The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown many things for a loop this year, but perhaps none more so than supply chain. Steel King, in partnership with the Wisconsin Continuous Improvement (CI) Alliance and Optima Associates, recently hosted “COVID-19: Managing through supply chain risk & disruption”, a virtual event and panel discussing the tremendous impact that COVID-19 has had on supply chains of all shapes and sizes, and how companies have responded.
We sat down with Brian Pfannes, Vice President of Supply Chain at Steel King and a panelist at the event, to learn more about the topic. Some of the questions have been edited for length and clarity.
Q: How did this event first come about?
We were approached by the Wisconsin Continuous Improvement (CI) Alliance, which Steel King has been an active member of since 2014. The vision for the event was to present a strong diversified supply chain panel that conveyed the various challenges felt by both regional and global supply chains in the face of COVID-19.
Q: As you prepared for your role as a panelist, what were the main points you wanted to convey?
As I prepared my remarks for the panel, I knew there were three main points from Steel King’s experience responding to COVID-19 that I wanted to convey to attendees:
- Communication: After the Steel King Supply Chain team moved to working remotely, it quickly became very apparent how important it was to have continuous, strong communication not just among our team, but also with our suppliers and internal customers. One thing that we did to address this was to schedule daily “stand-up” video calls where we covered a variety of topics and executed supplier decisions. It was amazing to see how the team truly rallied to the challenge of becoming nimble, adapting to the changes of the supplier landscape, and executing to the plan to support Steel King’s essential customers.
- Capacity Squeeze: COVID-19 has had many wide-ranging impacts to our supply chain, some foreseen and some unexpected. Initially in March and April the immediate concern was to reduce exposures, trim inventories, preserve cash, and balance our supplier portfolios to ensure that we were not overleveraged. As the pandemic progressed into the summer months, capacities began to tighten up. We could see that the economics of tight material supplies and pocketed strong demand in specific industries would squeeze material availability, production capacity, and the dependability of both lead times and deliveries on some of the most basis products/services, such as shipping and raw materials.
- Demand Planning: Conventional demand planning is pretty much cooked in the near term, and much like the 2008/2009 Great Recession, the disruption to the ordering cycle will be felt for a long time. This means that inventory will need to be viewed differently to balance out the lack of forecast detail. The balance of inventory and the demand to not tie up too much cash will be a delicate one, especially when inflation cycles start to kick in.
Q: The panelists represented not only different companies, but also both academic and industry backgrounds. What unique perspective does Steel King add to the conversation?
Not only do we bring decades of experience in supply chain management for manufacturing, but I believe that we also provide unique insight as one of the top manufacturers of material storage solutions in the country. For Steel King, our focus is on deep partnerships with our core strategic clients and helping them overcome their material storage challenges. COVID-19 proved how critical those partnerships are for keeping the business operating and product flowing to those essential jobsites in the early days of the state lock downs. Steel King brings the perspective of not only managing our own multiple-distribution channel supply chain, but also the experience of being a key partner in the development of supply chain infrastructure for numerous Fortune 500 supply chains.
Q: What did you learn from the conversation with the other panelists?
I walked away from the event with a sense of appreciation for the shared set of experiences that all of us in the supply chain world have had to navigate through this pandemic. As one of my fellow panelists put it, “supply chains have always had to deal with attacks of some shape or form over the past forty years (natural disasters, material shortages, logistics problems, etc.), but we’ve never had to deal with something on such a global scale with so many variables”.
Q: What do you hope attendees took away from the event?
I hope that the Continuous Improvement Managers in attendance gained a new insight into the complexity and challenges that exists in a company’s supply chain every day. Opportunities abound to simplify in a way that Continuous Improvement Managers are uniquely skilled to help tackle. Finally, while COVID-19 stressed supply chains of all sizes this year, it also provided valuable experience for supply chain professionals that they’ll be able to benefit from for years to come.