Tag Archive: organization

Automation or Autonomous?

August 16th, 2020

While leading a panel “Building Resiliency in the Supply Chain” with gurus from Georgia Tech, the leading experts in global logistics and associated research, several intriguing concepts arose.

My Association for Supply Chain Management group led a series of webinars on “Navigating through Volatility” including discussions with several logistics experts from distribution, the ports, transportation, technology and more. Many strategies for success arose during these sessions.

And, last but not least, both my top-notch trusted advisor network, ProVisors and our clients have brought strategies to light. A a result, it seemed prudent to share a few highlights.

Automation vs. Autonomy
Automation is definitely on the rise as organizations determine how to thrive post COVID-19. Statistics show that the automation market is expected to almost double in the next 5 years, and experts show that plans to automate are being accelerated. For example, the automation expected in the Inland Empire in the next 10-15 years will likely be compressed into the next five. On the other hand, automation isn’t all its cracked up to be! For example, when one part of the production line breaks down, you could end up with a pile up of product and waste at the bottleneck. On the other hand, will you be the last person typing on a typewriter? What are your automation plans?

The Georgia Tech experts made the case that automation is analogous to the typewriter. The new concept is autonomous so that machines and vehicles can operate independently of human control or supervision. Could these autonomous vehicles take on roles not previously possible, practical or cost effective? Almost all modes of transportation are candidates for autonomous vehicles. We typically think about trucking convoys, cars, drones and sometimes aircraft but are you also considering the impact of autonomous fork lifts, container ships, high speed trains, cranes, last mile delivery, cargo resupply and more? With the dramatic rise in e-commerce, autonomous drone resupply could be quite the win.

What are the Impacts?
Client examples abound. A small aerospace manufacturer automated a critical production process. Prior to automating this process, the area was a constant bottleneck. Work-in-process was stockpiled in front of the work station as high-skilled workers tried to keep up with the incoming flow of material. They ran as much overtime as feasible to try to keep product flowing to the next process step so that they could meet the customers’ ship date, but it was a never-ending battle with no end in sight. After automating the manufacturing process, the high-skilled resources set up the machines to run throughout the night autonomously. Suddenly, our client was running a three shift operation with the same resources, and customers didn’t experience delays. There was upfront investment in machinery and equipment as well as setup and education.  However, it paid back almost immediately with increased output and sales.

From a logistics point-of-view, WMS systems are gaining traction in the current environment. There are countless options for automation, as well as autonomous capabilities within the warehouse. For example, clients have installed conveyor systems which connect directly to the WMS systems and shipping systems which connects to ERP systems to manage order fulfillment processes. With the rise in e-commerce (and the number of small packages and associated labor requirements), automation can be even more relevant to the bottom line. In fact, there are several options to replace pickers with automated processes. The future will look to automation and autonomy. Will a drone resupply trucks that delivering e-commerce orders?

What Should We Do?
Get up to speed on the possibilities and potential of automation, as well as autonomous machinery and vehicles. As you hear about additional examples, think through the concepts, look for additional applications and brainstorm with colleagues on how these concepts could help your company and/or industry. The best ideas come from those who are willing to voice their ideas, test them under controlled conditions and move forward no matter the obstacles. Create this type of environment at your company, and soon suggestions for automation and autonomous processes will rise to the surface.

We discuss these types of strategies in our eBook on Future-Proofing Manufacturing & Supply Chain Post COVID-19. Additionally, follow IEEP, APICS Inland Empire and LMA Consulting as we communicate progress on the consortium for logistics and advanced manufacturing success Check out our articles and webinars, and contact us if you’d like to brainstorm these concepts further.

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The Strategic Benefit of SIOP

June 26th, 2019

SIOP (Sales, Inventory, Operations Planning) should not be relegated to the Planning Department. Although the planning group is a key participant and might lead the process, SIOP touches upon several strategic issues while creating alignment with Sales, Operations, R&D/ New Product Development, Finance, Purchasing, and others. As a CEO, you must become interested!

We have worked on countless SIOP projects with clients across industries as diverse as building products, food and beverage, healthcare, and aerospace.  It has proven to be the most effective at achieving the win-win-win of enabling growth while maximizing service, cash flow (inventory) and profit. For example, at one aerospace client, we put the fundamentals in place to support SIOP (scheduling, planning systems MRP/MPS, forecasting) and then rolled out a SIOP process involving all key aspects of the organization. Although our objective was to bring service levels from the 60%’s to the high 90%s, we not only accomplished that metric but we also improved margins by 5% and increased morale and engagement. What’s not to like with these results!

