The fact that supply chain disruption made major news at the onset of the pandemic crisis in the United States shows the depth of its severity. “When the president or any global leader talks about the supply chain, that is not a good thing!” said Simon Ellis, VP of Supply Chain Strategies at IDC.

Ellis and Bart Talloen, VP of Supply Chain Innovation and Insights at Johnson & Johnson, took part as panelists on “The Implications”, an edition of the Manufacturing Leadership Council’s What’s Next for Manufacturing? virtual meeting series, which took place July 21. Based on the theme of the June Manufacturing Leadership Journal, this meeting was focused on supply chain impacts and future implications.

While today’s supply chains have better visibility and resilience than ever before, Ellis says they still aren’t resilient enough. Understanding the multidimensional nature of risk and creating a resilient supply chain is essential to minimizing risk, especially when disruptions seem poised to occur more frequently and with greater severity.

Looking into the future, Ellis says that while some elements of the supply chain will resolve themselves over the summer, it’s probable that demand shocks will persist. While it’s unlikely that most companies will undertake massive reshoring of their operations, it is likely they will re-examine where their goods and materials are produced and make changes that strategically prioritize resilience over cost savings.

Ellis identified five technologies that can help enable a more resilient supply chain:

  • Cloud delivery/SAAS applications
  • Control tower/digital twin
  • Scalable data and analytics capabilities that inform real-time decision making
  • Artificial intelligence and machine learning
  • Multi-enterprise networks

For Johnson & Johnson, the top priority as the pandemic grew was to ramp up holistic multi-faceted risk management and supporting business continuity plans. From an end-to-end supply chain orchestration perspective, improving demand sensing and agile response to it and building supply chain resilience was key. With four facilities achieving the status of World Economic Forum Lighthouse Factories, the new demands brought about by COVID-19 were met by the company’s ongoing digital journey to bring together its existing innovation solutions into one integrated platform that could allow for end-to-end visibility throughout a digital ecosystem.

To meet intense changes in demand, J&J relied on a suite advanced M4.0 technologies to enable agility and flexibility. That included increasing the visibility of real-time data to make quick decisions. The company deployed AR on the factory floor and in warehouse and distribution centers for remote maintenance and engineering support as well as instructions and training. Other factory technologies were accelerated, such as advanced automation and robotics to help frontline workers and address staffing constraints. Also, 3D printing technology has been applied within J&J operations and outside in hospital systems, in support of the broader COVID response efforts (ventilators, masks etc.).

Talloen also shared an advanced example from J&J’s manufacturing operations called the MoBot, or Mobile Robot. These MoBots are standardized, stand-alone independent units (modules) that execute a single manufacturing or warehouse activity. They can be configured into integrated flexible, modular, and mobile manufacturing or supply systems. The MoBots use AI technology and have the ability to be reprogramed based on need in an easily reconfigurable production or warehouse line. J&J is deploying this approach in its pharmaceutical, consumer healthcare, medical devices, and over-the-counter drug manufacturing.

Asked for his feeling on whether complex global supply chains will give way to shorter regional ones, Talloen believes those changes will happen on a case-by-case basis. At J&J, the company is continuing to pursue its journey toward greater agility and customization, but it’s not one-size-fits-all. He believes that many companies may well now re-evaluate their suppliers and supply chain footprint as they identify specific areas of vulnerabilities and risk. The future will be about agility, adaptability and resiliency.

Supply chain risk is likely to remain a hot topic for at least the rest of the year as manufacturers reassess their operations, vendors, suppliers, logistics networks, and more. With no vaccine imminent and many parts of the United States currently affected by their own outbreaks, it’s likely that supply chain stability will be elusive for some time to come.

Recordings of all four What’s Next for Manufacturing? virtual meetings are now available on demand at: www.manufacturingleadershipcouncil.com/kbtopic/covid-19-resources/