To Build A More Agile Supply Chain, Balance Supplier Consolidation and Supplier Diversification

Building an agile supply chain anchored in the United States is more important than ever. Many manufacturers have been trying to reduce their reliance on China as the fragility of their supply chain networks has been exposed. Initally this was due to tariffs and then in 2020 the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition, factory lockdowns, political unrest, and even natural disasters are driving procurement professionals to reconsider their supply chain strategy and secure partnerships closer to home. 

But even if your entire supply chain is in the US, optimizing your supplier base can still help mitigate risk.

In this blog we explain the advantages of balancing supplier consolidation and diversification and provide tips for implementing these strategies to help build a more agile supply chain.

Before jumping in to how to balance the two strategies, we’ll discuss the advantages of each one.

Balance strategies of consolidation and diversification to build a more agile supply chain.

Advantages Of Supplier Consolidation

Better Processes, Pricing, And Speed Time-to-Market

The Pareto Principle, or 80/20 rule, specifies that 80% of results come from 20% of the action. In many cases manufacturers that consolidate their spend into fewer suppliers generally have greater flexibility to leverage buying power.   

Streamline Process and Procedures

Supplier consolidation can improve the agility of your internal team in two ways. First, by reducing the number of contacts they work with. And second, reducing the number of processes they need to follow when requesting quotes.

Though often considered a “soft” cost, tasking purchasing and engineering to quote projects can be expensive.

This process often involves taking time to separate parts by category like fasteners, MRO/consumables, and then plastics, metals. It could also involve organizing by manufacturing process type like injection molding, CNC machining, or rapid prototyping.

For example, consider an upcoming project that requires three competitive quotes:

  •  Company A requires quotes be submitted through a portal system
  • Company B may require 2D drawings via email
  • Company C requires CAD files and 2D drawings but only through their website’s generic sales email box

With this example, it’s easy to see how consolidating your supplier base reduces the number of contacts and streamlines processes to make your organization more efficient.

Reduce “Soft” Admin Costs

Companies often overlook admin costs when setting their cost savings goals. Common tactics include asking suppliers for price breaks based on quaintites. Or rebate programs that align with annual spend.

Fewer suppliers can result in “soft” cost savings across departments.

For example, processing fewer purchase orders can save time and money. For instance, less data entry, emails, and time spent clarifying orders.

Speed Time-to-Market

Supplier consolidation can help speed time-to-market. Especially for companies that rely on their supply chain for full-service quality control of their parts.

Selecting a few trusted vendors can help control the process. Thereby reducing rejected parts, failures in the field, and complaints from end customers.

Fast 5 Action Items: Supplier Consolidation For a More Agile Supply Chain

To get started, identify specific goals that you want to achieve. Then evaluate your supplier base against these expectations to help choose the right fit.

Here are 5 action items to help guide you through the consolidation process.

Consider all costs 

Piece price is critical, as long as you don’t lose big in other areas. That’s why it’s important to consider all costs associated with adding or subtracting vendors from your supplier base.

  • Logistics – Is the vendor located near your company? Will the difference in freight cost exceed the perceived cost savings?
  • Process agility – Is production handled entirely in-house, or do they outsource secondary processes? How many touch points are required to complete the manufacturing process?
  • Speed-to-market – What is the vendor’s track record for turnaround time? Will you save money on piece price but lose market share due to slow turnaround time?

Data visibility

Software programs can slice and dice information a million ways. So analyzing your data in a meaningful way is critical for effective consolidation efforts.

Evaluate your current systems’ ability to track and measure the following.

  • Quality control and vendor performance
  • Key Performance Indicators including on-time delivery, communications, and feedback
  • Records – Data such as number of purchase orders placed weekly, monthly, annually for a particular part or group of parts to a particular vendor

Scale production for greater flexibility 

Partnering with suppliers who can quickly scale from prototyping runs to low volume or high-volume production can improve the agility of your supply chain.

  • What is the vendor’s product development process?
  • How quickly can they deliver prototypes?
  • How fast are they able to transition from prototype to production?