Critical Aspects of SIOP
Let’s start with just those elements that are most important to achieving results:

  • Can you get executives involved? Of course, it is better to gain executive involvement upfront.  However, I have found that it is quite doable to gain the involvement over time as well. For example, in one client situation, a key executive was not on board at any level at the start.  So, as we rolled out a pilot process, we convinced him to give the process a try. Once he sat in on the executive SIOP meeting, he became more interested because strategic issues arise such as make vs. buy, changes in sourcing, impacts to sales strategies and more.
  • What do you have to do to get directionally-correct information for making decisions? By NO means do you need perfect information.  In fact, if you wait for perfect information, your decision will be long past. Yet directionally correct information is imperative so that you can make fact-based decisions and/or gain approval from corporate or your Board for what you know must be done to succeed. I cannot think of a client situation where I couldn’t gain access to at least directionally correct information after an assessment, no matter how ancient their ERP system.
  • Will you involve all relevant departments in the SIOP process? If you focus on data and not the people, you will not succeed. The 80/20 of success is to bring typically disparate groups together to align on 1 plan/ path forward. It is much easier to say than to accomplish, and so those clients that do this well have a far higher success rate than the rest. You should involve Planning, Purchasing, Operations, Logistics, Customer Service, Sales, Finance, New Product Development, and any key area of your operation.

SIOP is not a quick resolution.  However, you can make quick interim progress . Similar to safety, it must become part of your day-to-day culture. As business conditions change, roadblocks naturally arise through the process. We’ve found that they have a FAR higher chance of being averted or minimized when they arise as part of the process instead of related to one person or department who typically is seen as the “problem”. Strategic issues also arise naturally through the process so that they are proactively addressed instead of resulting in a reactionary panic.

You can start the SIOP journey with an assessment of readiness with recommendations for improvement. Several clients have started with this approach so that they knew which building blocks to put in place and whether the benefits would drive a substantial return on investment at this juncture. If you are interested in this type of assessment, contact us.

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The Resilient Supply Chain: Do You Have Resilient Employees?

October 24th, 2018

Resiliency isn’t easy,  If it were, every organization would have already perfected it.  Yet, in today’s volatile, Amazon impacted, disruption-heavy environment, you must build resilience.  

What is Resilience
Let’s start by talking about our meaning of resilience.  In addition to having the ability to adjust and recover quickly to changing business conditions.  A company must also have the capability to proactively think through the most likely disruptors and develop strategies to thrive amidst the chaos.   

Are your employees resilient?
If a customer changes his mind, how does your team handle it?  Do they see it as a challenge or a chore? Do they complain or start asking questions to understand what’s behind the change and whether it is likely to impact future orders?  Do they communicate upstream and downstream so all parties are in the loop and aware of what is coming?

If a supplier runs into a capacity issue and is late to deliver, what do your employees do?  Actually, let’s back up – do they know about the delay in advance? If so, has it been communicated?  What approach is taken with the supplier in these circumstances? Do you know whether your demands are realistic or not?  Or are you overloading your low cost supplier so you don’t get beat up for purchase price variances? Think about these questions and then go back to answering the resiliency question.  

Learning from Failure
Here is another key question:  What does your team do if they fail?  Do they look for the person to blame? Does the leader blame the weakest link?  Or does the leader blame “them” (next level management)? Or does the leader accept responsibility even if it isn’t his/her fault?  No matter who is at fault, how does the team react? Do they jump on the situation and look for solutions? Will they be more likely or less likely to collaborate upstream or downstream to find answers or ideas to test?  Perhaps most importantly, will they hide under a rock or spur into action?


Start by understanding your resiliency culture.  Then, you can purposefully change it to focus on resiliency.  



Gaining New Ideas to Increase Business Value

August 8th, 2018

Every executive we work with is interested in increasing the value of the business.  Whether a small closely-held business with an owner who might want to sell the business or exit with an ESOP, a private-equity backed company aiming to achieve the ideal exit strategy per the private equity agreement or a large, complex organization working to increase shareholder value, increasing the value of the business remains a unanimous top priority.

