Delivering global supply chain efficiency

The Manufacturer reports concerns and considerations surrounding the most effective ways of delivering global supply chain efficiency from TM’s latest Manufacturing Directors’ Forum Dinner.

What is the value of buying where you sell, and selling where you buy?

A big question in today’s global manufacturing landscape, and one that was raised by a number of senior manufacturing figures who attended the latest Manufacturing Directors’ Forum, hosted by The Manufacturer and Vodafone.

Today, the impact of supply chain automation is clear across different industries.
Supply chain challenges are increasingly being addressed by using internet communications.

Paul Calver, global value chains specialist at UKTI, set the scene for the evening as he delved into his experience in developing global supply chains across a variety of manufacturing sectors.

The seed of conversation was planted early on as Calver drew attention to the potential technology and the new industrial revolution had as a driving force of global supply chain efficiency and innovation moving forward.

“Industrie 4.0 is based on two real and now technologies – the Internet of things and the internet of services, both of which are wholly dependent on connectivity and communications,” he said.

“More and more the supply chain challenges we face today are being addressed using internet communications, big data and machine-to-machine interfaces.”

Bernard Waldron, director of manufacturing UK at MBDA Missile Systems voiced his concern that mass customisation was already becoming a large part of his company’s business model, but with it came a raft of challenges to ensure customer orders were met first time, every time.

“Our difficulty is that we are dealing with customisation; many variations on a theme of any one product at any one time,” Waldron said.

UKTI Supply Challenges“With so many levels of the product open to design, the layers of complicity continue to increase, low volumes of very complex solutions make it very challenging. Level of traceability is also vital with the need to exploit data.”

Though many concurred, Gareth Hankins from Renishaw countered Waldron’s want for data exploitation, asking whether overseas manufacturing put a firm’s IP at risk.

There was, however, general consensus that if companies were to protect and grow their market position, it would be wise to source from target economies, if not manufacture in them.

Although this still raised concerns for some.

“Often one of the biggest issues is sharing the actual manufacturing processes,” Hankins said.

“This naturally makes you nervous about what it is you are prepared to share, especially if low cost competitors are able to unlock your data.”

Calver responded, saying: “It’s about where you are and what you’re doing, your attitude for risk and how you perceive this overall rather than singling out a country.

“Leveraging technology can enable manufacturers to enhance their supply chain, and protect IP.”

Ben Carter from Vodafone agreed, stating that the “smart use of technology and modern communication channels was a clear way in which companies could further protect their IP.”

The group agreed that absolute supply chain transparency was somewhat of a utopian outcome – although an extremely desirable one.

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Assets tracking using bar code or RFID systems has already been in place for some time.

Assets tracking using bar code or RFID systems has been in place for some time, but the internet of things, sensor development and the leverage of big data is already taking this technology to another level, allowing businesses to not only locate assets in the supply chain, but monitor health, performance and the environment in which it takes place.

This will become increasingly important as service orientated manufacturing takes hold and the end product becomes part of the supply chain.

The goal when, not if, it is achieved, is an environment where the total supply chain can be monitored – the products, machines and all of its processes – completely remotely.