That’s a Wrap (Almost)
Back in February, I wrote a blog post about the value of taking time for strategic check-ins to ensure a leaner, faster and more reliable mindset as we progress through the year. As we come into the last few months of 2021, now is perhaps one of the most important times to take that momentary pitstop and evaluate what we’ve learned and how we can adjust for the year to come.
Lessons learned in Supply Chain
While this answer will look different for all of us in the glass industry, it’s safe to say there’ve been a few universal learnings, starting with one of the most talked about: how disruptions in the global supply chain likely aren’t going away anytime soon.
Once viewed as a temporary crisis, the events of the last two years have put pressure on the current model, exposing fragilities that may cause the chaos to persist longer than any of us expected. As disruptions have stayed, experts in nearly every field have proposed root causes, from the lack of containers and truck drivers to the trend to use ports as storage centers.
The New York Times podcast has some interesting color and theories on this fundamental disruption, and it is well worth the 30-minute car drive listen. It hits on the basics, but also covers the impacts of some of the less talked about, big picture elements like algorithms that predict buyer trends and vulnerabilities in the just-in-time lean manufacturing model.
For example, consider how efficiencies in the lean manufacturing model have largely eliminated excess orders. As buying models have changed and the shift toward e-commerce has taken root, demand has outpaced availability and predictive norms. Without backup quantities in place, and surges in capacity, output is lagging.
Compounding the problem, shipping containers now aren’t in the right place and won’t be for a while. The ripple effect is staggering…from traffic jams at ports all the way to company backlogs working to get orders out. This shows how just one or two broken pieces of the puzzle can have far reaching impacts on all industries, from consumer goods to construction materials. While we’re seeing adjustments like some ports working 24/7 to accommodate demand, all of us―no matter where we are in the supply chain―are going to have to look hard at what we can do to solve this quicker.
Inflation, skilled labor shortages
Beyond supply chain disruptions, inflation and skilled labor shortages are also impacting projects far and wide. The market is―and looks to remain―volatile for a while.
If ever there was a takeaway from these conditions, it’s this: relationships and the intent to communicate with what information we have matter. While many of these market conditions are out of our control and the details on material arrivals, ports, etc. certainly aren’t always fluid or available, we do have ownership over who and how we communicate. No one wants to let down customers, suppliers or team members, so let others know what information you currently have and update as needed.
Looking to the year ahead
I don’t think any of us can say for certain, but if the numbers and forecasts hold true, there are some signs of improvement. The Architecture Billing Index (ABI) looks to be recovering, with AIA Chief Economist, Kermit Baker, Hon. AIA, PhD., noting, "The ABI scores over the last eight months continue to be among the highest ever seen in the immediate post-recession periods that have been captured throughout the index’s history.”
While this will likely moderate to some degree, the flipside of a rebound in construction activity is that it will only put more pressure on the supply chain, inflation, temporarily stalled projects and a whole host of other factors. My takeaway here: We’re going to have to keep flexing those adaptability muscle.
The good news is we’re resilient here in the glass industry, and many of us are adjusting and pivoting to meet current needs. The world will always need windows and glass to look through. And while those of us out here in the rainy Pacific Northwest really appreciate our windows (or any light source really), the trend toward daylight and connectivity is only growing.
Whether we’re facing new orders or working to get existing ones out the door, we’ll need to stay nimble throughout the year. Business as usual has changed. How many times have we heard, “The new normal”? We’ve got to keep training up new skilled employees, get creative with projects and make time for those tune-ups as the landscape changes. This may take time and effort. But it will pay dividends in the next five or ten years. Let’s not lose sight of what’s to come.
I was about to close with, “Here’s to the year ahead!” But didn’t we say that as we left 2020? Some years there’s no need for déjà vu, so let me borrow a line from Curtis Mayfield as we head toward a new year—let’s “keep on, keeping on.”