Does your supply chain contain more holes than Swiss cheese?

In the fourth of our ‘Lean manufacturing in the digital age’ series, we explore how a lack of supply chain visibility can negatively affect your on-time delivery rates, business agility and customer satisfaction.

Manufacturers operate complex global chains involving multiple suppliers, processes, materials and movements. This makes managing them notoriously difficult, particularly when disruption strikes.

In the world of ‘just in time or sequence’ logistics, any interruption can quickly become costly and far-reaching, and can even bring production lines to a grinding halt.

Disruption ranges from the mundane such as traffic congestion and missing paperwork, through to cyberattack and devastating natural disasters like floods, earthquakes and wildfires.


Manufacturing Planning - Man using tablet pc warehouse tracking asset supply chain -image courtesy of Depositphotos.


Over the coming months and years, the supply chain risks businesses have experienced in the past decade (geopolitical instability, price hikes, material scarcity, data security, weather-related and/or climate change-related events) are only forecast to intensify. You need only look at the widespread and likely long-lasting impact of the Covid-19 pandemic to see how suddenly the landscape can radically  change.

But as much as external factors are affecting manufacturing operations, so too are internal factors. Product cycles are having to be drastically compressed; Apple released five models in five years following the launch of its first iPhone in 2007. Fast-forward 10 years and Apple achieved the same feat in less than 24 months.

Similarly, consumer demand for personalised products and experiences has increased design variability, while our need for instant gratification has forced delivery times to be slashed.

The combination of these internal and external factors puts tremendous pressure on a manufacturer’s entire ecosystem – its products, assets, workforce, suppliers and third parties.

It also creates inherent risk and uncertainty, making it difficult to accurately plan for the future and adapt to changes.

 Technology holds the key to minimising the risk

Overcoming these challenges requires manufacturers to move away from using multiple spreadsheets, disjointed systems and isolated business functions – the net result of which is a lack of visibility, flexibility and transparency.


Supply Chain Visibility - While companies are increasingly aware of the benefits of digital supply chain networks, many remain in the early phases of adoption - image courtesy of Depositphotos.


Successfully joining the dots between design and planning through manufacturing to logistics and customer service and unifying back-office operations has been proven to improve business agility, customer service, sustainability and supply chain collaboration.

Furthermore, it increases operational intelligence – not just in terms of what is happening currently, but what may happen in the future. This ability to perform more accurate scenario planning, day-to-day scheduling and prepare for potential ‘What if’s’ has become crucial in the trading environment of today.

By becoming a more connected, digitally enabled enterprise, businesses can not only survive these disruptive times, but thrive in them.

One such business is a high-precision manufacturing services provider for critical global markets, including aerospace, defence, space, telecommunications and nuclear.

Success story

Established in 1979, the business has grown from small beginnings to a global presence with centres of excellence located in Scotland, England and Poland.

Serving customers in demanding, cutting-edge markets, the business has risen to the challenges of changing market conditions and garnered an international reputation for being forward-looking and technology led.


CROP Aerospace Aviation Aircraft - STOCK image courtesy of Depositphotos.


It’s success has been built around innovation and the ability to provide quality products and services in a competitive market. The business’ rapid growth, however, brought organisational challenges, particularly around on-time delivery, customer communications and supply chain transparency.

Producing complex, high-tech product adds complexity to the scheduling process, involving three separate business units, an assembly area, painting and plating, offsite clean room facilities and a overseas production plant.

The business had invested heavily in advanced CNC machining equipment in order to meet demand, but at the expense of on-time delivery and accurate information gathering. With customer satisfaction deteriorating, management recognised the need to do something.

Information without overload

A cost-effective solution was found in Access Orchestrate, an Advanced Production planning and Scheduling tool delivered by award-wining software provider, Access Group.

Compared to other solutions, Access Orchestrate offered an easy to use, modern interface and provided the necessary flexibility within the planning process.

“The whole planning has been transformed. We now have true visibility, with worktop access for account managers tracking customer orders, plus large screen displays in the Planning room and at Business Unit One, where the production manager can clearly see any potential materials shortages or capacity bottlenecks,” explains its master production scheduler.

“Everything is so visible, with colour coding for, say special projects, the ability to zoom into detail and then out again for a factory-wide view. Information without overload.”

The business also benefits from using wireless tablets on the shop floor, enabling the team to enter data or make enquires in real-time right at the coal face, next to the machines. With updates being instant, information is already up to date by the time they get back to the office.

“In real life, engineers may schedule work differently to the plan, so that amendments can be captured there and then, with ‘What if’ scenarios if necessary,” notes the master production scheduler.

Since beginning its journey with Access Group, the company has made consistent progress as it integrates the scheduling detail within more of its operation, and though still in its early days, the business has already seen improved on-time delivery rates even for complex orders and the ever-changing demands of customers.

Choosing software that brings your business together, from finance to production, ensures you have invaluable, predictive insights.

For further reading, The Access Group and The Manufacturer have created a Lean resource hub for manufacturers wanting to proactively invest in software for the future.

Check out the other articles in our ‘Lean manufacturing in the digital age’ series:

  1. The key to Lean Manufacturing in the digital age
  2. Is Frankenstein’s monster disrupting your Production Planning?
  3. Don’t let Legacy Software be the albatross around your neck
  4. Does your Supply Chain contain more holes than Swiss cheese?
  5. Greater Productivity isn’t delivered by hand
  6. Could the loss of one person sink your business?
  7. Supply Chain Transparency – helping manufacturers to deliver the goods
  8. Digitally Empowered Workers are key to unlocking greater productivity

  9. Operational Agility – is your business more sloth than monkey?
  10. R&D: You miss every shot you don’t aim for


*Header image courtesy of garyzinc1221 from Pixabayall other images courtesy of Depositphotos