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5min

How to Design for Your Supply Chain (as Dictated by Weird Al)

Breaking down the ever-pressing need for supply chain diversification based on the timeless wisdom of modern-day bard Weird Al Yankovic.

In his epic masterpiece, Mission Statement, business sage Weird Al Yankovic lays out a blueprint for managing your supply chain in turbulent times:

“With strong commitment to quality
Effectively enhancing corporate synergy
Transitioning our company
By awareness of functionality
Promoting viability

Providing our supply chain with diversity (versity, ooooh)

We will distill our identity
Through client-centric solutions
And synergy (Oooooh oooh oooh)”
 

(Credit: A. Yankovic)

As he often does Mr. Yankovic surfaces a critical topic—in this case—supply chain diversity. Let’s unpack this and other key considerations for effective product design in today’s environment of volatile supply.

Over the past three years, manufacturers have become keenly aware that designing and building products in the midst of disrupted supply is a challenging task. 

Here are some key steps that can help, starting with Weird Al’s urging for diversity:

Diversify

Diversifying your supply chain means identifying and engaging with multiple suppliers for the components, raw materials, or services you need to produce your product. 

The goal of diversification is to reduce the risks associated with relying on a single supplier, such as a supplier's financial challenges, the effects of extreme weather, geopolitical instability, or other unexpected events that could disrupt the supply of essential components or services.

Here are some steps you can take to diversify your supply chain:

1. Identify

Start by identifying potential suppliers that can provide the components or raw materials you need. This may involve conducting research online, attending trade shows or conferences, or networking with industry contacts.

2. Evaluate

Once you have identified potential suppliers, evaluate their capabilities to ensure they can meet your “strong commitment to quality” as Weird Al advises.

Also, make sure they can meet your quantity and delivery requirements. This may involve conducting site visits, reviewing certifications, or conducting audits.

3. Manage

Build and maintain relationships with your suppliers by communicating regularly, monitoring their performance, and addressing any issues that arise. This can help you stay ahead of any potential supply chain disruptions and ensure a reliable supply of components.

4. Monitor

Regularly evaluate your supply chain to identify any potential gaps or weaknesses, and adjust your diversification strategy as needed. This may involve adding or removing suppliers, renegotiating contracts, or adjusting your procurement processes.

Promoting Viability

Beyond the diversification of suppliers, there are a range of other efforts you can undertake with respect to product design to bolster your resilience.

You can prioritize components with longer lead times and longer life.

Identify the components that typically have longer lead times and prioritize them in your design process. Crucially, you should seek to know the risk of component obsolescence by understanding the components’ estimated end of life. This will give you more time to procure these components and switch to ones with longer remaining lifetimes to reduce the risk of delays.

You can adapt products to design with flexibility in mind.

Consider designing products that can use alternative components, so that you can easily substitute one component for another if necessary. Some electronic component databases, like SiliconExpert, offer services that identify viable cross-parts for just this purpose. Building in adaptability may require you to design with a more modular approach so that different components can be easily swapped out.

Use a modular design approach.

Modular design involves breaking a product down into smaller, interchangeable components or modules. This approach allows you to easily swap out components or modules as needed, which can help you adapt to changing circumstances.

You can seek to standardize components.

Standardizing components can make it easier to find alternative suppliers or substitute components when necessary. For example, using standard connectors or interfaces can allow you to easily switch out one component for another without needing to redesign the entire product.

You can rationalize production processes.

Using common manufacturing processes can help ensure that your product can be produced using a variety of manufacturing techniques. This can help you avoid being locked into a specific manufacturing process or supplier.

You can consider alternative materials.

Consider using alternative materials that are more readily available or sustainable. For example, using recycled or bio-based materials can help reduce dependence on scarce or non-renewable resources.

Enhancing Corporate Synergy

Regardless of the state of supply, it’s always a good idea to closely collaborate with your suppliers. Communicate regularly with them to stay up to date on any potential disruptions. This can help you identify alternative suppliers or work together to find creative solutions to navigate supply chain challenges.

In summary, designing products in the context of supply chain disruptions requires a combination of proactive planning, diversification, flexibility, and close collaboration with suppliers. By taking these steps, you can help mitigate the impact of supply chain disruptions and ensure a more reliable supply of components for your products. 

Follow these steps, and your products won’t be in Jeopardy!

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Post by
Tom Shoemaker
VP of Product Marketing, Propel

Tom Shoemaker is the VP of Product Marketing at Propel. In this role, he’s responsible for product messaging and positioning, sales enablement, and voice of customer programs. Prior to Propel, Shoemaker was Chief Marketing Officer of itslearning, a Scandinavian-based edtech provider, where he led the company’s marketing and business development efforts. Prior to itslearning, he held numerous leadership positions at PTC, including pre-sales, R&D, and marketing. Most recently, he was VP Enterprise Marketing. Over his 20-year+ tenure, Shoemaker was responsible for the go-to-market strategy and product launch of PTC’s primary solutions, including Windchill and Creo.

Fun Fact: In high school, Tom appeared on Brainstormers, a local station TV quiz show.

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Tom Shoemaker