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Supply Chain

Your Supply Chain: How to Identify the Weak Links

A global supply chain is like an ecosystem, with individual organisms dependent on one another for survival. When everything works, it hums along like a beautiful machine. However, it only takes one malfunctioning part to disrupt the entire system.

Your company has multiple supply chains, all working together in a cycle of incoming and outgoing shipments that allow you to conduct your daily business. If one vendor drops the ball, negative effects ripple throughout the entire system.

Poor performers along the supply chain can cause shipping delays, product damage and financial loss for your company. While you can’t physically follow your products or materials to ensure they’re moved thoughtfully and efficiently, you can work to seek out and destroy bugs within your logistics ecosystem. 

I have delays in getting materials or exporting finished products.

Few situations are more frustrating than having orders you cannot fulfill because you lack the materials you need to manufacture your product. It’s also maddening to have finished products clogging up your warehouse, waiting to be fulfilled because your shipping vendor hasn’t picked them up yet.

If you’ve shored up everything in your ordering and shipping and receiving departments, the problem could be that your supplier or shipping vendor is being lackadaisical or short-sighted in its production planning and demand forecasting. If you’ve projected out your material needs and communicated the numbers to your vendors, it’s their job to anticipate your requests and fulfill them in a reasonable timeframe.

I find myself asking, ‘Where in the world is my stuff?’

Maybe it’s flying over the Atlantic Ocean via air freight. Perhaps it’s held up on a loading dock in Akron, Ohio. Being in the dark about the status of your shipment is annoying, and it puts your business at a disadvantage when it comes to getting ahead of potential problems.

It’s important that your vendors maintain reliable and consistent communication. Insist to them that timelines and shipment statuses are related in a clear, efficient and open manner. Ask about their documentation and notification processes. If the problem persists, keep a detailed log of communications with your multiple shipping vendors. Track a few shipments from beginning to end, and you’ll quickly identify the weak communications link.

I’m sick of my incoming and outgoing shipments being damaged.

It can be difficult to discern the origin of cargo damage, especially for international shipments that experience multiple touchpoints and encounter an assortment of environmental conditions. Some damage must be budgeted for, as unexpected issues occur, for example, with moisture exposure on an ocean freighter, pressure changes on an air freight flight, or vibration during road transport.

The best you can do is to be proactive in assuring you know how your cargo will be handled. This includes everything from how it’s packaged to how it’s transported and transferred to what it’s sitting next to on the truck. Warehouse damage isn’t uncommon, so talk to your vendor about its storage procedures. Asking these questions in advance can help ensure you avoid introducing a weak link into your supply chain in the first place.

I’m worried that my own staff might be the problem.

Be honest with yourself about your staff’s ability to handle logistics tasks vis a vis their skill sets and work capacity. Don’t expect your administrative assistant to be your international logistics specialist; it’s not fair to your employee, your business or your client. Likewise, staffers who aren’t pulling their weight or communicate poorly could be instigating problems before orders even exit the warehouse door.

Analyze your internal logistics to clarify which member of your team is responsible for each task, and hold them to account. Also, don’t be afraid to recruit additional help. Whether it’s in the form of a new employee, a logistics vendor or an updated software system, investing in your company’s internal logistics can be one of the most important investments you make. After all, your entire business depends on what’s moving in and out of those bay doors.

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