist devices, material handling systems, and other industrial manipulators a wise investment for every manufacturer.

Working with a company like Dalmec is also a good idea. We have a portfolio of products and deep expertise across many industries helping companies determine the best ways to deploy these systems and meet their business goals.

We’re more than a supplier of industrial manipulators. Our experts get to know a customer’s business and genuinely care about their objectives. That immersion enables them to serve as partners and advisors on their automation initiatives. Customers find it reassuring to know that we’ve “got their back” in good times and challenging ones, and when resources are flowing smoothly, or supply chain disruptions are creating potential pitfalls.

Contact us today to learn more about how industrial manipulators can help your manufacturing business operate more effectively and enhance its supply chain resilience!

Related posts

  • Published On: May 21, 2024
    Building a Culture of Safety: The Role of Industrial Manipulators in Accident Prevention
  • Published On: May 21, 2024
    Why Investing in New Lifting Equipment Is Investing in the Future
  • Published On: April 17, 2024
    The Impact of Lean Manufacturing Principles on Efficiency