Success at complex engineering collaboration depends on a company controlling the "ripple effect" of problems that occur at the low end of its network. As an example, Tim Fleet, vice president and product manager of Sword CTSpace, cites a project in China involving the construction of four new ships for a major oil company. The manufacturer in Shanghai, the coordinating company in London and a "whole slew" of lower-level companies in the supply chain were all expected to interact in real time, creating a significant challenge, Fleet says.
One common problem with large, global engineering projects is a general lack of visibility among the partners, says Gregory L. Schlegel, professor of supply chain risk management at Lehigh University. In fact, he says, that's the "first tenet" of good risk management, although the theory doesn't always translate into practice. "One would think that after 30 or 35 years of doing supply-chain optimization, it would be an easy question to [answer] in terms of where are my suppliers, and what are the flows associated with inbound and outbound," he says. "It's not that easy, especially with globalization."
The solution, says Schlegel, lies in the development of a new supply-chain maturity model, one that stresses, in order of priority, visibility, predictability, resiliency and sustainability.
Fleet says the internet provides the "plumbing" which allows information to flow freely among the partners involved in the development of complex assets. A single facility might consist of tens of thousands of pieces of equipment that must be linked within a common database. Proper protocols are essential to achieving that goal.
Schlegel says Lehigh's graduate program teaches the need for new tools and methodologies such as scenario planning and the ability to predict and detect issues in the development of products. "Can I detect an issue downstream before it happens, and respond to it effectively to mitigate that risk?" he asks.
Many companies are hamstrung by paper-driven systems for procurement that have been in place for decades, Fleet says. Automation can help them to replace sequential processes with parallel ones. "You can involve several people at the same time if you're doing something electronically," he says.
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