Helping Small Firms Run Large Supply Chains

Big manufacturing jobs, especially those in the defence industry that involve management of extensive supply chains, often require resources and expertise that many believe are beyond the capacity of SMEs. New technologies by researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and colleagues at Pittsburgh's Doyle Center for Manufacturing Technology are supposed to help these businesses.

The proof-of-concept test involved SME management of a 10-enterprise subassembly supply chain for a major aircraft engine component. The Doyle Center collected data for the simulation model often using questionnaires and personal visits to suppliers. NIST and Doyle researchers then adapted a commercial software program to build an accurate visualization and analytical simulation model for the supply chain enterprise.

The finished program allowed a small firm to know what would happen at any given time during the flow of material through the chain. Data inputs enabled it to use supplier production rates, inventory numbers and shipment times for components. The model identified prospective supply chain performance at "normal," "surge" (twice normal) and "mobilization" (four times normal) production rates. When the program uncovered potential bottlenecks in the supply chain, the team used the program to evaluate potential impacts and to implement solutions to mitigate risks and reduce costs.

The NIST paper by Sanjay Jain and Swee Leong, is available at; Source: National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)