Supply Chain Article

Andrew Schutte’s picture

By: Andrew Schutte

Industrial engineers design, develop, test, and evaluate integrated systems for managing industrial production processes. Functions include quality control, human work factors, inventory control, logistics and material flow, cost analysis, and production coordination. These and other facets are usually part of the job description when being hired.

Although the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates a 10-percent growth rate among industrial engineers from 2019 to 2029, the attrition rate is anecdotally just as high; that equates to 100-percent attrition in a decade. Nowhere is the dissatisfaction and attrition of industrial engineers as great as in the engineer-to-order manufacturing space.

Yoav Kutner’s picture

By: Yoav Kutner

Like business-to-consumer (B2C) ecommerce, business-to-business (B2B) ecommerce allows customers to purchase parts and supplies via an online portal. The difference is that in B2B ecommerce, both the customers and suppliers are businesses, and the customers may or may not be the end users of the product being purchased. In addition, a B2B solution needs to let customers submit a request for quote (RFQ), negotiate, and do more of the back-and-forth that occurs in business transactions.

Despite the fact that purchasing is done online—a digital solution for many B2B online platforms—a lot of the back-end processes are still done manually, not much differently than in a brick-and-mortar business. An online order might need to be copied and pasted into an Excel spreadsheet or even an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, for instance. Ditto for getting customer information into a customer relationship management (CRM) system or generating quotes. This manual back-end work keeps both customer and supplier from operating efficiently, introducing errors into orders, or even delaying orders.

Gleb Tsipursky’s picture

By: Gleb Tsipursky

Stakeholder engagement is one of the more critical aspects of leadership, whether you’re a team leader or a member of a cross-functional team trying to lead team members to focus on quality. Stakeholders can be anyone from your colleagues to suppliers to business partners, and your relationship with them is dynamic and can change over time.

There are many advantages to identifying and getting to know your stakeholders, and even more disadvantages to not engaging with them. Failing to understand their needs can lead to blind spots for managers and executives, which can have disastrous effects, such as low employee morale or a dismal bottom line.

On the other hand, effective engagement can result in increased productivity and stronger financials. We can use research-based strategies to notice such blind spots so we can overcome them.

Multiple Authors
By: Aarti Gumaledar, Sameer Hasija, V. Paddy Padmanabhan

Globalization of trade and decades-long innovation in supply chain networks have resulted in significant benefits for all stakeholders—greater efficiencies, lower costs, and greater access to markets, to name just a few. Yet Covid-19 has exposed vulnerabilities in global supply chains. Dispersed supply chains offer more possibilities for shocks to penetrate and spread, and practices such as “just-in-time” and single sourcing can amplify shocks and lengthen recovery time.

Which begs the question: Why weren’t companies better prepared? After all, academics and practitioners have been stressing the importance of agility and resilience in the supply chain for decades. They have advocated for diversification so value chains can handle demand and supply shocks. The problem, however, is that in good times, companies are unwilling to make the larger investments that have always gone along with diversification, in the form of complexity and coordination costs. The choice is to either save money with a concentrated supply chain structure that increases crisis vulnerability, or build in expensive redundancies to prepare for a rainy day that may be a long way off. This cost-agility trade-off (figure 1) leaves conscientious companies splitting the difference between present realities and projected future demands.

Ashley Y. Metcalf’s picture

By: Ashley Y. Metcalf

Lean supply chains are designed based on several key principles. First, the general philosophy of lean is to reduce or eliminate nonvalue-added waste. The concept of reducing waste is always beneficial to organizations. We should continuously strive to reduce things like wasted time, wasted effort, wasted processing, wasted travel, and wasted packaging. So, even in times of disruption or crisis, efforts to reduce wasted steps or processing can actually benefit the organization. This efficiency is a good thing.

