Supply chains around the globe are being tested like never before. Since the onset of the pandemic, I've had the opportunity to gain insights as to what some manufacturers in the process industries are doing to keep complex supply-chain operations running as nimbly and efficiently as possible faced with this unprecedented level of uncertainty. Here are some key insights.
Being prepared for multiple outcomes is essential to manage uncertainty. Many supply-chain and operations professionals I spoke to worked rapidly to identify, document and ensure that there was a common understanding amongst key internal stakeholders of:
Leading organizations updated their planning master data repositories to ensure that their supply-chain and operational digital twins were properly calibrated with these priorities, options and risk mitigation approaches. These organizations also set up business processes to revisit and update priorities, options and risks as needed.
Keeping employees safe continues to be the most immediate and urgent need. One company is using their digital twin to help maintain social distancing to keep operations personnel safe. In order to do this, they added to their digital twin some constraints related to using alternating lines/equipment on various days of the week. Their digital twin scheduling optimization model now respects all these constraints and ensures that personnel scheduled to work in a section of the manufacturing facility have safe distances from staff working on other lines/equipment.
Running Optimization Scenarios
What’s amazed me most since the onset of the pandemic is how supply-chain optimization scenario analysis has rocketed in importance and is being used by many manufacturers to help manage uncertainty and complexity. Digital twins allow companies to easily run and evaluate “what if” scenarios with any combination of supply/demand assumptions to economically optimize their end-to-end supply chain.
One customer proudly shared that they evaluated close to 150 supply/demand scenarios using supply-chain optimization technology to understand projected financials and operational implications (key issues and constraints).
Aligning Demand, Supply and Capacity
As every organization knows, plans don’t always execute as expected. Plans become outdated quickly — even more so in times of uncertainty. Companies that employ scheduling optimization digital twins can continuously and easily align demand, supply, capacity and operations execution.
Maintaining visibility and situational awareness of what is happening across the supply chain and within manufacturing facilities is much more challenging in the current work-from-home context. Some manufacturers are using collaborative web platforms specifically designed to keep supply-chain and manufacturing operations team members constantly aligned in relation to what is changing and how to best achieve near and mid-term execution goals.
Preparing for Recovery
I have the following suggestions for manufacturers on how to best use their digital twins in preparation for and during the recovery phase of the pandemic.
Digital twins are proving to be critical tools for many manufacturers in the process industries during these uncertain times. Digital twins provide insight so organizations can adapt to this new operating environment and keep supply-chain and manufacturing operations running as nimbly and efficiently as possible. Building digital capabilities now will help organizations prepare for the ongoing uncertainty that is likely to continue into 2021 and beyond.
Roch Gauthier is senior director of product management at Aspen Technology.
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