Supply chains have experienced a shocking amount of change in the past few months. With several of them incorporating new infrastructures and hardware like industrial grade computers to address concerns ranging from manufacturing employee safety to supply chain preparedness and everything in-between, the sector has had hardly any time to rest.

Fact of the matter is, the sector as a whole has been in the midst of a grand-scale metamorphosis for quite some time now. With their status quo constantly being challenged with events such as the COVID outbreak, the recent manufacturing recession, and even a skilled labor shortage that started impacting the space since well before either of those, many manufacturers are struggling to carve a place out for themselves in the world of the future. 

The silver lining here is that there’s a lesson to be learned from all of this: Disruption in the manufacturing space is par for the course. Success in this highly variable field falls on how well manufacturers can take these disruptions and bounce back. Manufacturers need to pay special attention to their supply chain resilience in order to survive today’s disruptions and tomorrow’s.

Many have started to realize this themselves amidst the recent push for supply chain self reliance in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a recent survey by Garner, 33% of supply chain professionals explained they had moved their manufacturing out of China or plan to as they become more self-reliant. 55% of respondents also commented that they were either currently fully resilient, or will be in the next 1-3 years. 

Regardless of how accurate those numbers may be, there’s no denying that supply chain resilience will be a key metric to measure this year and in the future.       

What is Supply Chain Resilience?

Supply chain resilience, at its core, refers to a supply chain’s ability to respond to, and recover from, disruption. 

“Disruption”, of course, is a rather vague term. And that’s partially the point. There are a variety of disruptions a supply chain can experience that can take a sledgehammer to productivity if they aren’t adequately prepared for. For example, today’s sudden lack of reliability in non-local supply chain partners is one such “disruption”. Machine breakdowns, a shortage of available workers, quality control issues, these are all examples of an unexpected disruption that can negatively affect a factory floor. Supply chain resilience is simply a term used to describe how a supply chain is able to bounce back and self-regulate after experiencing one or more of the hundreds of different possible disruptions they could face every day. 

What Does Supply Chain Resilience Look Like in Practice?

There has been constant positing in the industrial sector about what the manufacturing plant of the future will look like. Some imagine a setting that has antiquated the concept of the human worker entirely and runs entirely on robot labor. Others picture a workforce armed to the teeth with AR hardware, wearables, and more. 

Truth of the matter is, the future of the manufacturing plant is one completely centered around data. It’s data such as machine performance, quality metrics, KPIs, and more that are going to allow factory owners the insight necessary to build the truly disruption-resistant supply chains of the future. 

This is the kind of future many envision when discussing the fourth industrial revolution: smart factories with technology capable of drawing in incredible amounts of data that can then be used to create a fortified operation backed by supply chain resilience.

How do You Build a Supply Chain Resilience Model?

Thankfully, supply chain resilience models aren’t some far off advancement. They’re something that can be built out today. The key to doing so is investing in innovations and programs that allow for your facility to draw in the previously mentioned data needed to prepare for disruptions. Below are a few innovations we’ve covered extensively in other posts, but are worth re-mentioning when discussing supply chain resilience. 

Edge Computing

It’s very likely that edge computing will gain some popularity as we begin to see a massive shift towards supply chain self-reliance. This is primarily because edge computing hardware allows for seamless, real-time gathering of data from IoT connected factory machinery.

Edge computing was embraced originally as an alternative to sending off machine diagnostic data to off-site data silos for storage. Using edge gateways, factories have begun more effectively storing data locally, allowing for it to be easily accessible and, more importantly, available as soon as it’s gathered by an IoT sensor. This allows for predictive machine maintenance capabilities, giving operators to observe how machines are performing and preemptively catch breakdowns before they occur or have a chance to worsen and cost more money. 

Having this data on hand is a form of supply chain resilience in itself. Not only does it take data away from off-site vaults where it can be susceptible to factors outside of a factory’s control, it also opens the door for using data in order to prepare for disruptions and respond accordingly. There’s also a host of other benefits and some easy to implement tips for getting started in edge computing we covered in a previous post.  

Digital Twin Technology

Digital twin applications and supply chain resiliency are a match made in heaven. Why? Because a program that allows you to run simulations of disruptions can perform miracles in boosting the levels of supply chain resiliency across your factory floor. And that’s precisely what digital twin technology is. 

Using this software-based innovation, managers can create a digital replica of their own factory floor or supply chain, giving them a virtual playground where they can simulate all manner of disruptions and observe how well prepared they are to deal with them. 

What would happen if this key machine broke down? How would we be able to respond if this particular supply chain partner was hit by an earthquake and unable to deliver product for a few days? If there was an accident on the floor, how could we recuperate losses in productivity? These are all scary hypotheticals that can be plugged into a digital twin program and simulated in order to create contingency plans. 

Many factories have even begun using this innovation to train AI programs for predictive maintenance by giving them examples of what a breakdown looks like through a simulation. We’ve covered some more interesting examples of use cases as well as tarter tips for how to employ a digital twin in manufacturing

Resilient Hardware

Resilience doesn’t strictly reside in the software side of running a supply chain. Having hardware that’s resilient and capable of withstanding the volatile workspace also helps invariably prepare for and fortify against costly disruptions. Not only does industrial-grade hardware allow for better protection against breakdowns, it also allows for a more seamless integration of the innovations we mentioned above. 

A rack mounted computer, for example, can function as an excellent hub for data drawn in from edge computing hardware and IoT sensors outfitted on smart machinery deployed across the factory floor. Additionally, workstations such as these that are truly built to be resilient in the industrial space will be IP65 certified, ensuring there’s no ingress of moisture and debris that could cause a breakdown.

Something like a rugged windows tablet, if built by the right manufacturer, can also meet those certifications and also be customized with hardware such as a barcode scanner or RFID scanner.  Having this hardware can make scanning in stock, inventory, product yield, and more, much more streamlined and accurate, giving you more accurate data with which to predict supply chain disruptions and plan accordingly.  

Supply Chain Resilience Isn’t Only About Prevention, It’s About Reaction

While foresight and planning ahead for predicted issues is surely essential when it comes to running any business or supply chain, resilience is something more. A supply chain resilience model is just as much about preparing for the unexpected as it is preparing for the expected. By using the tips and tech we mentioned above, a supply chain can create a multi-tiered defense against all manner of disruptions, expected or otherwise. For more information on how your operation can get started building out their resilience model in the face of such uncertain times, contact an expert from Cybernet’s team today.