Silo mentality is always a negative. It discourages us from chiming in when we know that we should! For supply chain managers, this is evident when you let product designers persistently keep you out of the loop.
It’s not even about industry as much it’s about how you deliver products to the front end. If the product’s design creates unnecessary difficulty, then silence should never be your option!
In fact, the most successful brands have products that ingeniously combine an item’s best assets with clever design tricks that specifically enable transit throughout the entire supply chain network.
A classic, historical example is the square bottle of the Johnnie Walker whiskey. Developed in 1860, this bottle was clearly designed in order to allow more bottles in the same crate. And at the same time, it was meant to reduce breakages.
Paired with this scotch’s immense popularity, the ease of shipment, of course along with taste, served as a primary factor in skyrocketing the Johnnie Walker brand up to the legendary status that it enjoys today.
Not too different from the Johnnie Walker example is the square milk jug developed by Walmart for exactly the same reasons as outlined above, better fit into shipping containers and cartons. The square milk jug is a variant of the plastic gallon (3.785 litres) container of milk commonly sold in the United States. The design was introduced in the summer of 2008 and is marketed as environmentally friendly because of the shape’s advantages for shipping and storage (better cube efficiency).
You may not be a product engineer or the head of a design team, but the ease of manufacturing and shipment should always be somewhere close to the top of the product development list whilst a supply chain perspective must be put in place throughout the entire design process.
The challenge, however, is to properly communicate without necessarily coming off as invasive and demanding. The key is to properly communicate supply chain challenges to product designers and let them know what their options will be if they persist in a particular schematic for their product.
Naturally, these include technology in all major areas of the supply chain, including but not limited to:
It’s an age-old question but one that many first-time entrepreneurs gravely underestimate. For example, say you developed an innovative type of folding bed. What type of machine assembly will ensure both product quality and just-in-time delivery? Are the materials going to affect inventory carrying cost in any way?
Creating game-changing products is always great but not if production lacks the agility when adapting to market demand. In fact, the more sophisticated and delicate a product, the more likely you’ll need a variety of technological solutions. This covers a wide range from advanced robotics to even deep learning and AI!
For the sake of your product’s success, is your company willing to go that far!
Imagine if, instead of a physical product, your business offers a digital one? It might seem like a done deal. All you need are a lot of servers and you can just put it up for download on the internet. It’s that simple, right?
Unfortunately, it might still have complications. Digital distribution services like Netflix, Stan and Amazon Prime still have to concern themselves with problems like bandwidth, file sizes and the average internet speed of their target markets.
All this points back to the simple reality that a successful means of delivery will hinge on more than the product itself. Exercise caution when everyone is making assumptions about a product’s easy-to-deliver design before you even mapped out possible hiccups. Who knows, you might even find it more efficient to supplement a proposed means of delivery with older methods. (For example, many software companies still manufacture boxed DVD installers with additional bonuses rather than relying on users to download them purely from the internet.)
And of course, there is still the looming shadow of disruption. For instance, suppose you finally cracked the code of creating a fuel-efficient electric car. Should you start calling yourself the next Tesla?
That would be great, assuming your model can endure the hazards of overseas shipping. The same can be said if you optimize by shipping components and then having assembly lines in targeted regions.
A lot can still go wrong along the way. Shouldn’t you, at the very least discuss these problems with your engineers? Just as manufacturing options are the responsibility of supply chain heads, so should the contingency plans in the face of disruption. And yes, there are going to be a lot of technology solutions to explore in this area as well.
All in all, you don’t have to necessarily hammer these facts into your R&D department all at once. But when the time comes to speak your peace, do actually speak. There is no need to dismantle or compromise an ambitious product’s design but you do have to be honest about what it’ll take to get it to the market!
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