Peter Bigelow

Under extreme conditions the supply chain has risen to the occasion. It’s time customers do the same.

As I write this, the Northeastern United States, and particularly the greater Boston area where I work, is experiencing its third major snow event in as many weeks. By major snow event I mean each week we have been nailed with up to two feet of the white stuff, and as much as a combined 60" plus of the white stuff is on the ground in many areas.  Each week these storms have crippled much of the region, with businesses closed, deliveries and pickups by the likes of UPS and Fed Ex trickling through, and much of the local economy brought to its knees.

What has been interesting to observe is that while “much” of the region has been crippled, one segment has seemingly continued to plug away: the collective supply chain known as electronics manufacturing!

Each week the various local and state offices have been closed or manned only by “essential” employees. Service institutions – you know, the ones that rely on computer centers to operate their online operations – have been closed. Ditto for schools and many stores. However, I have been impressed at how most of, if not all, our local customers and suppliers have been operating pretty much business as usual throughout this ordeal.

Yes, we have all experienced higher absenteeism, and with the shippers of choice breaking some of our supply lines, priorities in the plant may have been juggled, but overall work has been continuing with little if any real disruption. I view this dedication to getting the job done and focus on meeting delivery commitments, even under extreme weather conditions, as just another of the unsung values that most, if not all, companies in our industry deliver day in and day out with little overall recognition and no financial reward.

From our few weeks of winter weather disruption it does appear the only companies to have closed are the large OEMs that ultimately drive the demand we all must produce to satisfy. Those local companies experiencing our weather have had the larger percentage of closures due to the weather. And yet, their purchasing staffs have been unrelenting in expecting that their supply base still delivers the goods on time, no matter the challenges Mother Nature has wrought. The expectation is on-time delivery despite any and all obstacles.

Over the decades I have been a part of this industry, through economic boom and bust, migration from one part of the world to another, and through earthquakes, typhoons, outbreaks of disease, and acts of war that brought transportation to a halt, the electronics supply chain has performed better than most, if not all, other industries to ensure on-time delivery. Even more frustrating is when customers close due to inclement weather, then delay receiving materials because of their internal receiving backlog, so their “supplier report card” penalizes the supplier that made the effort and delivered on time. And yet, despite this yeoman track record, customers apply no value to that performance metric, rather only “rewarding” by pulling their business from any company that slips up even once!

Which brings me to the larger question: why don’t we as an industry receive the value we deserve when building a product to print, quickly, despite such uncontrollable disruptive events? Many other industries will shut down at the drop of a snowflake and neither refund customers for lost performance or even acknowledge their failure to deliver. And yet the electronics supply chain more often than not gets significant push-back when trying to charge a fair price for the value and performance – technology, quality and delivery – provided to their customers. If there is any message that we all – everyone in our industry, regardless of where we are located or function we perform – need to sell to our customers, it is the considerable investment all companies in our industry makes, and commitment each one takes to heart, to ensure customers receive the product they ordered, regardless of challenges and obstacles overcome – on time!

Some may say that such an effort would be a waste of time, and there is no reason to exert any effort to sell the idea of on-time delivery being a value-add opportunity, as “everyone” knows that on-time delivery is assumed to happen by all customers. I fully agree that we as an industry have allowed it to be assumed; as with quality, technology environmental compliance and all the other things our companies do, on-time delivery is now a given. Regrettably, however, the cost of all those attributes is real and should be at least mentioned by each and every one of us as a real cost of business, costs of business that provide true value to the customer. Only by discussing such costs does any of us have a prayer of pricing our product fairly and appropriately, which should be a key reason we all are in business.

The recent weekly blizzards in the Northeast US will eventually melt away. The commitment that the hundreds of electronics companies located within the snow’s swath displayed by dealing with the situation and delivering quality product on time to their customers will be ongoing. And as all companies that face similar obstacles rise to the challenge, so should our collective customers be made aware that that commitment to service has a very real and tangible value.

Peter Bigelow is president and CEO of IMI (imipcb.com); pbigelow@imipcb.com. His column appears monthly.

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