As governments and health care agencies work to stop the spread of Covid-19 and to treat those who are infected, manufacturers in more than a dozen industries are struggling to manage the epidemic’s growing impact on their supply chains. Unfortunately, many are facing a supply crisis that stems from weaknesses in their sourcing strategies that could have been corrected years ago.
Just how extensive the crisis is can be seen in data released by Resilinc, a supply-chain-mapping and risk-monitoring company, which shows the number of sites of industries located in the quarantined areas of China, South Korea, and Italy, and the number of items sourced from the quarantined regions of China.
Learning Painful Lessons … Again
After the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Fukushima, Japan, many multinationals learned painful lessons about the hidden weaknesses in their supply chains — weaknesses that resulted in loss of revenue, and in some cases, market cap. While most companies could quickly assess the impacts that Fukushima had on their direct suppliers, they were blindsided by the impacts on second- and third-tier suppliers in the affected region.
Almost nine years later, it seems the lessons of Fukushima must be learned anew as many companies worldwide scramble to identify which of their “invisible” lower-tier suppliers — those with whom they don’t directly deal — are based in the affected regions of China.
Many companies are probably also regretting their reliance on a single company for items they directly purchase. Supply-chain managers know the risks of single sourcing, but they do it anyway in order to secure their supply or meet a cost target. Often, they have limited options to choose from, and increasingly those options are only in China.
In many cases, the roots of this current supply-chain crisis stem from decisions made far upstream — for example, sourcing a common plastic resin that is vital to several industries from one supplier or one region. Such decisions cascade down through supply chains, even impacting companies who themselves don’t directly source materials or products from China but whose suppliers do.
Risk management principles should be applied, at a minimum, to tiers 1 and 2 in company supply chains. Beyond tier 2, the risks should at least be understood.
In some cases, it will not be possible to find multiple sources for certain parts or materials. For example, a supplier may possess unique intellectual property; sometimes volumes aren’t sufficient to justify two sources; or multiple sources are simply not available. In these cases, companies need to supplement their traditional sourcing practices with new sources of data and new approaches to understand and mitigate the risks they take on.