How Do You Get a Supply Chain to Really Perform?


More often than not, a supply chain may operate moderately well and deliver within tolerable limits.

Customers may find the service acceptable, but nothing exceptional. Inventory levels may be higher than needed but for some traditionalists, plenty of inventory is a good thing, isn’t it?

Actually, we think that most supply chains can improve performance radically by applying a few structured techniques, and there has never been a greater urgency to do so.

Unfortunately, the inherent weaknesses in supply chain performance are commonly hidden only to be exposed under stress, and then it is too late. Markets change, technologies transform competitive landscapes, and unchecked operational complexity can increase cost or, even worse, impact customer service.

With the expansion of international supply chains, the relentless drive for finding new and innovative ways to serve customers and the speed with which decisions now need to be taken, businesses are more than ever facing enormous challenges.

Companies operate in a data rich environment where analysis can reveal new insights and present valuable opportunities. But dangers exist too, as can be seen from the hugely disruptive events thrown up by digital supply chains.

Looking beneath the bonnet

With all this change, agility and responsiveness are key attributes for any supply chain looking to compete. Acquiring or retaining those qualities requires close attention to the way a supply chain is structured and tuned.

The truth is, the unexamined supply chain rarely contributes as much to a business as it could. Value can be locked in, waiting to be released, or simply, the potential to really perform and create competitive advantage can go unnoticed, shrouded by the burden of everyday demands.

But if you lift up the bonnet and look inside, you may be surprised by what can be achieved through expert analysis, a deeper understanding of the business’s needs, and the application of intelligent tools and cutting-edge solutions.

Unipart Supply Chain Consultancy works across a broad range of industry sectors, offering expert advice and performance enhancing solutions by working with clients on critical aspects of the supply chain, from strategy creation, cost-to-serve analysis, and integrated forecasting and planning, to network design, inventory management and facility design. In all, just about every aspect of a supply chain from factory gate to the recycling centre.

In our experience, taking the time to examine and understand a supply chain is rarely wasted and frequently delivers significant results—often leading to the freeing up of resources that may be usefully redeployed elsewhere.

Demonstrable returns on your investments

For one client, the realignment of a process and functional excellence strategy for a manufacturing-based supply chain resulted in a 16% reduction in working capital. And in the food and drink sector, a network redesign and optimisation programme for a global brand’s service network produced an operating cost reduction of 17%.

Actually, we think that most supply chains can improve performance radically by applying a few structured techniques, and there has never been a greater urgency to do so.

These are impressive savings and improvements, but they are merely a representative sample of some of the gains that can be achieved through the intelligent analysis of supply chain data, the full understanding of strategic business objectives, the application of a carefully calculated network design, the correct deployment of inventory, and the diligent implementation of sound operational practices.

Substantial sums can be saved through applying the right tools and expertise. For instance, a material operations review conducted by Unipart Supply Chain Consultancy in support of a major city Metro’s maintenance team saved 15% on spend over five years.

Far reaching positive implications

But, of course, it’s not always just about saving money. Improving operational performance or customer service is equally, if not more important. Stock availability was boosted from 70% to over 90% for our global engineering client following an aftermarket parts strategy review and redesign to support an SAP implementation. Then, in the automotive sector, we helped a global OEM achieve a 30% reduction in inventory, reduced back orders to zero and halved the required storage space.

When it comes to understanding the complexities surrounding new product introductions, we have developed specialist techniques for mapping out a launch and how a supply chain should support it. We highlight opportunities for improving alignment with customer needs, leveraging existing arrangements for new markets and reducing waste along the way—all in all, creating a more responsive supply chain.

Importantly, we use activity-based costing techniques set on realistic supply chain models to provide a valuable view of per product margin, which helps in identifying the most profitable opportunities available to a business.

Looking towards the future to stay ahead of the competition

But it is the time, money and resources Unipart Supply Chain Consultancy puts into developing proprietary, cutting-edge technology that sets us apart. We are looking beyond traditional forecasting, productivity, and inventory management tools to the latest advancements in technology, to search out ways of applying these techniques to current thinking and approaches.

In-house specialist teams are using the latest AI tools to rapidly develop more flexible forecasting models, leading to greater accuracy in predicting complex patterns of demand over the lifecycle of a product—which may be across a five to ten year baseline.

In inventory management, Reinforcement Learning—a form of machine learning—is being used by Unipart’s software engineers to push the boundaries of inventory performance. Through leveraging this advanced technology, which finds a balance between the ‘exploration of new ways’ and the ‘exploitation of current knowledge’, we are using the very latest thinking to better understand and predict inventory behaviours.

We are looking beyond traditional forecasting, productivity, and inventory management tools to the latest advancements in technology, to search out ways of applying these techniques to current thinking and approaches.

Unipart Inventory System (UIS) has been widely used across many industry sectors to run complex supply chains, driving performance through making common data available to all, using robust algorithms, and by offering graphical user interfaces that are easy to use. Critically, data is used to manage by exception and accessibility is easy, as it comes as Software as a Service.

In addition, we have industry-leading software that provides a Control Tower view of a client’s supply chain, helping a business to better target resources, identify in advance problems that may impact customers (enabling the business to prioritise accordingly), and tackle such issues as may arise at customs or relating to quality. By providing a single source of data for all levels within the company, from executives to those on the shop floor, we can ensure that planning and delivery are correctly aligned and monitored—creating value through measuring efficiency, asset utilisation and costs.

Getting a supply chain to really perform may be simpler than you think. It just takes know-how.

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