Supply chain visibility is a constant issue for the logistic industry and its efforts to hone the delivery of materials. However according to an IBM survey cited by Thomas Blank, managing director of logistics provider Agility, 70% of global supply chain chiefs canvassed acknowledged that visibility and information flow remained a challenge, closely followed by risk management (60%) and customer familiarity (55%).
According to Blank there are black holes in the information supporting international supply chains and it is part of a 3PL’s job to improve the level of visibility. At the same time, there is what Blank described as an ‘overkill’ in terms of the supply of certain information; the flipside to a problem of its scarcity is the surfeit of unsorted data obfuscating what is critical.
The point was picked up by Bram Ewals, chief executive at Ewals Cargo Care. “It is our challenge to refine the information to make it more relevant,” he said. “This is key for us. What we do see is that we have a joint approach with the customer, where we are allowed to talk about lead times, alternative routes, and multimodal connections. Then we can better understand what to expect from our capacity in terms of transport equipment but also in terms of planning capacity.”
This came into sharp focus when there were unforeseen catastrophes. Andreas Graffe, Opel/Vauxhall’s director of order fulfillment, said that his company knew where to find the critical information when situations hit, as was seen during the impact of the Icelandic volcanic ash cloud in 2010.
“We do have processes in place to understand from where we need to derive that information,” he said. “We are reactive. You can project everything that can happen but you have some base parameters in place.”
Delegates agreed that a good overall uncluttered picture was dependent on investment in good IT tools but there was some dispute over how that was applied, part of a wider criticism about the supply of data by the OEMs.
“Here we are stuck with the thinking of the 1970s,” said Paul Lemoine, director of world class manufacturing, Magna Exteriors and Interiors. “A lot of OEMs are still running cubes as a base for call offs. That is completely wrong and it produces fluctuation in the market.”
According to Oliver Reisch, COO of Flexis, the answer is the online provision of detailed information to the principal players in an operation. His company is working with GM’s Opel division on an online tool that combines information on vehicle orders, forecasts, material availability and logistics.
The more a logistics operator knows the less the impact of the pull fluctuations on material, according to Reisch.
“If you implement the online availability of information to production line, and it is the same in the sequencing area, it smoothens down the critical operations the different parties do,” he said.
However, Lemoine didn’t quite agree.
“When you try to follow the fluctuation with information flow what you do is increase the pull effect,” he said. “I remember very well when Ford was running the hourly call off system; [it was] a load of nonsense. Stabilise the whole thing and keep it stable. But that means completely different leadership and discipline at the OEMs. Don’t follow the fluctuation. Stop that.”