FedEx Express: Why supply chain integration is crucial in the Industry 4.0 era
Jaguar Land Rover is the UK’s largest car manufacturer. In addition to producing over 500,000 cars each year, the company is also at the cutting edge of 3D printing – using the innovative technology to print 55,000 parts ranging from bodywork to switchgear annually with significant time and cost savings.
This is a great example of the revolution that is sweeping the world of manufacturing. Not since the ‘lean revolution’ of the 1970s, often dubbed the ‘third industrial revolution’, have such radical changes been made to the way production is designed, monitored and executed, and the repercussions of this sea-change are being felt all the way down the value chain right into the hands of the end-customer. Today’s always-on, e-commerce-driven global economy is creating a brave new world known as the fourth industrial revolution, or ‘Industry 4.0’ – and businesses need to rapidly adapt to avoid being left behind.
Industry 4.0 is shorthand for applying new, digitally-driven capabilities to manufacturing and at each subsequent stage in the value chain. At its simplest, it can mean applying technology to a single stage in the chain – a gold mine in Africa leveraged big data from its sensors to discover an irregularity at a particular point in its production process, for example. Fixing this irregularity increased yield by 3.7 percent – or £15.6m – each year.
However, to realise the full potential of Industry 4.0, companies are looking more holistically at their value chains. With four decades of experience in supporting customers’ supply chains, our business is uniquely positioned to observe how these changes are impacting supply chains everywhere. I believe that a rethink of supply chain management is needed if manufacturers and retailers are to successfully harness the possibilities of Industry 4.0.
Making supply chains customer-centric
Once viewed purely in terms of its potential to yield cost efficiencies, supply chain management has evolved. Thanks to big data analytics and changing customer expectations, demand forecasting is more sophisticated. This means that modern supply chains now have a vital additional role in ensuring customer satisfaction and retention.
To achieve this goal, logistics now needs to work across the company from the front-end to the back-end, seamlessly integrating production, inventory, marketing, sales, payments, distribution and product returns to optimise the supply chain model that balances cost efficiencies with keeping customers happy.
Achieving this degree of integration is complex – in a recent research study, only seven percent of business executives believed they had created fully-integrated businesses that could be regarded as Industry 4.0-ready. Access to the right technology is only one part of the puzzle; businesses also need a culture that embraces innovation and a workforce – from c-suites to general staff – that is willing to innovate to drive change.
However, when weighing these barriers to implementing an Industry 4.0-ready supply chain against the potential benefits, an almost unassailable business case emerges in favor of making the leap for businesses large and small. Consider the aircraft maker Airbus. The company has invested significantly in creating a “Factory of the Future” by building aircraft in virtual reality, with production lines that include computer-suited personnel and robots working side by side. As a result of these changes, which the company dubs 'smart production', Airbus is able to keep pace with increased demand, and also now manufactures its products in a more sustainable way.
The benefits of Industry 4.0 are certainly not confined to large multinational corporations. China-based furniture retailer Markor realized that it could innovate its supply chain to identify trends in customer purchasing behavior. The company created a smartphone app that uses big data to identify these trends, then makes personalised recommendations to customers on product designs. Using mobile devices, sales staff can show products demos and 3D images of custom furniture. When sales are made, customer preferences and purchase details are saved automatically, and the company uses the information to drive future business.
The next frontier for competition
Of course, these are just some examples of technology overhauling the supply chain. Touch-screens, robotics and augmented reality can all be orchestrated to achieve value-creating supply chains capable of responding automatically to changes in end-demand. The central question is not what technology is harnessed, but whether you work with the right manufacturing, technology or logistics providers to enable your supply chain to be truly integrated and demand-driven.
Get it right, and you’ll be on the way to achieving efficiencies, reduced time-to-market, cost savings, improved productivity and revenue gains. Despite the substantial investment involved, more than half of the respondents in a recent Industry 4.0 global survey anticipated return on investment in just two years.
In a world where business is increasingly transacted digitally, preparing your supply chain for Industry 4.0 represents the next frontier in the battle for competitive edge.
NTT DATA Services, Remodelling Supply Chains for Resilience
Joey Dean, the man with the coolest name ever and Managing Director in the healthcare consulting practice for NTT DATA and is focused on delivering workplace transformation and enabling the future workforce for healthcare providers. Dean also leads client innovation programs to enhance service delivery and business outcomes for clients.
The pandemic has shifted priorities and created opportunities to do things differently, and companies are now looking to build more resilient supply chains, none needed more urgently than those within the healthcare system. Dean shares with us how he feels they can get there.
A Multi-Vendor Sourcing Approach
“Healthcare systems cannot afford delays in the supply chain when there are lives at stake. Healthcare procurement teams are looking at multi-vendor sourcing strategies, stockpiling more inventory, and ways to use data and AI to have a predictive view into the future and drive greater efficiency.
“The priority should be to shore up procurement channels and re-evaluate inventory management norms, i.e. stockpiling for assurance. Health systems should take the opportunity to renegotiate with their current vendors and broaden the supplier channel. Through those efforts, work with suppliers that have greater geographic diversity and transparency around manufacturing data, process, and continuity plans,” says Dean.
