Supply Chain Issues, or how I learned to love Charmin.

So, these have been slowly growing over time for work in the manufacturing company I work for. This is not the early-COVID kind of issue, this is much more widespread and involved, from unable to get specific parts to unable to consistently line up shipping, or ship per timelines we tell customers. We thought early in COVID things looked good for forecasting. That was premature, it’s hitting really hard right now.

This week alone, my personal anecdotes are:

  • I have two issues with my 2014 car right now. I took my car in to the dealership but the parts needed are backordered. No ETA. This is for a window and a steering issue. The do have things like brake pads, etc, but more involved parts are holding up a lot of repairs, apparently.

  • My wife broke her ankle the other day which necessitated a trip to the ER, etc. They are having problems getting some specific medical supplies. They had ONE pair of crutches left. This is a major hospital in Charlotte. The nurse there was working as a temp because of labor shortages and said it isn’t just that hospital, it’s all of them in the area.

  • Like many here I work in tech. Earlier this year we started getting delays for IT infrastructure needs. As of now it is officially throwing project timelines out the window. We can’t get major server refreshes done, most of our PC/laptop refreshes are on hold and nearly all of our network gear is on long term backorder. Not days or weeks, we’ve been told up to a year for some of these items/large orders.

I read that the new infrastructure bill is supposed to be able to address some things related to this growing crisis but … how could it? This seems like a combination of shipping issues, trucking issues, and manufacturing global supply chain issues all rolled into one. I don’t know where this road is going but I don’t like the look of it.

I bought a Turkey earlier this month because of the “fear” of supply chain issues, which probably will end up being real supply chain issues next week - i was shocked that at all my local grocery stores, even though they had weeks worth of candy, the day before Halloween everything was gone, every decoration, every bag of candy, every pumpkin. The Rumor Mill is to buy Christmas presents early this year, but you know millers and their gossip.

Is there a centralized source of info keeping track of supply chain issues? It seems to pop up here and there.

At least part of the logistical shortfall can be explained here:

Trucking and warehouse work could be good jobs for people without college degrees, and they used to be good jobs for people without college degrees, but the compensation for those jobs has collapsed as more and more of the value of productivity gains has flowed to the top of the income brackets.

There’s nothing to be done short-term, I’d say any promises from above are strictly in the “We’ve incentivized business to maybe look at bringing some manufacturing back to the USA over the next decade.”

I am adjacent to the server/datacenter infrastructure world, though, and will say that if you have a good partner they can do some extra legwork and find ways to free up some items. I’m not having too much trouble right now sourcing servers, it’s actually a bit better than it was a few weeks ago, but the key is you have to check the supply chain and figure out what parts are the bottleneck. It tends to be small chippy things like M.2 boot drives and RAID cards. Note: that’s for servers, I don’t have much insight into the EUC side of things. For networking, Cisco is a mess right now, best advice there is broaden your world to other vendors. Fortinet has great products for great prices. Dell networking is shockingly solid and affordable. Pain in the ass to hook different vendors together, I know, but it might be worth it.

We don’t currently do business in NC, unfortunately, or I’d throw you a proposal. ;)

If there is I have no idea where. And that’s part of the issue as well, just like early covid it’s rumor and speculation happening. I don’t doubt we’re going to have some holiday runs on specific things. I thought we were easing out of all of that so all of this lately is disheartening to see.

Yes and no. That’s a very real problem but, as the chart shows, it’s been a very real problem for the last 25 years. It’s not like there’s some massive dip in the last few months.

Trying to find a good article but I recall seeing in a couple of places that despite all the talk of worker shortages, some of the issue with backups at ports are just due to record volumes for months now. Presumably the infrastructure bill could/should help with port infrastructure, but I struggle to see how that would happen in the short term.

checks notes but what about trickle down economics. :P

I think the turkey shortage is a lie. So I am getting my birds the week of Thanksgiving like I always do.

I live near Jaindl farms, and I called a few weeks ago, as I do get almost a dozen birds between family , two neighbors, the few I drop off at the food bank, and they said they are running as normal.