Understanding this objective is quite different from fulfilling it.  There is a reason the most successful businesses have teams of people rather than one person who has to come up with every idea – it is certainly more sustainable!  

So, how can we encourage these ideas? Here are several ways that we’ve seen success achieved consistently over 25+ years in both the corporate and the consulting world with manufacturers and distributors.

  1. Engage your employees – Definitely one of the “easier said than done” items; however, it is also one of the most consistently successful.  As the Gallop polls show, those companies with a higher percentage of engaged employees significantly outperform the rest.
  2. Involve your customers – Who can better than your customers to generate ideas that will ensure a superior customer experience while increasing the value of the company?  Don’t just go to your top 10 customers in volume. Think about your long-term customers. It can also be worth it to collaborate with customers on the brink of being an unprofitable and prompt ideas to turn it around or end the relationship on a “good note”.  You never know what might happen. We’ve seen dramatic turnarounds, just as often as we’ve seen the rest of the company improve when getting rid of the “rotten apple customer”.
  3. Collaborate with your suppliers – Aside from your customers, who else might have a substantial impact on your performance?  Your suppliers! If you can devise new win-win approaches together, imagine the possibilities.  For example, when I was a VP of Operations and Supply Chain for a mid-market manufacturer, we collaborated with suppliers to develop a new material so that we could reduce our usage (increasing our profit) and provide a benefit to our customers (better performance/ higher value for them).  We became a closer partner with our supplier and grew each of our businesses and profits while enhancing the value to our mutual customer. A win-win-win.
  4. Ask colleagues outside of your area of expertise – Just because your colleague is in a different function doesn’t mean he/she won’t have a great idea.  Take the time to explain an important project to related colleagues outside of the project or your area of expertise.   Ask for their thoughts, watch-outs and the like. You never know where the next great idea will come from.
  5. Consult with experts / advisors – Attend trade association meetings.  Dig into industry journals. Ask questions of LinkedIn groups. Pursue alumni colleagues.  Consult with an advisor, consultant or financial expert. Join a peer group.  

There is no doubt that the most successful executives utilize all of these techniques to make sure they generate a seemingly never-ending stream of ideas to increase the value of their business.  Set aside time on a daily, weekly and monthly basis to priorities these activities.  Do not expect an immediate payoff.  However, if you are consistent, you’ll find success one day down-the-road.  After all, it may only that one idea to make a significant impact!

 



Is Your Supply Chain Ready for Growth?

December 9th, 2017

Recently, we worked with a large, complex organization to provide an external assessment of the supply chain organization and how well it was prepared to support scalable growth.  It reminded us of the value of taking an outside view every now and then.  Whether you take yourself outside of your organization, hire a consultant or ask an executive from another division or trusted customer to take a deep dive into your organization, you’ll likely wind up with a few ideas – or, at a minimum, a confirmation that your i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed and ready for growth.

Growth has many challenges
It is MUCH easier to downsize than it is to grow successfully.  NOT more pleasant but it is simpler to cut back.  Unfortunately, we are all too familiar with this exercise.  Yet growth has many of the same challenges:

Cash is a constant challenge – by virtue of growing rapidly, you spend money in advance of shipping and receiving payment.  The quicker you grow, the tougher it can be without a line of credit especially for a smaller organization.

  • Are your people ready for growth?  What “used to work” might no longer be sufficient.  Have you prepared for these needs?
  • Can your operations keep up?  Do you have the resources, equipment, and support resources?
  • Suppliers are likely to be ill prepared unless they are in lock step with your growth plans.  Regardless of the preparedness of your team, nothing will occur unless your supply chain is aligned.
  • If caught by surprise, you can certainly throw resources at the issue but to achieve scalable growth, you should have thought about your processes, systems, metrics and more.  For example, determining that you’ve outgrown your ERP system as you “hit the wall” is too late.  It will take time to select the best system for your needs AND it will take between 6 months to 18 months to implement, depending on your size, complexity, ERP partner, scope etc.

Growth is a hot topic.  For example, according to our recent Supply Chain Briefing, McKinsey predicts 20% manufacturing growth by 2025.  However, regardless of your industry, if your company isn’t growing, it is dying.  We have NEVER seen an organization “stand still” and “maintain” successfully.  Have you?  Thus, growth is core to success.  

Plan or After-Thought
The key is whether it is a plan or an after-thought.  Which is it for you and your organization?