But here ensues the never-ending battle of domestic vs global supply chains. As I see it, domestic sourcing limits the high-risk exposure related to offshore sourcing— Canada’s issue with importing the vaccine is a good example of that. So, of course, I had to ask, for lifesaving products, is building domestic capabilities an option that is being considered?
“Domestic supply chains are sparse or have a high dependence on overseas centres for parts and raw materials. There are measures being discussed from a legislative perspective to drive more domestic sourcing, and there will need to be a concerted effort by Western countries through a mix of investments and financial incentives,” Dean explains.
Wielding Big Tech for Better Outcomes
So, that’s a long way off. In the meantime, leveraging technology is another way to mitigate the risks that lie within global supply chains while decreasing costs and improving quality. Dean expands on the potential of blockchain and AI in the industry.
“Blockchain is particularly interesting in creating more transparency and visibility across all supply chain activities. Organisations can create a decentralised record of all transactions to track assets from production to delivery or use by end-user. This increased supply chain transparency provides more visibility to both buyers and suppliers to resolve disputes and build more trusting relationships. Another benefit is that the validation of data is more efficient to prioritise time on the delivery of goods and services to reduce cost and improve quality.
“Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning (AI/ML) is another area where there’s incredible value in processing massive amounts of data to aggregate and normalise the data to produce proactive recommendations on actions to improve the speed and cost-efficiency of the supply chain.”
Evolving Procurement Models
From asking more of suppliers to beefing up stocks, Dean believes procurement models should be remodelled to favour resilience, mitigate risk and ensure the needs of the customer are kept in view.
“The bottom line is that healthcare systems are expecting more from their suppliers. While transactional approaches focused solely on price and transactions have been the norm, collaborative relationships, where the buyer and supplier establish mutual objectives and outcomes, drives a trusting and transparent relationship. Healthcare systems are also looking to multi-vendor strategies to mitigate risk, so it is imperative for suppliers to stand out and embrace evolving procurement models.
“Healthcare systems are looking at partners that can establish domestic centres for supplies to mitigate the risks of having ‘all of their eggs’ in overseas locations. Suppliers should look to perform a strategic evaluation review that includes a distribution network analysis and distribution footprint review to understand cost, service, flexibility, and risks. Included in that strategy should be a “voice of the customer” assessment to understand current pain points and needs of customers.”
“Healthcare supply chain leaders are re-evaluating the Just In Time (JIT) model with supplies delivered on a regular basis. The approach does not require an investment in infrastructure but leaves organisations open to risk of disruption. Having domestic centres and warehousing from suppliers gives healthcare systems the ability to have inventory on hand without having to invest in their own infrastructure. Also, in the spirit of transparency, having predictive views into inventory levels can help enable better decision making from both sides.”
But, again, I had to ask, what about the risks and associated costs that come with higher inventory levels, such as expired product if there isn’t fast enough turnover, tying up cash flow, warehousing and inventory management costs?
“In the current supply chain environment, it is advisable for buyers to carry an in-house inventory on a just-in-time basis, while suppliers take a just-in-case approach, preserving capacity for surges, retaining safety stock, and building rapid replenishment channels for restock. But the risk of expired product is very real. This could be curbed with better data intelligence and improved technology that could forecast surges and predictively automate future supply needs. In this way, ordering would be more data-driven and rationalised to align with anticipated surges. Further adoption of data and intelligence and will be crucial for modernised buying in the new normal.
These are tough tasks, so I asked Dean to speak to some of the challenges. Luckily, he’s a patient guy with a lot to say.
On managing stakeholders and ensuring alignment on priorities and objectives, Dean says, “In order for managing stakeholders to stay aligned on priorities, they’ll need more transparency and collaborative win-win business relationships in which both healthcare systems and medical device manufacturers are equally committed to each other’s success. On the healthcare side, they need to understand where parts and products are manufactured to perform more predictive data and analytics for forecasting and planning efforts. And the manufacturers should offer more data transparency which will result in better planning and forecasting to navigate the ebbs and flows and enable better decision-making by healthcare systems.
Due to the sensitive nature of the information being requested, the effort to increase visibility is typically met with a lot of reluctance and push back. Dean essentially puts the onus back on suppliers to get with the times. “Traditionally, the relationships between buyers and suppliers are transactional, based only on the transaction between the two parties: what is the supplier providing, at what cost, and for what length of time. The relationship begins and ends there. The tide is shifting, and buyers expect more from their suppliers, especially given what the pandemic exposed around the fragility of the supply chain. The suppliers that get ahead of this will not only reap the benefits of improved relationships, but they will be able to take action on insights derived from greater visibility to manage risks more effectively.”
He offers a final tip. “A first step in enabling a supply chain data exchange is to make sure partners and buyers are aware of the conditions throughout the supply chain based on real-time data to enable predictive views into delays and disruptions. With well understand data sets, both parties can respond more effectively and work together when disruptions occur.”
As for where supply chain is heading, Dean says, “Moving forward, we’ll continue to see a shift toward Robotic Process Automation (RPA), Artificial Intelligence (AI), and advanced analytics to optimise the supply chain. The pandemic, as it has done in many other industries, will accelerate the move to digital, with the benefits of improving efficiency, visibility, and error rate. AI can consume enormous amounts of data to drive real-time pattern detection and mitigate risk from global disruptive events.”