CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly
December 18, 2017
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A dangerous disconnect

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Failure to consider the impact of each step in the supply chain on all downstream activities can prove costly—or even fatal

The concept of supply chain management is often explained with the catchy phrase "Plan-Source-Make-Deliver." In that scenario, each stage connects to the next, moving product along the supply chain from concept to completion. It's an approach that works well for many companies and products. Sometimes, though, such "consecutive thinking" can cause costly and even dangerous problems.

One example involves shipments of rechargeable lithium-ion batteries of the type used in laptops, smartphones, cameras, and other devices. We carry them in our pockets and briefcases without concern, yet if they overheat or are otherwise damaged, they could catch on fire. This is no urban legend; the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration conducted a test in which an air cargo container full of lithium-ion batteries overheated, causing an explosion that knocked the container door off and started a raging fire. Over the past few months, one airline after another has stopped accepting shipments of these batteries on passenger aircraft.

I believe this is an example of what can go wrong when "Plan" is disconnected from "Deliver." This is speculation on my part, of course, but engineers and product designers may have thought about fitting as many batteries as possible into a container or on a pallet, then stopped there, without considering the rest of the "Deliver" process. In other words, it seems likely that the product planning phase did not take into account all of the activities and conditions that would occur at each subsequent stage in the supply chain.

As the lithium-ion battery example suggests, it's not sufficient to consider only part of a product's journey from design to delivery—and beyond. As supply chain professionals, we can help everyone involved in a product's lifecycle understand the full, end-to-end story. That is the only way to ensure that our products are handled safely and responsibly at each step along the way.

Toby Gooley is Editor of CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly.

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