Transition to a digital ecosystem

A digital ecosystem uses technology to connect all areas of your business. For instance, internal teams, customers, vendors, and external organizations. Doing so improves data flow and helps drive your business.

Organize supplier data into categories

For example, for parts consider:

  • Material type
  • Overall spend
  • Secondary manufacturing processes

Advantages of Supplier Diversification

Drive Innovation, Identify New Revenue Streams, and Expand Market Share

Supplier diversification does more than improve resilience to disruptions. It can help maintain the competitive edge. This can be achieved by choosing suppliers with new areas of expertise as well as those owned by minorities.

Drive innovation

Diversifying your vendor network can introduce Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) outside of your usual channels. New SMEs provide access to different ideas, different experiences, and out-of-the-box thinking. And, leveraging their abilities can help you to advance your products and enter new markets.

Include diversity in your diversification strategy

Often, a diversification strategy will lead to partnerships with smaller companies that can quickly adapt to market changes.

Also, consider including minority-owned partners in your diversification strategy. Doing so can help you access growing minority markets.

A recent report from Michigan State University stated that “Diverse suppliers can be a cornerstone of any organization’s success, helping companies to ethically and efficiently source products and services while maintaining profits, growing customers, improving the economy and encouraging innovation. With forward-thinking supply chain management and a focus on strategic sourcing, companies and the diverse suppliers within their supply chains can increasingly benefit from going into business together.”

Fast 5 Action Items: Supplier Diversification

A diversification program does not have to be an all or nothing. Use these recommendations to help guide your selection process.

Identify supply chain risks to avoid

Start by identifying the specific supply chain risks you want to avoid. Then evaluate vendors to find the right ones for building a more resilient and agile supply chain.

  • Tariffs and lockdowns
  • Increased labor costs
  • Regional and global disruptions

Implement in stages

Keep in mind that diversification is more difficult with current projects in production. Taking an incremental approach will be more cost- and time-efficient.

Instead, apply the strategy to new projects. First, determine whether the vendors’ SMEs can assist with the transition. Then evaluate them for specific criteria including:

  • Do they have an onboarding process?
  • Can they get involved early?
  • How can they drive innovation from the beginning?

Evaluate SMEs

How can vendors’ SMEs drive innovation? One of the key benefits to diversifying your supplier base is to leverage new areas of expertise to gain access to new markets. Evaluate SMEs to ensure they can help you drive innovation.

  • Identify their core areas of expertise
  • What opportunities can they expose you to?
  • What is their process for penetrating new markets?

Diversity

Consider suppliers whose own diversity can support your company’s goals to improve your corporate diversity. At the same time, these suppliers can improve your competitiveness in changing market demographics.

  • What is their ownership status?
  • Ask for a list of organizations they work with
  • Identify opportunities they can help you achieve

Flexibility and agility

Look for suppliers that can quickly scale to meet changing market demands.

  • Company size – smaller suppliers are often more nimble.
  • Value-add – Look for suppliers that offer more than one service
  • Logistics – Can they complete all services in-house?

The Right Balance Can Help Build A More Resilient and Agile Supply Chain

Strategies of consolidation and diversification are not necessarily opposing. Rather, they can work together to optimize your supplier base. Before deciding how to proceed, determine your goals. Once you agree upon the objective, the strategies can be put in place.

Avoid analysis paralysis. Avoid analysis paralysis. Don’t tackle tens or hundreds of potential new suppliers. Instead, focus on new product programs and evaluate 3 or 4 new suppliers.

Remove legacy bias. Define a set of criteria which will benefit your business. Then evaluate both new and legacy suppliers against the same criteria.

Be hyper critical when adding or subtracting vendors. Legacy suppliers don’t necessarily need to be cut loose. And new suppliers won’t necessarily help improve your business. Be critical when creating your evaluation criteria with the goal of benefiting the business.

Remember, the goal is to find the right balance to build a resilient and agile supply chain. One that can help you maintain the competitive edge in any market condition.

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