I'm sure there's no one who isn't shocked and filled with deep sympathy for the people of Japan, in the wake of that nation's horrific earthquake and tsunami.
It seemed to erupt as one of those "perfect storms": a magnitude 9.0 earthquake and 12-foot-high walls of water born out of a tsunami that traveled halfway across the globe. Then, the explosions and imminent threats of a potential meltdown of a nuclear power plant -- despite the three levels of fail-safes put in place to keep this very thing from ever taking place.
In the US, debates over the expansion of nuclear power seem to be moving towards a stance of acceptance, but will very likely heat up soon. Nuclear power opponents will say that threats currently facing Japan show that the development of new reactor sites can never be a safe path for the US's energy plan.
Others will say that continued or even accelerated reactor deployment is the only clean and fiscally responsible option, when the US relies on other nations to execute its national energy plan. They might add that it's at least necessary until wind and solar technology are able to supply adequate quantities of reliable power to the grid.
The issues we examine in our supply chain blogs seem insignificant when compared to debates about nuclear power and the disaster in Japan. Yet recent events should force us to examine the ability of our fail-safe systems to guard against a perfect storm.
In the event of a devastating disaster in our own backyard, do we have the ability to deliver raw materials or assemblies elsewhere, to prevent US companies' production from coming to a standstill? Not all disasters are of the magnitude that the Japan is enduring. Let us be thankful for that. Yet, disasters still occur. Some are classified as "acts of God," and lesser ones could be the result of mere union disruptions or single-source suppliers not performing as "guaranteed."
These are trivial compared to the Japan earthquake and tsunami. Please forgive me for making this comparison. But I can't help thinking that as keepers of the supply chain, it is also our responsibility to deliver. It's likely we have all been told that a particular component or raw material is desperately needed when it's nowhere in the world to be had. Yet, we are still expected to have the needed quantity on the dock within three days.
Sometimes, we pass such seemingly insurmountable conundrums up and down the chain, pretending that it's neither our fault, nor our responsibility, if we can't get our hands on it. We then do everything humanly possible to expedite an order for materials that do not exist, figuring that screaming the loudest, threatening the greatest repercussions, or swearing to never to do business with that supplier again will somehow make the needed material appear.
While our recent experiences with allocations and unbelievable lead times have created double or triple orders for the same material from multiple suppliers, we must face the realization that we need a better plan. Isn't it time to dust off the disaster recovery plan, or get busy creating one?
Finding realistic safety stock levels; identifying alternate reliable suppliers for dual sourcing; and maintaining local supply with a distribution partner who can hold stock for you (especially stock from Asian manufacturers who only ship by the boatload, when only a 30-day supply is needed) are all part of a well-thought-out supply chain, disaster or not. When you think about it, it's as if 20 percent of supply chain kinks create 80 percent of supply chain disasters. What would your professional life be if you were able to resolve those kinks before they turned into disasters?
I want to extend my prayers to the people of Japan. I can only hope that those who are in a position to can help minimize the loss and suffering. Consider donating to one of the many disaster relief organizations, such as World Vision and The Red Cross.