We are all tired of talking about the supply chain and the struggles which have surrounded it for months and now years. We keep hearing that it is working itself out and that things should return to normal. Unfortunately, we have been living in a “new normal” for a while and have not seen things changing quickly. The main issues that persist are availability, extended lead times, and the uncertainty of delivery dates.
So, What Can We Do About These Problems When Current Operations And Future Projects Still Need To Move Forward?
The availability of spare parts and quick replacements is hit and miss depending on the component. Making sure that you have a good list of all the parts you will utilize, as well as a thorough on-site inventory of all critical parts, is key. Relying on vendors and supply houses to have those spare parts increases the risk of downtime for your operations.
You may also need to consider retrofit options for current equipment. If the current parts are obsolete or unavailable, there are often newer versions or other options that will work. If you must retrofit, don’t forget to have a plan for doing so. Many retrofit options could require rewiring or changes to programming in order to be utilized. Having the parts but not having a plan to get them operational also puts your project at risk.
With low stock availability and factories backlogged, early planning is essential due to extended lead times for almost all equipment. Equipment like padmount transformers, switchboards, and MCCs that used to be available in 8-16 weeks is now 50+ weeks to over two years out. Make sure you adjust your project planning and execution cycles to allow for these lead times.
Delivery date uncertainty continues to cause challenges for current projects because any changes to previously set plans can impact operations and shutdowns immediately. Continuous monitoring and tracking of orders will help you stay aware of any looming changes that could impact your schedule. The days of ordering something and it showing up on its expected date without any follow-up are in the past.
One more option for navigating supply chain issues is looking for alternate markets and suppliers for the parts that you need. There are “gray” market sources, such as resellers, rebuilders, used parts dealers, etc., that can be an option when you really get in a pinch. The caution here is that the quality or actual condition of these parts is unknown. Also, many of these products are being counterfeited and sold on the black market, so make sure you use a credible source if you end up going in this direction as a last resort.
These are challenging times in the supply chain world. Make sure that you are relying on your trusted partners, suppliers, and industry relationships to navigate these difficult circumstances. We will get through it together.
Brent Kooiman, PE, P.Eng., Senior Project Manager/Design Manager
This blog was originally published in the Current Connections Summer 2023 issue.