It is no secret that COVID-19 upended the processes by which companies manufactured and sold their products. For weeks after the full impact of the pandemic became apparent, everything from surgical gloves to smartphones became difficult or impossible for retailers or consumers to obtain. As time has gone on, however, manufacturers have learned some crucial lessons and are changing the way their supply chains function.
THE REASONS BEHIND THE DISRUPTIONS
Of course, the primary problem was the coronavirus itself. Absolutely unknown, virulent and highly contagious, it began to kill and sicken people at an alarming rate. No one knew exactly how it was spread, and panic ensued. China, the source of many raw materials and electronic components, all but shut down altogether in order to contain and stamp out COVID-19.
Meanwhile, the manufacturers and retailers down the supply chains were reeling. Accustomed to only ordering what they required in order to remain lean and efficient, they soon were left with no materials, no products and no profits. As a result, the entire network ground to a sickening halt.
ADAPTING TO SURVIVE
The science of evolution illustrates the phenomenon perfectly: When entities are faced with a crisis that places their very survival in jeopardy, they have a choice. They can either pivot to adapt with the altered conditions, or they can die. As our world confronted COVID-19, agile manufacturers recognized that if they were to recover from the shock and remain solvent and profitable, they needed to revolutionize the way they obtained their components and raw materials, in effect revolutionizing their supply chain processes.
Although it is still early days, many businesses are already working hard to ensure that they do not fall prey to the same flaws that interrupted them in early 2020. In order to be nimbler, they are committed to putting the following strategies into practice:
- Diversifying suppliers. One unavoidable truth for electronics companies is that some of their raw materials and components come from just a few sources, most of which are located in China. Even so, businesses can use more than one of these providers, at least making themselves able to survive if just one goes under for any reason.
- Emphasizing supply chain transparency. By undergoing the expensive and extensive but essential process of supply chain mapping, companies can develop a complete understanding of their entire product network, including all of its branches, regulatory constraints, governmental influences, etc. As a result, weaknesses can be recognized, minimized or corrected according to company priorities. Often, costs can also be reduced and efficiency maximized.
- Stockpiling inventory. In the past decade or so, manufacturers have come to choose just-in-time production leanness over redundancy and contingency plans. They sold their warehouses and ordered only what inventory they needed at any given time, assuming that they would always be able to capitalize on their relationship with their single supplier if they needed additional quantities. Now that the pandemic has demonstrated the fatal flaw in this model, companies are opting to keep extra inventory in stock to offset the consequences of any future pandemic, terrorist attack, trade war, container ship fire or other disaster that might befall them.
Supply chains are crucial networks that function as the vital underpinnings of all manufacturing concerns. Ensuring that they are as resilient and diverse as possible has become a task of high priority for numerous global operations. When the next unpredictable event occurs – and the fact that it will is a certainty – the strongest manufacturers will be better positioned to roll with the punches.