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December 18, 2021

The success of just-in-time production strategy largely depends on precise coordination between businesses and their suppliers. Production planners in the automotive industry face challenges daily to ensure the required components and subassemblies are available for timely output and delivery. Add a global pandemic to the mix, and all the careful planning goes haywire. The microchip shortage in the auto industry highlights how disruptions impact multiple tiers of the supply chain, causing ripples of unexpected demand fluctuations, both upstream and downstream. While the automotive industry accounts for less than 10% of the global semiconductor demand, it may suffer nearly 80% of the $125 billion in lost sales due to the shortage in 2021, estimates KPMG.   

Automotive supply chains are highly complex in nature, consisting of multiple inter-dependent tiers of suppliers. Original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) source components from tier 1 suppliers (called the N tier), who in turn buy input material from multiple other suppliers (N+1 and so on). Though this long supply chain affects flexibility and resilience, it provides cost benefits to the OEMs and reduces dependencies. However, during times of unexpected disruptions, manufacturers lose more in terms of delayed throughput than the losses caused by missing components or holding excess inventory.

Automotive supply chain planners today face challenges including:

  • Gaining accurate visibility of the downstream supply chain

  • Making the available supply chain visible as much in real time as possible, to reduce lag across tiers

  • Directly communicating with downstream suppliers to properly align them during times of variable demand and changing forecasts

Improving supply chain visibility

To overcome the challenges and ensure uninterrupted availability of critical components during volatile times, manufacturers may have to set up collaborative networks and technology solutions. Some of the approaches include:  

Forecasting collaboration: Supply chain collaboration provides a means to work more closely with partners and it includes purchase-order collaboration, supplier-managed inventory, and forecast collaboration. The latter provides buyers with the ability to share forecasts with suppliers, who in turn provide commitments or may come back with revisions. Supply chain collaboration may be enabled by portal-based solutions, which are available out-of-the-box or can be customized. Collaboration platforms integrate diverse enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems at the supplier and buyer end for improved efficiencies. 

B2B logistics networks: Logistics business networks connect multiple business partners across the entire ecosystem. Freight collaboration integrated with ERP systems and the internet of things (IoT) can help buyers connect with logistics partners and facilitate scheduling of dock appointments. Global track- and-trace options can quickly resolve issues relating to order fulfillment and product recalls. The network can also provide extended reach beyond immediate business partners for real-time insights into issues downstream. 

Shared dashboard through a blockchain solution: Blockchain provides every party in the supply chain with the same real-time information. Private blockchain is the preferred way to record and exchange restricted logistics data from multiple parties. Downstream business partners share scheduling details of critical parts with upstream suppliers, and vice versa, over a private blockchain. The technology acts as a distributed ledger to ensure transparency, transactional integrity, and security. 

How extended visibility helps

Businesses can select any combination of the approaches, or sign up for all of them, depending upon their requirements. Some of the benefits of extended visibility include: 

Improved speed: Businesses will be able to leverage the information in their downstream supplier networks to quickly optimize throughput. 

Enhanced supplier relationships: Manufacturers get real-time visibility into all the layers of the supply chain. Suppliers’ commitment to forecasts enables two-way communication between them and the buyers.

Increased cost savings: Suppliers will get to plan more effectively with the big picture in mind, thereby improving resource utilization. Buyers can avoid involuntary shutdowns owing to parts shortages.

Better risk management: Buyers can leverage the ability to predict bottlenecks, especially avoiding shortages of critical components.

Reduced carbon footprint: Enhanced supply chain monitoring tools and advance notifications reduce cases of last-minute emergency transportation. In the long run, improved supply chain visibility will not only save on costs but will also be better for the environment.

Planning for a positive future

Though the automotive industry has started to heal from the effects of the pandemic, industry observers continue to project a modest pace of recovery. According to BCG, growth in car sales across the major global markets will most likely remain in the negative (down 1% at 61.8 million units by 2022) compared to 2019 levels. It may roughly remain the same or increase by less than 4% in 2022. The industry must optimize its supply chains and extend visibility beyond its tier 1 suppliers to reach better growth levels at least in the medium term beyond 2023

Shailesh Seth is a solution architect with the SAP Practice at TCS. He has over 18 years of cross-industry experience in SAP consulting (procurement and warehousing). His focus area is how emerging technologies can be leveraged to address supply chain issues. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from Khaja Bandanawaz College of Engineering, Gulbarga, Karnataka, India, and a Post graduate degree in management with a specialization in marketing from the Symbiosis Institute of Management Studies, Pune, Maharashtra, India.

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