Managing supply disruption

Kush Patel and Phil Harrison from Emplas tell Glass Times what the learning points are following the window and door supply chain disruption in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

The impact of Covid-19 on window and door component supply resulted in reduced capacity and production in March and April, coinciding with exponential growth in demand in the summer and into autumn, which stretched every part of the supply chain.

The net effect has been the extension of lead times, something which has frustrated installers, but which has caused fabricators far greater headaches.

“July was a great month,” Emplas’s Kush Patel said. “We’d brought people back in line with demand, and the supply chain was keeping up. Then the market went like this…”

Kush placed his hands together and then pulled them apart, pausing purposefully.

“We’re very close to our customers in that we measure customer leads, not just order intake. We gave every one of our suppliers a forecast when we started to see the uplift in the marketplace in April and May.

“It was a nine-month forecast to the end of the financial year. Has the demand we have seen exceeded that? No, it hasn’t.”

Kush acknowledges that will be of little solace to those installers who have had lead times extended and orders pushed back because of limited availability of component products.

This was first felt on foils: Emplas pushed out lead times on foils to six weeks in the summer on the basis that it couldn’t guarantee the availability in usual time frames.

“Extending them meant that we could offer increased reliability to our customers,” Kush said.

It introduced a similar strategy for standard products in October.

While the availability of resin, foils, hardware and glass has universally impacted fabrication, Emplas’s response to it has been distinct, according to operations director Phil Harrison.

“We could be servicing the customers that scream the loudest,” he said, “with the least patient ones getting supply to the detriment of those customers who are working in partnership with us, which is not fair.

“So, we’re measuring customer service at an individual job level, not holistically, understanding not only if a job has been delayed, but how many times, and prioritizing those jobs for manufacture rather than simply on the availability of stock.

“I’m not convinced that every one of our customers will believe that, but that’s genuinely what we have been trying to do.”

Emplas has been able to apply this level of forensic analysis to its customer service levels through the investment that it has made in the development of EVA, it’s operational and software platform.

“The key is the operational flexibility that EVA gives us,” Kush said. “Despite our size it allows us to be nimble and to move and to change to the current state of play in the market or through the supply chain.”

Phil said: “We invest a lot in IT, and we have a capability for the most part in house, and they are flexible and they do understand the window industry, which is a key strength of the organisation.”

Kush said: “Our ability to write code and create dashboards, and the speed at which we can do it in reaction to what’s happening, is phenomenal. We had the first dashboard written within 48 hours and then within five days it was live and running.”

Kush said the ability to measure customer service for each individual job will, in the longer term, allow Emplas to deliver an enhanced level of customer service, which is not the only positive to come out of the pressure of summer demand and disrupted supply.

“When we first came back in April we were bringing people back to maximise efficiencies and throughput through the factory,” Phil said.

“And we were learning something about the skills on the shop floor to do that so we ended up with a more versatile workforce as we travelled.

“We reviewed it on an almost daily basis as to who we needed back and when, and what type of product we were going to be manufacturing, what the mix was going to be, and what skills we needed, maximising efficiencies from an operational point of view.”

This exercise also allowed Emplas to identify potential bottlenecks within its manufacturing capability, prompting a six-figure investment in a new high output Stuga ZX5 sawing and machining centre. Capable of machining profile for more than 1,000 windows a week, and sitting alongside two existing Schirmer platforms, it gives Emplas an increase in capacity of more than 30%.

“That’s not only increased capacity today, as we work to bring ourselves back to ‘normality’,” Phil said. “It’s increased capacity for the future.

“It’s better customer service, looking at service levels against each individual job; it’s closer working with our supply partners, giving them increased visibility of what we need from them; and, most importantly, it’s a continuation of the incredibly close partnerships we have in place with our customers.”