For the remainder of the year, other than gifts for a secret santa or two that I’ve signed up for I am done buying anything other than basic food supplies. I’ve been planning ahead since August and that just stuff for home. At work we pretty much assumed issues for the entire year and bought ahead thinking of what could be an issue and do we have on hand what is needed to fix or bypass it.

I dunno, I think if you combine this particular long-term trend with the long-term trend in logistical tightness — running on just-in-time logistics with as thin a resource / capacity base as you can manage — and then hit the whole thing with a pent-up-demand spike, it’s all going to break down. And you can’t fix it quickly, because there are no reserves: no reserve supply, no reserve shipping and warehouse capacity, no reserve labor pool.

Plus covid, the great resignation and low unemployment. Like with many low wage jobs many people took the covid disruption and subsequent labor shortage as the impetus to move to a better career.

Yup, I agree with absolutely all of that, and I think that recipe is convincing as a cause of all this. Each factor wouldn’t be a problem in isolation, but put them together and you get a complete mess.

I hear ya and appreciate the advice in all cases. We are being a lot more vendor agnostic of late. One project in particular though is a new building construction, due by mid-year next year. For that we stick to Cisco as our entire switch/wireless infra is all Cisco and all nearly regulated models by our parent company. That one in particular is the, “over a year,” timeline. But even Dell laptop refreshes have been spotty, depending on the model. Again, I’m just hoping this gets better. Over the last several months it’s only gotten much worse.

BTW, shoot me a PM with the regions you’re in, I’d be glad to ping you if we have things going on in those areas. The major construction project this year is NC, but we’re all over.

I had heard part of it was the attempt to get more truck drivers, then I stumbled across this:

Which makes it sound more like retail and service job issues. It’s not the amount of truck drivers, it’s that the degradation of their income combined with crappy work that keeps getting worse led to them having the same COVID epiphany, maybe not driving trucks anymore. That doesn’t sound like an easy fix.

Something Krugman RT’d in relation to what Scott posted above:

To be clear it’s a reservation system, so that’s a digital queue, but still. Holy shit.

Not to mention all the companies wanting to pour money into self-driving shipping in some way. It’s like a slap in the face on top of that. “Hey, sorry your job sucks but you might as well work for the next 10 years before it goes away”

I’m being snarky, but I don’t see stories like that making a truck driver feel BETTER about their future.

My understanding from people smarter than I about this stuff is that everyone adopted Toyota’s system.
Problem is, the system only works if nothing disrupts things. Like say a pandemic.

The Toyota system (it has a name I can’t remember and can’t find):

Another operational excellence pioneered in Toyota and later adopted by other companies worldwide is a “Lean Concept”. Lean philosophy aims to achieve are the elimination of all waste, superior customer care, and Lean is based on pull system where the elimination of waste seen as a primary objective. Just in time inventory management allows a company to gain a competitive edge by not having to have a large amount of inventory in their warehouses, but only to order parts when they are actually needed. According to just in time philosophy new material will be produced only when old stock of that material has finished.

Guess what happens when there is a hiccup? No one has shit and can’t get shit fast enough.

Edit: Just in Time is the system, it’s in the little blurb. A lot of people think JIT is going to die because it’s fucking everything and everyone, but that remains to be seen.

Edit2: More about JIT
https://www.reutersevents.com/supplychain/supply-chain/end-just-time

Lean Six Sigma. If you work in, well, anything of late, you hear it all the time. Sorry, I should add at the time they called it Toyota Production System, then it was adopted everywhere as Six Sigma.

Funny you added that. Guess what our IT Infra mantra is?

JITI - just in time infrastructure

The biggest buy-in of it I’ve seen in person was when I got to tour Dell in Austin (which I think is gone now?) They had vendor warehouses on-site. So Dell would say, “we need x parts for this run today,” and the vendor would literally transport them over just for the run for that day. No parts storage at all within Dells facility at the time.

And Kaizen.

Just In Time is the how I first heard it, but I’m sure it has lots of names since it’s been around for so long.

Ditto. But you ain’t worth your MBA unless you can take a relatively clear process name like “just in time” and turn it into “Lean Six Sigma”, with attendant consulting fees.

Kaizen was more about continuous improvement now I come to think of it, where JIT was the specifically supply chain stuff. I think everyone knew JIT would be disruptable when the jit hit the fan.