Technology has had no small part to play in reshaping and resizing the supply chain at every level of its existence. In an earlier article, I talked about the inner department supply chain, where I suggested that department managers should look at their internal operations as links in their own supply chains. I also indicated I would write about the technologies that have shortened the individual inner link and between link execution times. (See: The Mini Supply Chain: Overlooked, yet Potent.)
I have been involved in the electronics industry for over 30 years and have seen the introduction of many hardware and software tools that have significantly affected R&D and manufacturing, product quantity, integrity, cost, process throughput, and quality of final products.
In 1984, I worked at a company that produced point-to-point microwave communication links. As a component engineer selecting parts and assemblies for optimal performance and costs, I became very familiar with RF, base band, IF, and digital and analog circuitry. Probably the most cutting-edge technology that was introduced into our systems was the design and implementation of programmable logic devices.
These configurable logic programs could be cut and pasted into higher and higher capacity parts saving countless hours of redesign time that would have been expended on next-generation products. What used to require months of design effort can now be quickly added to these off-the-shelf parts reducing design time by several orders of magnitude.
For mechanical design, there are numerous CAD programs that do much more than just draw the parts or assemblies. Various modeling tools are common to many CAD packages. By assigning material cost to material types, you can generate a cost versus materials study at the same time you are testing the part or assembly for various, preset motion and environmental stresses under anticipated, worst-case operational conditions.
The result is the designer is able to select the best materials for the job at the lowest cost while considering appearance, assembly processes, and manufacturing considerations. Now add 3D printers that are quickly becoming more versatile with the plastic, cellulose, and other print substances, and within hours, a physical model for assembly fit and interference evaluation can be produced.
By employing just these two linked design innovations, the product's time to market is highly accelerated. This allows for faster supply chain replenishment and an increase in the number of new products flowing into the supply chain. Demand creates supply, and supply creates demand. This is definitely the case with the latest and greatest consumer tech items becoming the necessities for living efficiently and smartly in our world today.
Now with the convergence of so many technologies, the supplier that will create a product that will interface with the greatest number of other related technologies will win the market share. I am happy to say that my tablet has 4G, wireless, and the best pixel resolution of any other tablet on the market today. I had the earlier version, but the manufacturer triggered my demand response by being able to supply what I did not even know I needed. How could it come out with this new version so soon after the previous version was released?
I guess it had the right inner- and inter-department tools and capabilities to hit the supply chain first with the most feature-rich, competitive product on the market today. The next time someone yanks your supply chain, be sure your inner company links are strong enough and sized correctly to take the strain of an ever-increasing demand pull.