In the world of custom manufacturing today, the need for quality, reliability, and speed has resulted in a shift from the traditional direct transaction between a customer and the use of an elastic supply chain. In an elastic supply chain, several manufacturers in different locations form a manufacturing network that is handled by supply chain managers. Employees with manufacturing needs contact the network managers who in turn assign customer projects to a suitable manufacturer in the network.
For this model to work, a substantial number of suppliers are needed in the network. It is the work of the supply chain management professionals to build a robust network of suppliers while optimizing vendor count and maximizing efficiency. The benefits of an elastic supply chain for custom manufacturing, its challenges and their solutions are as follows.
In a well-managed supply chain, more suppliers equal increased efficiency
Free capacity and availability
With a substantial number of suppliers in a supply chain, manufacturing capacity is always available. It is highly unlikely that all suppliers in the chain are simultaneously occupied. The issue of customers’ projects being delayed as a result of the unavailability of manufacturers is eliminated as there will always be a supplier that is free to accept orders. In critical events such as machine break down, power outage, or any other crippling circumstance during a project, backup manufacturers will be readily available for hire.
An elastic supply chain also provides diversity in manufacturing capability. There are numerous manufacturing processes such as SLS 3D printing, injection moulding or 5-axis CNC milling that each have different applications. Many manufacturers have the capability to carry out more than one of these processes. However, most of them have a particular process that their facility is best equipped to handle, and in which their expertise lies. Although such manufacturers may be able to carry out processes other than their main process, the output, pricing, and manufacturing time may be negatively affected. In an elastic supply chain, projects are always carried out by the best-suited manufacturer, thereby maximizing quality, and minimizing design time and effort.
Furthermore, a diverse supply chain means that there’s always a match for every customer’s preference. Customers usually have varying requirements. A customer may require CNC milling of aluminum and bead blasting, while another may require SLS 3D printing of nylon. There are also variations in size and location requirements. With a substantial number of suppliers, no matter the mix of preferences that make up a customer’s requirements, there will be a supplier to match them.
In addition, the most competitive pricing and proposed time duration for a project are always provided to the customer. All these benefits are inherent when the elastic supply chain is part of a manufacturing network with expert supply chain managers.
The more the suppliers, the more the operational burden
Having a long list of suppliers may have some drawbacks for individual companies with manufacturing needs. The management of the supply chain can easily turn out to be a headache as a result of the following:
- New suppliers have to be thoroughly inspected to verify their manufacturing capability, capacity, and limitations. These tasks have to be carried out periodically for existing suppliers
- The mountain of paperwork of business contracts, vendor forms, NDAs have to be organised.
- Suppliers have to be tracked with scorecards which show how they have performed across several metrics such as responsiveness, communication, quality, and timely delivery for each order.
These tasks have to be carried out for each supplier and as the number of suppliers in a supply chain increases, so does the tediousness of managing the chain.
Another disadvantage of an elastic supply chain handled by customer companies is the varying prices and lead time that different suppliers may quote for a particular project. Most of these quotes usually come with little or no information on why they are so. This leaves the purchasing teams with the work of screening & analyzing each quote and deciphering which vendor should be assigned a particular project.
Digital manufacturing networks as a solution for elastic chain management
Although having various suppliers often leads to greater supply performance efficiency, gross inefficiencies can arise when the management of the supply chain takes a greater focus than strategic sourcing and customer satisfaction. Moreover, it requires a lot of time and resources to manage such networks internally. The only way for customers to eliminate these drawbacks is to work through digital manufacturing networks.
The combined benefits of numerous suppliers with a diverse range of manufacturing capabilities can be found in a digital manufacturing network like Xometry Europe.
Xometry Europe is the largest online Manufacturing-As-A-Service platform for custom manufacturing in the whole of Europe with a network of more than 1,200 manufacturers. As proven by its excellent track record, Xometry Europe, through its distributive manufacturing model, makes evident all the benefits of an elastic supply chain while eliminating its limitations. This is due to expert supply chain management and the use of advanced AI-driven solutions to connect customers with vendors.
Xometry Europe provides an elastic custom manufacturing supply chain by reducing the lead time for custom manufacturing quotes to just a couple of seconds through an intuitive and free instant quoting platform. Following this, sourcing teams, designers, and engineers can instantly order the quoted parts. Xometry Europe then matches the project requirements with suitable vendors who can immediately undertake the project on demand. This model of connecting customers and vendors, known as Manufacturing as a Service, or MaaS, has completely revolutionized sourcing for custom parts.
With the MaaS model, customers have the benefits of a transparent offer of price, lead time, and scope of work. If a manufacturer is at capacity, they can simply pass on the work to another capable manufacturing partner to handle the project. Xometry Europe combines manufacturing capacity, diverse capabilities, an expert supplier base, and an ever-ready support team, to create an elastic supply chain that meets the level of quality assurance that already satisfies such customers like Bosch, General Electric, BMW and Dell.
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