Two major desires are emerging from the chaos of the past year of pandemic and supply chain disruption: the need to be more flexible in the face of a crisis and the ability to see trouble coming.
Those were the recurring themes in comments by industry executives and consultants over the past few weeks of Automotive News' online Congress Conversations series.
"With these new challenges, it seems like there is more of a need to get better connected, understand data, digitizing data, collecting data and sharing the same single source," Justin McCoy, general manager of Toyota Motor North America's Manufacturing Project Innovation Center, said last week.
"Supplier parts quality or raw material availability or equipment downtime or some of these other historical things — we've grown very adept at adapting to finding ways to expedite or provide backup."
Regarding advances in tools to monitor supply bases or determine how they are set up, he said: "That would be something that would be unbelievably beneficial — to be able to have interchangeable supply, where disruption was greatly minimized, then finally be able to predict a lot of these disasters that may happen."
Steve Pillsbury, smart-factory practice leader at PwC, said greater supply chain resiliency could come from improved visibility into parts production and movement through the system. "And the first iteration of supply chain visibility is to notify somebody that there is a problem," he said.
"We're not going to ever be able to predict that a ship is going to be stuck in the Suez Canal. But most of the clients I work with have all sorts of ships, all the time, all year, every year, that are delayed at a port. I would look for ... the ability to detect anomalies that are coming my way, or trends that are coming my way, in sufficient time to be able to act on them, ideally with recommendations on what to do about it."
Darren Coil, director of business strategy for automotive at Microsoft, said his company is giving new attention to how vast volumes of supply chain data can be handled, processed, stored and kept secure.
"These systems have so much data, but it is so inaccessible to those that need to make decisions," he said. Microsoft is looking at technology "where you have the ability to start streaming data from thousands of data sources, whether it's internal to a company or external data from other suppliers and social media, to actually make real-time, data-driven decisions."