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Make or break

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Carl Meewezen, Managing Director, Public and Industrial Sectors at Wincanton delves into the drive for efficiency and productivity across supply chains.

The dual challenges of COVID-19 and Brexit have demonstrated just how important supply chains are to our daily lives. From construction megaprojects to vaccine rollouts to keeping food on the shelves and the nation fed - supply chains have become a high priority in the boardroom and for a UK government determined to “Build Back Better”.

Wincanton is a key supply chain partner for some of the UK’s largest infrastructure projects, and in June 2018 it was selected by EDF Energy as the official warehouse and transport service partner for the construction of the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station in Somerset. When complete, this facility - the first new nuclear power station in the UK for a generation - will provide 7% of the country’s electricity.

Central to the success of the vast and complex supply chain that supports what is currently the largest construction project in Europe is a drive for efficiency, productivity, and delivery on time. In a complex megaproject where the construction takes decades, costs are counted in the billions and the final delivery impacts millions of people, even the smallest delays can have serious consequences. Delivering on time and in full against these demands requires a focus on the right blend of people, partnerships and technology.

The challenges

Infrastructure supply chains are complex and involve many different entities - bringing together suppliers, specialist areas of construction, and of course many pairs of ‘boots on the ground’. These all need to come together to work in unison, on budget and on schedule. With so many factors, there is a real risk that accountabilities and responsibilities become confused - or even left out altogether – with a worst-case-scenario leading to a lack of control and little understanding of what  went wrong with sufficient visibility to fix it.

2020 dramatically changed the supply chain landscape and required enormous flexibility across many areas of UK industry, yet the challenges remain the same when it comes to major infrastructure projects. Reliable material availability and product delivery to the point of use reduces material waste and workforce inefficiency, maximising productive time on the job.

One solution Wincanton are pioneering to drive benefits for customers on these megaprojects involves using new technology to dramatically increase visibility of the total supply chain.  This moves the potential distraction for materials management away from the engineering workforce on the ground to a small team of experts with the tools and systems to ensure inventory is visible from manufacturer through to final delivery on site. This reduces the downtime associated with materials availability issues at the point of use and is essential to the delivery of projects to time and cost.

People

It’s estimated that on-site construction teams in the UK are less than 35% productive. Labour inefficiency, although a global issue, is something we need to tackle head-on here in the UK. It will make a big difference, even if we can increase productivity up by 5%. In my eyes, the best way to boost productivity when to comes to major infrastructure projects is to implement better management solutions and further integrate supply chains to drive better decisions.   

One of the biggest questions supply chains across all sectors should ask themselves is: ‘how can we blend people with being truly digitally and technologically-led?’ Today, business is focused on how it can reduce costs and shift to digital. Incorporating technology is essential for enhancing capacity, but people will continue to play an integral role. Indeed, the increased digitisation and digitalisation of supply chains means there has never been more opportunity for people in our industry. The two can - and must - work in tandem.

Standardised and integrated partnerships

At Wincanton, we pride ourselves on staying close to our customers, working alongside them as a leading UK supply chain partner. Unlike supply chains in other sectors, many partnerships in construction and the public sector come together to deliver a megaproject, with different levels of local, regional, national and international activity. Parties forming the supply chain must be partners, enabling flexibility and co-ordination across the different elements of a project. This enables a shared perspective, operating on the same page, able to cope with fast or significant changes to plans.

Just as important is the need for partnerships to provide visibility across all elements of a supply chain - through centralising planning, procurement, storage and final delivery. We can’t eradicate all inefficiencies, but integration certainly goes a long way to reducing it.

We also need to go beyond cohesive management and into consistent processes. Only then can we ensure traceability across the complex in-bound supply chain. Single-point accountability provides the backbone of a project, with invaluable support systems to control materials and closely-manage vendors. All of this comes together to ensure strategy is not lost in translation. 

Digital solutions

Much of industrial supply chain inefficiency comes from legacy processes. We’re learning that digital solutions applied from other sectors can unlock agility across the supply chain - through cloud fulfilment technology, robotics and automation. For example, through Wincanton’s W2 Labs innovation programme, we’ve deployed modular robotics that plug into existing warehouse infrastructure and digital twins of facilities to simulate processes. To that end, Sprint Three of W2 Labs, which chose its four finalists in April, is entirely focused on construction logistics and people solutions.

Logistics must continually adapt to the latest technologies, and only by implementing them seamlessly and delivering benefits early can we instil confidence in our partners. It’s this confidence and trust which underpins our relationships and drives our future orderbook.

How supply chain specialists must lead the way in guiding efficiency

Real value can be generated where productivity directly impacts delivery. Boosting efficiency in the supply chain reduces downtime, cuts lost time, and ultimately keeps costs as low as possible - be it for the delivery of a megaproject or getting goods to market for retailers and manufacturers. Furthermore, efficiency reduces environmental impact and creates more sustainable outcomes.

Public infrastructure projects will take centre stage in the nation’s recovery, with March’s Budget and the creation of a National Infrastructure Bank signalling the Government’s commitment to “Build Back Better”. But this can only become a reality with the most resilient of supply chain processes. National economic recovery relies on unlocking efficiency and productivity across all supply chains, and Wincanton is fully committed to supporting this in partnership with the industry.

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