Reflecting on supply chain communication

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  • Read time: 6 minutes

A while back we took the decision to launch the Extended Enterprise Collaboration platform ShareAspace as a Cloud SaaS targeting not only the big Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM) in the world but also the small and medium-sized enterprises (SME).

Having had ShareAspace Design to Manufacturing commercially available now for about six months we decided we should share some thoughts on the advantages of a robust supply chain communication for cross-enterprise collaboration.

We received a lot of interest which gave us the opportunity to talk to a lot of companies acting as first or second-tier suppliers to the big OEMs. As well as with smaller OEMs, supplying products to end customers but perhaps not with the IT-muscles or administrative task force you would often see in a big automotive or aerospace company. These companies have issues of their own. However, just as we predicted, they are also facing the same issues as the big OEMs in terms of supply chain communication. In most cases on a smaller scale but still, it’s a big problem that has to be dealt with, unless you want to lose control over the quality of your product or simply hope for the best and nothing to go wrong.

These SME companies, being 1st- or 2nd-tier suppliers, usually put together a complex product that they build from standard components. Here purchasing is fairly standard. There is, of course, a tradecraft in getting the right price at the right time with sufficient quality, but, it doesn’t require a lot of communication between both parties. However, they also buy complex components like special castings, tailored steel structures or custom circuit boards from their sub-suppliers and that’s a bit trickier. The purchasing process involves at least one supplier per component but in many cases several. Purchasing requires the transfer of information defining the complete purchase as described above.

Before digitalization, this was managed by sending paper drawings including all information required to define the product along with an RFQ/PO paper document adding the commercial parts. Today, these companies have left paper mails and instead send digital drawings using email. This has significantly reduced the delivery time but has not brought many other major advantages except for capturing the information in one container (the digital drawing) and being quite simple when sending it the first time. So what has it failed to solve? Many things! The most obvious one is that once that email is sent you have basically lost all configuration control over any potential changes, additions or complementary specifications or deliverables related to that initial specification.

An important, but in some cases forgotten, part of a component delivery is the related documentation that comes with it. The typical documentation for a component consists of material certificates, maintenance/operations and goods handling instructions. Control over these different types of documents is critical to a current project to meet regulations and ensuring efficient aftermarket support. If you are missing these certificates it often means that the goods cannot be formally approved/received. And in the case that you are missing the operations and maintenance documentation, this will have a negative impact on your ability to deliver and support the product. While if you are not keeping track of the certificates it will in many cases violate your contractor’s certificate and block the complete product delivery.

Many of the companies that we talk to have tough requirements to live up to imposed by their customers. But this structured way of working needs to be reflected on to their suppliers as well, otherwise, they will drown in the administration trying to comply with their customers’ requirements on regulations and certifications acting as the “man in the middle”.

ShareAspace Design to Manufacturing is an easy-to-use product information sharing platform. It makes collaboration with suppliers and partners simple while keeping information secure and available on the cloud. Bring design specifications, product data, BOMs, drawings, 3D models, purchase orders, change notices and more into ShareAspace, so you can see everything in ONE place and control exactly what you let your partners see! If you want to try out, go to the sign-up portal and start a free 60-day trial or read more about its features!

If you want to read more on supply chain communication or purchasing of complex products I can recommend two papers on the Eurostep website:


Written by Magnus Färneland – Director of Manufacturing Industry Solutions at Eurostep AB.

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