December 2nd, 2021
What’s Your Backup Plan?
I was in the woods in my hunting blind earlier this week and, of course, checking my emails when all of a sudden, my cell phone died. I plugged it into my portable charger only to discover that battery power wasn’t the issue. It was just plain broke. I was hunting alone, so this made me ponder the topic of safety. I rely on my cell phone in case of emergency in addition to the Apps that I employ for moon phase, wind direction, sunrise, sunset, waypoints, navigation, and of course, business emails. It rarely fails me, but on this day, it did. This is only the second time this has happened in the last five years. Still, I decided to get a backup.
Then I pondered more about the concept of backups and the significance in these days where supply chain issues and labor shortages are signs of the times.
Backups are necessary in our industry for three main reasons: Raw material/component shortages, equipment failures, and manpower concerns.
1. Raw Material/Component shortages. Everyone has heard the terms unprecedented demand, stuck at the port, awaiting transport, allocation, etc. Yes, a backup plan is needed. Alternative supply channels are sought to alleviate the time lags that result from these issues. Supply chain issues have become the norm, so purchasing agents are busy looking for backup plans to continue to supply their plants, avoiding shutdowns. PAs are checking out backup suppliers in the hopes that they can augment their primary supply. This is an area where value engineering can be of interest. This is defined as a systematic, methodical approach to analyzing necessary functions of components in a product with a mindset of finding the lowest cost. In modern times this could also include a consideration of the easiest availability. Value engineering promotes substituting materials and methods with less expensive (and more available) alternatives without sacrificing functionality. Spending time on such studies would be a luxury a few years ago, but it might now be a necessity if our current supply chain issues persist.
2. Equipment failures and shortages. Machines have been running around the clock, in many cases skipping much-needed maintenance. For example, saws, welders, corner cleaners, and routers are breaking down. In many cases, it is not a case of equipment failures but the extra capacity needed to meet immediate demands. Manufacturers are indeed trying to order new equipment, but long lead times do not agree with their manufacturing goals. The result is an explosion in the pre-owned equipment market, with many older machines finding new homes. The long lead times for new equipment are due to sheer demand but are exacerbated by supply chain shortages of critical electronic components. I, for one, have seen an explosion in the pre-owned equipment market as many fabricators are just trying to bridge the gap between production demands vs. equipment lead times.
3. The third main area where backup plans are necessary relates to manpower concerns when key employees are lost to retirement or attrition. People are stretched to the limits and, in some cases, are just getting burnt out. Working 10-hour days and 6-7 days a week is good for bringing in extra income but often comes at the expense of health and always at a loss of family time. Attrition and early retirements are real issues in a labor market that do not respond well to labor shortages. Every plant manager has those key “go-to” people who continually rely upon them to get things done. It is essential to identify backup candidates for key employees and have training plans to prep these backup candidates if they need to transition to take center stage. The fenestration industry has many engineers without formal training who have a plethora of knowledge accrued from many years of experience on the job. Many of these engineers grew up in the window and door industry, and their knowledge and experience cannot be replaced by any amount of formal college education or degrees. Succession plans need to be put in place to train their replacements. If not, our industry will lose a wealth of knowledge as these senior engineers reach retirement age.
So, there you have it … three valid reasons why the word “Backup” should be on every CEOs mind in the fenestration industry. Oh, by the way, when I went to Verizon for a replacement phone, they said I came at just the right time … the Samsung Galaxy S20s had been hung up at the port but had finally come in today. I bought two!