Inventory too hot to hold

For companies inventory management is essential as their exists economic downturns and upturns. These trends in the economy can drastically effect company cost as holding onto inventory can become expensive. Demand is often a difficult thing to get correct. We see many companies looking to sell and reduce inventory as soon as predicted demand for goods do not pan out the way they suspected. Often times the ridding of inventory is a difficult task as the liquidity to react quickly historically is not there. Inventory can be stolen, it can become obsolete and it could be sold but many companies are now starting to believe dedicating money to inventory is a high risk with a high cost. What are the alternatives as the companies need to keep up with the demand by their clients as the cost of a shortage is even greater? Through problem solving initiatives like Six Sigma companies are more fit to react to customer demands. Theses investments in a higher level of inventory management rather than in inventory can be more competitive and eventually get more bang for the buck.  Companies, in order to remain competitive, have to reevaluate where their resources are being focused and the use of technology is a resource that would be very beneficial in their future. The Ford Motor Company reportedly saved $600 million by the implementation of a Six Sigma management system. In 1999 Ford started to train their top level management then the officer group, and then the leadership group. After a year and half Ford has reportedly spent $6 million in training their several levels of management in Six Sigma. Ford rates the level of training by way of colored belts like that of a karate dojo:

Green Belt: “They receive one week of training that includes a basic understanding of how Six Sigma works and an overview of the Black Belt tools. Green Belts learn to help Black Belts do projects faster. Green Belt training allows the people who are affected by the Six Sigma projects to be able to continue to monitor and control the improvement and to do their jobs better”

Black Belt: Process full time for two year. The training includes, “define-measure-analyze-improve-control cycle” , “mapping, cause-and-effect diagrams, failure mode and effects analysis, design of experiments, and mistake proofing”

Master Black Belts- Handpicked by upper management; describes duties are.. “My core job responsibility is to help Black Belts with the tools, eliminate road blocks and support them during the various phases of their projects”

Project Champion- Work alongside master black belts and provides them with necessary resources to complete tasks.

This sort of implementation depends on the companies dedication to customer service and by senior leadership. With such a large company as Ford Motor Company making a commitment to new, nimble approaches to inventory management there can be an example for companies of all sizes that there are very good alternatives to the negatives that come with projecting demand the traditional way.

How often do you believe companies tend to under estimate the demand in the market?

Do you feel that smaller companies have the chance to save proportionally the same level of capital a company like Ford did using something like Six Sigma?

JIT – Just-in-Time or Just-in-Trouble?

The importance of managing risk through the supply chain has become painfully evident as a result of natural disasters which have occurred in recent months and years. Despite the obvious human cost and tragedy that ensued, catastrophes caused by the earthquakes, tsunamis, flooding, factory explosions and volcanic eruptions have all impacted enterprises who source globally, and who have embraced Lean/JIT practices at least to some degree.

The supply chain effects of these catastrophes have lead to a JIT rethink, but it is clear that many companies have failed to put in place back-up plans to cope with emergencies like the Japanese catastrophe. They were content to place all their eggs in one basket like Japan or China owing to low production costs while ignoring the obvious risks of natural disasters. But even where companies had a disaster-recovery plan in place, room for maneuver depends largely on the nature of the industry.

The production philosophy born on the factory floors of Japanese car companies is a global management practice and has saved companies billions of dollars. The idea behind JIT, or lean manufacturing, is to have the supplies a firm needs at the exact moment that they are needed. Most of the companies, with production systems based on just-in-time inventory management, understand keeping minimum inventory has its risks.

The problem for many global corporations is that they are mesmerized by cheap production costs in disaster-prone countries. They know the natural disaster risks but feel that their infrequent occurrences on a major scale justify the risks. Nature is not the only threat to the supply chain; there are also significant political risks to be considered in many politically unstable countries.

The rising production costs in China will favor a shift of production back to countries concerned to have a more secure source of supply unaffected by natural disasters. There are, however, other reasons favoring a production shift back to regions close to their markets, like flexibility to react to market changes more responsively.

There are number of avenues open to risk mitigation strategies to deal with large scale disruptions of supply chains, including:

–        Challenge suppliers to develop disaster plans so that they can make provisions to move to alternate sites for production, in the event that they are unable to produce product at their main plant.

–        Eliminate sole-source suppliers, and developing the capabilities of additional companies. Having one supplier is probably too few, but having five suppliers is too many in terms of achieving economies of scale.

–        Analyze where suppliers are located, and limiting the number of critical component suppliers that are geographically situated in a risky area.

–        Review insurance policies and consider taking-out contingent business interruption insurance that protects against losses relating to the inability of suppliers to deliver.

Experts have been recommending for years that manufacturers diversify their supply base. After all, recent history is full of examples of widespread supply chain disruptions and their consequences for manufacturers reliant on too few sources, such examples are: attacks to WTC and Hurricane Katrina in USA, flooding in Thailand, factory explosions in Germany, volcanic ash from Iceland and earthquake and tsunami in Japan.


Japanese Earthquake-Tsunami Show Flaws In Just-In-Time

Reducing Risk in The Automotive Supply Chain

Japan’s earthquake must force JIT supply changes

Auto companies relook at just-in-time mantra

 Japan One Year Later: What Did Supply Chain Practitioners Learn from the Tsunami?