The future of supply chain management and industrial remote work

Nov. 9, 2021
In this installment of Ask An Integrator, our panel checks their crystal ball to find out what next year holds in two key industrial areas.

Welcome to the fourth installment in our quarterly feature, Ask An Integrator, developed together with the Control System Integrators Association and its member organizations.

For this month, we asked the integrator community to predict how current issues of the day would play out next year. System integrators have been crucial to assisting plants in their ability to craft a streamlined supply chain as well as enable many employees to work from home during the COVID pandemic. What can we expect from these trends in 2022?

Dave King, Chief Operating Officer
CSIA Certified Member Martin CSI

On supply chain: Looking ahead into 2022, inventory demands and long lead times on common components are going to continue to be an issue. This has been our largest concern in managing projects and fulfilling our customer’s needs this year, and in speaking with our distributors and manufacturers it isn’t going to get better any time soon.

In order to ease some of the scheduling setbacks, we have had to pivot in the way we purchase our components or material. Typically, we would wait until we had complete design approval before ordering any components. Now, we are ordering components at the beginning of a project just to meet a deadline that is potentially six months out. Items that would usually take less than 2-4 weeks to receive are now taking 18-20 weeks. Getting equipment on time is a constant pain point for our project managers and engineers.

To navigate the ordering of equipment that quickly, we have had to adapt both our account processes and project management practices. Recently, to prevent any delays in schedule, a customer requested to have all material costs invoiced up front so we could order items as needed. Another project required ordering non-stock motors that we did not need for at least four more months. Instead of waiting until the time of need, we chose to order them up front so the manufacturer had the order.

A number of our customers have migrated toward Just In Time Production as they adopted Lean Manufacturing principals. Equipment manufacturers, who are also experiencing a lack of materials and employees, could adopt those same principles. If they do, then the manufacturers that have an inventory supply will gain a competitive advantage until things return to pre-COVID times.

As you plan your projects, remember to get your integrator involved early and work together to get in that checkout line quickly.

Automation Zone

This article is part of our monthly Automation Zone column. Read more from our monthly Automation Zone series.

Scott Pickford, Principal
CSIA Certified Member Enterprise Automation

On work: My impression is that most organizations have already formulated and implemented back to work plans that suit their particular organization. At Enterprise Automation our solution is a hybrid work model with a combination of dedicated desks, flexible workspace areas, and a robust Microsoft Teams based communications infrastructure. This arrangement suits our particular demographics, employee preferences, and client needs, however it is unlikely to suit everybody.

I don’t believe there is much more to debate or write on the subject of how our workplaces are going to look for the foreseeable future. However, something I think we all share is the challenge of rebuilding and maintaining our pre-pandemic social and cultural momentum. The decrease in full-time office attendance, fewer proximity driven social events, and in some cases the relocation of employees to other states has challenged our long standing community and culture. We have and will continue to rely on this as a source of competitive advantage for our recruitment, retention, and work product.

What needs to change for us is how we encourage and incentivize the cultural and team building activities that used to occur with greater ease. There needs to be an increased emphasis on this intangible by everyone that cares; HR, managers, supervisors, and staff. The speed at which we identify and help employees that may be struggling can also be affected by the new working model. We will need to adopt new methods to uncover problems, and to counsel and help our staff from afar.

These measures will undoubtedly have an impact on time and money, but failing to keep our team engaged and productive will have consequences we very much wish to avoid.

Jason Sanders, Manager, Industrial Heating and Laser Systems (IHLS)
CSIA Partner Member Leister Technologies, LLC

On work: For many years, traditional office work environments relied upon much of the workforce coming into a central location to conduct business and the daily tasks associated with each unique industry. Whether it was engineering, accounting, or sales, many worked in an office that had the tools and networks to exchange information and allow for the ability to make informed decisions about opportunities.

Technology has always played a part in these functions, and it continues to evolve, supplying the workforce with even more powerful tools to be successful. While the technology was already in place, some companies have been slow to embrace the available tools and continued with their “business as usual” belief that employees needed to be in the office to be productive and efficient.

For the workplace to evolve, it sometimes takes an unforeseen event to force change. The pandemic has been a catalyst for many organizations to necessarily adapt to new technologies to remain viable. This shift has brought about new approaches to communicating, both internally with team members and externally with customers, regarding opportunities not only for marketing and selling products, but even for troubleshooting and diagnosing equipment failures. These new methods have forced organizations to reevaluate what is most important for their employees to do their jobs effectively while still fostering a creative work environment.

The future of work will either be a blend of in-person and telecommuting or completely remote work environments. The pandemic has shown us that it is no longer necessary to be in an office every single day to be productive. Many can still achieve daily tasks while working in a remote environment.

In addition to maintained productivity, an opportunity to improve work-life balance also presents itself. Organizations need to determine which departments can handle working remote and which ones are mission critical and absolutely need to be in an office setting.

This story originally appeared in the November 2021 issue of Plant Services. Subscribe to Plant Services here.

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