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Trinity Rail was determined to adopt a "sense-and-reply" supply chain. The move was crucial to the company's ability to deal with demand uncertainty. "Basically, we don't try to improve our ability to forecast, but to respond to whatever demand signals come our way," says Mike Hegedus, vice president of supply chain management.
In certain key areas of the business, particularly railcar manufacturing, Trinity doesn’t rely on a forecast at all. That’s partly because many railcars are highly customized to buyers’ specifications. “Even if we can forecast a particular type, we can’t predict what a customer is going to specifically need,” says Hegedus. “So it’s difficult to build any sort of forecast.”
Through its planning application, Trinity brings together executives from sales, operations, finance and supply chain on a weekly basis. They review the current demand picture and make appropriate decisions about how to handle outstanding orders.
Previously, says Hegedus, the planning function within the company was siloed. Each discipline approaches the function from the perspective of its own requirements. Analysis was carried out through spreadsheets and stand-alone applications. Today, by contrast, Trinity has an integrated view of the plan.
Trinity continues to face challenges in balancing supply capabilities with demand. “We’re honestly better at the response part than the sensing,” admits Hegedus. “The key is staying tightly aligned with the sales organization on emerging and potential orders, and getting operations very much engaged in understanding what capacity we have available.”
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