A second key principle of lean supply chains is where it gets tricky regarding the risk of disruptions. This principle is just-in-time (JIT) supply. The JIT principle means inventory and supplies are delivered just when they are needed. So instead of holding weeks or months of inventory, an organization might get daily deliveries, just as needed. When things are running smoothly, this is a great system because it significantly reduces the amount of money spent on holding inventory. Lean can even reduce losses due to perishable inventory or obsolescence because there are no warehouses full of dusty redundant items. But, of course, in the case of supply chain disruptions, the same lack of inventory can be devastating to ongoing operations.

Drew Calvert’s picture

By: Drew Calvert

For the past decade, policymakers and nongovernmental organizations have pushed for greater transparency in supply chains, with the goal of encouraging more responsible sourcing practices. The Dodd-Frank Act, for example, required firms to disclose their suppliers’ involvement with any “conflict minerals” such as gold, tin, or tantalum, a metal used in phones and computers. More recently, France passed legislation to ensure carbon emissions reporting.

At the same time, many companies have pledged to be more vigilant and open about protecting the people who manufacture their products. After the Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh in 2013—a building collapse that killed more than a thousand garment and textile workers—a number of brands joined a coalition to hold their suppliers accountable.

Alena Komaromi’s picture

By: Alena Komaromi

When your own inbox is overflowing with unread messages, it may not seem like the best tactic, but with the right approach, email can be a powerful negotiation tool, not least in the B2B realm. According to 2019 research by IACCM, a global contract management association, about 75 percent of contract negotiations are completely virtual. 

Nowadays, many B2B sales negotiations involve an open-bid process with a standardized communication where relationship bonds are less important. In that context, emails offer a number of advantages. For instance, they can be instantly accessed, often by many parties in an organization, thus creating transparency. Emails also allow a rich diversity of materials to be used as attachments.

Negotiations via email can be particularly suitable when gender, age, or racial biases—or linguistic issues such as a strong accent—could mar the process. It can also help when there is a power distance between parties, or when some voices risk being unheard.

David Chandler’s picture

By: David Chandler

Advanced metal alloys are essential in key parts of modern life, from cars to satellites, from construction materials to electronics. But creating new alloys for specific uses, with optimized strength, hardness, corrosion resistance, conductivity, and so on, has been limited by researchers’ fuzzy understanding of what happens at the boundaries between the tiny crystalline grains that make up most metals.

When two metals are mixed together, the atoms of the secondary metal might collect along these grain boundaries, or they might spread out through the lattice of atoms within the grains. The material’s overall properties are determined largely by the behavior of these atoms, but until now there has been no systematic way to predict what they will do.

Researchers at MIT have now found a way, using a combination of computer simulations and a machine-learning process, to produce the kinds of detailed predictions of these properties that could guide the development of new alloys for a wide variety of applications. The findings are described today in the journal Nature Communications, in a paper by graduate student Malik Wagih, postdoc Peter Larsen, and professor of materials science and engineering Christopher Schuh.

Bahar Aliakbarian’s picture

By: Bahar Aliakbarian

The two major U.S. developers of the early Covid-19 vaccines are Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna. They both developed mRNA vaccines, a relatively new type of vaccine. A major supply-chain issue is the temperature requirement for these vaccines.

The Pfizer vaccine needs to be stored at between –112° F (–80° C) and –94° F (–70° C), and the Moderna vaccine needs temperatures around –4° F (–20° C), which is close to the temperature of commercial-grade freezers. A third company developing vaccines, AstraZeneca, says it needs regular refrigeration temperature of 36° F to 46° F, or 2° to 8° C.

Amitava Chattopadhyay’s picture

By: Amitava Chattopadhyay

For conventional, profit-seeking companies, moving into social impact carries huge contradictions. An ad hoc, small-scale initiative is an inexpensive way to do a bit of good and receive a nice warm glow in the process. But any attempt to achieve more serious impact through scaling the initiative will likely trigger awkward discussions about how much that warm glow is worth to the firm.

Thus, the ceiling remains low on social impact unless it can be justified in “win-win” terms. Needless to say, this is no easy feat.

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