Your Supply Chain is Working, But You Might Have Some Weak Links

May 15, 2023


The efficiency of a supply chain is crucial to the success of any business, as it impacts everything from production and delivery times to customer satisfaction and profitability.

The term “supply chain” is used to describe the movement of goods from producer to consumer because each step in the process functions like a link connecting a chain together. Maintaining a fully functioning supply chain can be challenging, and there are times when certain links in the chain, from time to time, weaken or break altogether. When this happens, it can cause significant disruptions that affect the entire chain, from suppliers and manufacturers to distributors and retailers.

The interesting part of this equation is that even though a link (or links) might weaken or break, there are times when the chain still holds, and the movement of goods continues. Unfortunately, what happens next is a complete collapse of the chain that is harder to get back on track. 

In some cases, a supply chain may appear to be intact, but upon closer inspection, the links within the chain may be broken or in the process of breaking. Knowing how to look for these weaknesses before they become major issues is critical for maintaining supply chain consistency and avoiding a full break in the chain.

For example, a manufacturer may have all the necessary materials and components to produce a product, but if there is a breakdown in communication with the supplier, they may not receive the materials on time, resulting in delayed production.

Similarly, a distributor may have all the necessary products in their inventory, but if there is a breakdown in communication with the retailer, the products may not reach the end consumer on time, resulting in lost sales and dissatisfied customers.

To ensure that your supply chain is functioning optimally, it is important to identify and address any broken links. This may involve improving communication channels, streamlining processes, or investing in technology that can help track and manage the movement of goods and services.

In some cases, businesses may need to consider alternative suppliers or logistics providers to address broken links in their supply chain. For example, if a supplier consistently fails to deliver materials on time, it may be necessary to find a new supplier who can provide more reliable service.

Ultimately, the key to maintaining a healthy supply chain is to remain proactive and vigilant. This means regularly monitoring the various links in the chain and taking steps to address any issues that arise as quickly as possible.

When links in the supply chain are weak or broken, it can disrupt the flow of goods and services, which can have significant consequences for a business. Here are some steps that can help keep the chain intact:

Identify the Links that are Prone to Issues:

  • The first step is to identify what pieces of your supply chain are more vulnerable or apt to having weak spots. There may be intermediate steps in the production process that need an external step that takes place at another facility - and transportation is always an issue.  It could also be due to a variety of reasons such as delayed deliveries, quality issues, communication breakdowns, etc. Knowing the links that are more susceptible to issues up front is a key advantage.

Develop Contingency Plans:

  • Once you have identified the problem areas, it's important to develop contingency plans to mitigate the impact of the breakdowns. This could involve finding alternative suppliers, adjusting delivery schedules or finding new transportation routes. Having risk management plans ahead of problems is critical to getting through any potential issues and as a preventative measure.

Communication with Stakeholders:

  • Communication is key when it comes to supply chain management. Make sure to keep your suppliers, customers, and other stakeholders informed of any changes or disruptions to the supply chain. The goal is to have open communication with every piece of the supply chain. Communication throughout the entire ecosystem, internally, externally, and with the areas that are likely to have issues, is critical.

Build Stronger Relationships:

  • Building strong relationships with your suppliers and customers can help prevent future breakdowns in the supply chain. Make sure to maintain regular communication and work together to identify potential issues and find solutions. A sales and operations planning process is a good way to keep your focus on potential problem areas.

Invest in Technology:

  • Technology can play a significant role in keeping the supply chain intact. Consider investing in software solutions that can help you track inventory levels, monitor delivery schedules and manage supplier relationships more efficiently. Manufacturers do not realize that every aspect of the business can impact the flow of the supply chain. Areas that are not commonly addressed to improving supply chain performance include: Asset Management, Connected Workforce and Quality. These areas where technology and upgraded business processes can help improve supply chain reliability. 

Sales and Operations Planning (S&OP):

  • It is important to regularly review and improve your supply chain processes to ensure they remain effective and efficient. This could involve analyzing data, identifying areas for improvement, and implementing changes to prevent future breakdowns. The best process for this task is a Sales and Operations Planning (S&OP) Process. An S&OP process can improve the collaboration and communication between all internal company stakeholders to improve supply chain efficiency. Including external trading partners such as customers and suppliers into the process can make sure every area of the chain is always being monitored. This process can put focus on every link in the chain, especially the consistently weak links. This can greatly help in ensuring that breaks do not occur. If a break should occur, the S&OP can help find a resolution quickly.

A fully functioning supply chain is essential for the success and long-term profitability of any manufacturing company. It is important to recognize that the links within the chain may break from time to time and some of the links due to the nature of the business are more prone to issues than other segments.

Connecting the people involved in the management and operation of the supply chain with the right processes and technologies can help manufacturers be adaptive and agile and help prevent actual breaks in the chain.

By remaining proactive and taking steps to address any issues as quickly as possible, businesses can help ensure that their supply chain remains intact to deliver the goods and services to their customers at the right time and the right quantity. This will enable these businesses to be more adaptive and succeed in an extremely competitive market.