Supply chain frustration: How to navigate roadblocks and stay on track

Supply chain frustration: How to navigate roadblocks and stay on track

Feature articles |
By David Keisling, Times Microwave Systems

Supply chain issues are complicating business and frustrating commerce all over the world, a persistent byproduct of pandemic-related shutdowns and labor shortages. Across industries, production schedules are bogged down with back-ordered parts and delayed deliveries. The impact reverberates; one holdup creates another, and many companies are finding it impossible to run efficiently, meet demand, and deliver on time.

Wireless communications and data transmission capabilities are more important now than ever, and no one wants to see progress on that front slow down when we need it the most. Besides the absolute necessity of maintaining the reliable, everyday wireless functions we depend on today, building the necessary network infrastructure to support 5G’s dazzling speed and bandwidth can’t wait. So, buckle up and get ready to work through this with an eye on the prize, and take a good look at strategies that can help you navigate current challenges.


What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger

Surviving and thriving in this environment takes work, and most of all the willingness and ability to think differently. Have an open mind. Embrace the opportunity to transform your business and projects by thinking outside of the box and look for workarounds to stay on track.

Today, supply chain resilience is a critical qualification for doing business, both in managing internal procurement, inventory, production, and delivery systems, and in choosing reliable business partners and suppliers. Most companies performing well in this environment have been able to do so because they had already built a flexible infrastructure that allows them to adjust quickly in a crunch. Times Microwave Systems, for example, had expanded its global manufacturing footprint to enable greater flexibility by opening new plants in key locations, near highly active markets and customers, and spread across regions of the world.

This became a saving grace during COVID-19. With manufacturing facilities in India, Estonia, and Shanghai, as well as in the U.S., when one region is paralyzed by surges and lockdowns, affected facilities can move production to another location where orders can be filled efficiently with minimal disruption. When the Delta variant of COVID struck India hard, orders that would have been fulfilled there were shifted to other Times facilities, and Times’ customers were able to get the products they needed with comparatively little delay.

While the pandemic has taken center stage in today’s supply chain crisis, it is not the only threat. Geopolitical and regionalized economic conditions can also force businesses to find alternate manufacturing and distribution routes. Times strategically expanded its global manufacturing footprint before and even during the pandemic because company leadership had the foresight to prioritize an agile, customer-centric infrastructure.


Seize the opportunity to build resilience and get ahead

Decide first if your current suppliers can meet your immediate needs. If delays are seriously affecting your business, consider all your options. Not all products or suppliers are equally prepared to operate through a supply chain crisis like this. Those with the lowest incidence of backlogs either laid the groundwork for resilience before 2020, or they pivoted quickly to prioritize supply chain agility as the going got tough. The most successful probably did both.

To keep your projects on track, make sure you’re working with suppliers that are as agile as you need to be: you may have to change suppliers or reconfigure system designs to get the job done on time. From now on, consider your supply chain as a critical part of your business. Meanwhile, be willing to implement new strategies to mitigate impact in the short term.

Times’ decentralized manufacturing capabilities enabled its uninterrupted production throughout the pandemic, building inventory needed to meet immediate demand. By continually increasing on-hand stock for standard materials across internal and distributor-serviced warehouses, Times is better suited to weather the volatility in raw material costs, resulting in more stable pricing for customers.

One example of a supply chain innovation is Times Microwave’s new Low PIM Express program. Since network densification is crucial to 5G, more small cells and DAS networks are needed in more locations to support super-high speeds with superior RF performance, low PIM, and good shielding. Time’s fortuitous inventory buildup is helping customers keep their 5G deployment schedules on track while also helping mitigate price increases caused by rampant material and product shortages affecting the industry. Times introduced its Low PIM Express program in 2021, created to assure fast delivery of these essential system components in a one-week turnaround. That’s a huge relief for customers facing so much uncertainty in their supply chain operations.

If your cable supplier can’t provide what you need when you need it, find one that can, one that offers a full portfolio of cable and connector options and has the expertise to help you design or reconfigure your system if necessary. And if your existing suppliers are meeting your needs, perhaps consider placing or confirming orders and inventories as early as you can. That way, you won’t get left behind or caught short.


The long game

Today’s supply-chain challenges are teaching successful organizations to prioritize resilience for future growth and prosperity. How can you be better prepared for tomorrow, next month, next year? Survive the present, of course; protect your relationships and reputation as best you can, using the mitigation tactics discussed above. While you’re at it, consider long-term changes that will better position your company for whatever lies ahead.

If your business is global, find partners with multiple production facilities worldwide; they can often move your work to areas where bottlenecks are less severe so that changing global challenges don’t shut off your supply. Different regions of the world are feeling COVID-19 impacts and shipping snafus at different times, so multiple geographic capabilities can alleviate regional pressures.

Just-in-time/lean manufacturing has been a popular business strategy for some time. Unfortunately, the supply chain crisis exposed one of JIT’s most serious disadvantages: low inventory makes an organization more vulnerable to shortages. Besides impacting supply, spiking demand for products generally causes widespread price increases. That’s why your supplier’s resilience can be as important as yours, supporting their ability to minimize costs and thereby keep prices down as much as possible.

Flexibility and versatility should also be considered in business and supplier relationships. A company that offers custom solutions can work with you to develop the most feasible systems at the time. You can thus avoid getting locked into a one-size-fits-all system design that depends upon one source, one material, or one standard product that could be in short supply.


Watch out for false promises

Make sure you are buying genuine products from a reputable company to ensure your system works as it should. Shortages tend to bring counterfeits, fakes and clones out of the woodwork, as unprincipled operators look for ways to cash in on a crisis.

Inferior products are increasingly being sold under false pretenses—claiming to be what they are not. For example, dishonest companies are claiming to sell LMR® cable assemblies, violating Times Microwave’s trademark. Genuine LMR cable is only available from Times Microwave and its licensed distributors. Unwitting customers pay the price with unsatisfactory system performance.


Moving through and forward

Do whatever you have to do to get through this crisis. Be flexible. Build resilience for the future. Work with organizations that are working through the current issues with minimal disruptions. And adjust your approach to qualifying the companies you work with so that you’ll be ready for the next crisis.


About the author

David Keisling is director of commercial sales and marketing at Times Microwave Systems. He has extensive experience working with high performance coaxial cable interconnects and related technologies. Prior to Times Microwave, Keisling held several leadership positions at Radio Frequency Systems (RFS) and worked in business development for MicroCoating Technologies. He attended Georgia Institute of Technology where he earned a BS and Master’s degree in mechanical engineering, as well as an MBA from Georgia State University.

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