It’s news to absolutely no one that our supply chain has been rocked by continual pandemic and climate-related disruptions going on two years. In this tumultuous moment, can we find a lesson in resilience?
On this bonus episode of The Platform Rules: Digital Transformation for Product Companies, we’re replaying another timely-as-ever discussion from last year’s Propulsion. Propel CMO Dario Ambrosini led the chat with guests Vicky Carl, Sr. Manager of QMS at Rockley Photonics, and Micheal Farr, VP of Operations and Plant Manager at MSA Safety.
Amid the ongoing supply chain upheavals and disruption, an industry that’s had notoriously bad luck in the past two years is the semiconductor chip industry – such as those used in high tech goods and other electronics.
We spoke with leaders at a manufacturer (Rockley Photonics) and a consumer (MSA Safety) of semiconductor chips to get an idea of the full impact on their business operations and product strategy.
At MSA Safety, Michael Farr describes the “ugly position” the product team was thrown into when shortages became dire.
“We had one component for one of our critical products that we placed for a purchase order report in April of . And we were told there's a worldwide shortage, it's completely out. We struggled trying to find some resources on the gray market, brokers, what have you—and just could not find any material... Well, we've just been told that the product that was going to be here in November is now delayed again until January. So that’s another three months or so of activity and revenue and year-end.”
And while these delays have been causing troubling bottlenecks, Farr is equally worried about finding people to support the work.
“We're even having a difficult time, in some cases, finding supply chain associates to come in and fill the gaps where we need to… It's just very, very tough. I think it's just a matter of people getting back to work. You can tell things are getting back closer to normal, but it's not the way it was pre-pandemic.”
On the other hand, Vicky Carl works at a manufacturer of these chips, Rockley Photonics. She describes a “booming” business on their side of things—thanks to some nimble shifts.
“We’re expanding to manufacturing chips and modules that can be used for commercial uses like fitness trackers to keep track of things like your blood pressure and heart rate… With COVID everybody has just become more interested in health and wellness. So there has been more of a market for that kind of product.”
According to Carl, this challenging era forced the product team at Rockley to drop old approaches and look much further ahead than usual.
“You have to really plan in advance. You can't do that whole "Just In Time" lean manufacturing that we were all taught was the way to go. You have to really plan. You have to work with the suppliers to make sure we can do what we need to do. And additionally, for us, it's also a matter of adding a lot of people to manage the production.”
In conjunction with planning further ahead, Farr describes how MSA Safety found a way to anticipate the needs of their evolving demand chain.
“I think the sales and operations planning process has come into play. We relied on that a lot more to understand the ‘surprise demand,’ if you will, to be able to anticipate and react towards that.”