A plant’s supply chain, or the sequence of processes involved in moving a product from supplier to customer, is the framework by which all ROI and productivity is derived. For many reading this right now, that might more or less sound like common sense. But, there’s more to running a tight manufacturing ship than simply having a supply chain in place. 

With industrial computers, interconnected IoT devices, and Software as a Service programs all dropping en mass courtesy of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we’re seeing technology being integrated into manufacturing at a blinding pace. That’s all well and good, but the way manufacturers track all of this new tech across the supply chain needs to advance at a similar rate lest we risk bottle-necking and hurting our supply chain visibility

What is Supply Chain Visibility?

Supply Chain Visibility specifically refers to the ability of different parts of the supply chain to be closely tracked and monitored. This tracking provides insights on the entire manufacturing process from assembly and shipping to customer delivery.

In an ideally run operation, supply chain visibility would feed manufacturers with valuable analytics and real time data drawn from every step of the supply chain. Using this information, floor managers could identify where stopgaps in their chain, such as goods being stuck in transit or part shortages, are occurring and quickly address them before they have time to trickle into other parts of the chain and cause larger issues. Of course, we say “ideally” for a reason. 

Supply chain visibility is easier preached than practiced according to a survey by IBM. According to their findings, 84% of chief supply chain officers cited a lack of supply chain visibility as the largest challenge they currently face and the reasons are plain to see. 

Supply chains are becoming more and more complex with new advances in manufacturing tech being discovered seemingly daily. Not only that, supply chains are becoming global affairs, often involving multiple suppliers across the globe fulfilling certain duties. With so many moving parts, consolidating all of that succinctly into a supply chain visibility ledger is daunting to say the least. 

Daunting, but not impossible with the right tech and infrastructure in place. And well worth the effort when you consider what stands to be gained with supply chain visibility. 

The Benefits of Supply Chain Visibility

When it comes to a process as automated and mechanical as manufacturing, actionable data and analytics are akin to gold. An abridged list of some of this data’s benefits include: 

Preventing Shortage and Excess

Supply and demand for products and goods can fluctuate rapidly and sometimes very unpredictably. In cases like these, taking quick steps to cancel or increase orders for parts and products can save you quite a bit of money and lost productivity. 

In cases where it’s too late to cancel or increase orders, visibility of your supply chain can tell you exactly where excess is being stored, allowing you to run sales and promotions to return to the right balance.  

Speedy Responses to Disruption

Even the most optimized, well-oiled supply chains can suffer unexpected issues such as natural disasters and malfunctions. Fortunately, having real time data and visuals on the entire supply chain process allows you to pinpoint issues caused by natural malfunctions (such as late goods or quality issues) and address them immediately. Changing schedules, notifying suppliers, and communicating with customers are all assurances you can take at a moment’s notice as soon as you catch issues on your supply chain visibility software.  

Increase Collaboration with Global Suppliers

Like we mentioned earlier, supply chains are hardly ever entirely internal. Odds are you have multiple connections globally that fulfill multiple parts of your supply chain. Creating more visibility in parts of the process such as shipping and warehouse storage can make collaborating with these global suppliers much more convenient and optimized.

So now that we have the why out of the way, let’s move into the how. Here are a few integral pieces of tech you’ll need to get started setting up supply chain visibility.

Supply Chain Visibility Software

Your supply chain is a very intricate and interconnected process. Naturally, its visibility is going to require an equally sophisticated solution- the phone calls, emails, and excel sheets of old simply won’t cut it. It is this demand supply chain visibility software was developed to alleviate.

Supply chain visibility software provides a comprehensive overview of important information regarding shipped products, manufacturing processes, and more. Essentially, it is a localization of all of the real-time data you need to carefully track the entirety of your manufacturing process. 

Of course, you’ll need to be a little selective when picking your software provider. Aside from finding a provider with proven success and positive reviews, make sure you speak with a representative and confirm a few things. Namely, that the program can integrate with your existing ERP software and can be easily accessed on any panel PCs you have throughout your facility. 

Blockchain

Having a paper trail documenting shipments and production can be invaluable when scanning for stopgaps in productivity. Not too long ago, supply chain visibility was accounted for by having physical paper trails in the form of handwritten documentation. Of course, it doesn’t take much to realize that method is a tad inconvenient when you’re dealing with global suppliers and multi-tiered production processes. Thankfully, the process has been digitized and made more convenient with the invention of blockchain networks. 

A blockchain network is one in which information can be securely stored digitally into a “box” that carries an identification number unique to it. This makes tracking that particular documentation throughout the different steps in the manufacturing process easy.

What makes blockchain so helpful with supply chain visibility in particular is that it can be run on a peer to peer (P2P) network. On a P2P network, every addition of a new block or a change in an already existing block needs to be verified and confirmed as accurate by all users in the network. Not only does this ensure complete accuracy, it provides the added bonus of making tampering with this information much more difficult for cybercriminals. 

Internet of Things Technology

More often than not, information like the kind recorded for supply chain visibility is logged manually. Of course, that opens the door for plenty of human error and lost productivity. Much in the same way blockchain provided a digital alternative to physical documentation, interconnected IoT tech can do the same for manual recording. 

Connecting all of the disparate hardware in your factory with IoT devices can make recording data a noticeably simpler process. An industrial tablet, for example, that can be customized with barcode scanning and RFID readers can quickly scan information and beam it directly to a central supply chain visibility software to be recorded. Not only does this enhance productivity by cutting down on manual recording, it ensures accuracy by eliminating costly human errors.

Paint a Clearer Picture with Supply Chain Visibility

Supply chain visibility is no fad or trend of the day. It’s something factory owners and manufacturers have engaged in for quite some time. What we see today is simply proper scaling in visibility practices to match the growing complexity of the modern manufacturing process. To learn more about how you can improve your supply chain’s visibility, contact an expert from Cybernet today to learn what tech is needed for the job.