Ready to Serve Customer Needs
Mike Vassil 09.09.2021
“Change is the only constant in life. One’s ability to adapt to those changes will determine your success in life.” This quote from Benjamin Franklin has always rung true, but its meaning has been magnified over the course of the past 18 months.
I can personally speak to this from a business operations standpoint, where Okuma America has been hard at work throughout the pandemic, adapting to a quick succession of changes (as we all have). Preparations have been underway so we can be positioned to serve a rebounding manufacturing industry, and we’ve fine-tuned our processes to become as efficient and reliable as possible in an ever-shifting global marketplace. Here are some of the ways we’ve been preparing to be ready to serve our customers.
Tackling Supply Chain Challenges
Today most industries are faced with supply chain challenges, and manufacturing is grappling with our fair share. We’ve seen situations where cargo ships are lined up in the water outside U.S. ports when dockworkers are in short supply. This means materials can take longer to receive, and sometimes creative planning must be applied to deal with strained logistics channels.
To remain positioned to serve our customers’ needs, we must proactively find ways to overcome these challenges. As one example, this can be as simple as making sure we have enough crates on hand to handle our shipments. In some cases, we’re buying extra crates ahead of time to make sure we’re equipped to ship stock to a customer or distributor. This also provides us a bit more leverage when dealing with rising lumber prices.
Minimizing Disruption from the Chip Shortage
We’re fortunate that our parent company, Okuma Corporation in Japan (OCJ), has for many years maintained a robust supply chain that’s well established and highly reliable. Given the unique circumstances brought about by the pandemic, they determined it would be in our best interests to expand this supply chain by identifying additional sources.
OCJ reached out to us here at Okuma America to help with finding a solution for the worldwide shortage of semiconductor chips. We were able to locate a domestic source for these chips, and they’re an exact match for those we’d used previously. Today we procure these chips domestically and work with OCJ to utilize these in our machine tools, which minimizes supply chain disruptions from the chip shortage.
Ramping Up Machine Tool Inventory
Many months ago, we forecast that 2021 would see a ramp-up in business for the manufacturing industry, so we prepared for this. We also knew, based on prior experience, that when manufacturing comes back after a downturn, it often comes back very quickly. Therefore, we escalated our machine tool inventory purchases with an eye toward providing agile and responsive support to our customers as they get back to their demanding production schedules.
Increasing Speed and Efficiency
Prior to the pandemic, we had already invested considerable resources in implementing a new Microsoft Dynamics 365 business system, which upgraded our ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) and CRM (Customer Relationship Management) technologies. This means when the pandemic hit, we already had tools at our fingertips to help us rise to new levels of speed and efficiency.
We now fine-tune our business systems on a daily basis as we grow into our powerful data analytics capabilities. Our access to data has increased dramatically from just a year or two ago, and we’ve been able to devise new reporting tools that make us exponentially more efficient. Today we’re able to interpret data almost instantaneously that allows us to make quick business decisions (as opposed to taking 20 minutes just to locate our data). Increased visibility into business intelligence reports enables us to make smart, informed, and accurate decisions about what we need to do to support our business and our customers.
Creating Backup and Contingency Plans
Another avenue we’ve pursued—and one I advocate for most companies—is to look at procedures and processes and identify what you rely on most to get your job done. When these critical areas are identified, make sure you have backup and contingency plans in place.
For us, one thing we’ve done is to make sure the equipment we use internally is outfitted with the latest controls—to reduce the risk of potential bottlenecks. Plus, for any areas where we have one source of production, we’ve determined how to stretch that out to multiple sources, to minimize the possibility of roadblocks.
In general, the current supply chain dynamic has prompted us to rethink internal processes and procedures and enhance our focus on eliminating risks.
Mapping a New Way Forward
I’m excited about the months ahead for our industry and the possibilities for all of us. As Okuma plots the course for our new way forward, we’re developing new and innovative ways of doing things that make us even stronger as an organization. Most importantly, we’re using what we’ve learned and are applying this in smart and strategic ways to support the long-term growth of our distributors and customers.