Navigating Supply Chain Challenges Successfully
By Anne Chapman
June 9 2021
Working with domestic suppliers has always had clear, long lasting benefits. Contacting customer support from a domestic supplier is easier, obtaining parts is quicker, the environmental impact is lower and there is a direct benefit to the workers and families who are supported by domestic production. Recent, unpredictable events of the last few years have highlighted the fragile nature of our global supply chain. While it is now impossible to escape the effects completely domestic manufacturers with their own domestic supply chain can lessen those disruptions.
Let’s take a closer look at the global supply chain and how Irwin is responding to current stressors to keep business-as-usual during a highly unusual time.
Textiles & Yarn
Most yarn used in commercial seating originates in textile factories in China. When the pandemic first hit China, and workers were quarantined and mills sat idle, inventory quickly depleted. This created a domino effect that continues to impact the supply chain into 2021. By the time production resumed in China, COVID-19 had reached the U.S., putting many commercial construction projects on hold during our own quarantine. With people spending more time at home, residential projects jumped, and the demand for yarns and textiles in residential products rose—a situation that continues to this day.
Supplies of textiles and yarns available for commercial seating remain unpredictable. In short, while Chinese production of textiles and yarns are increasing, Chinese supply chains remain strained.
Fortunately, Irwin partners with a range of fabric vendors, many of whom are domestic. In the current climate, when overseas production and transportation can create lengthy delays, having multiple, reliable fabric vendors helps us keep production on track—and your project on time.
The Petrochemical Industry
When strong storms repeatedly ravaged the Texas and Louisiana coasts over the past year, you may have felt the impact at the gas pump. Disruptions in the petrochemical industry, however, also created shortages that have dealt a lasting blow to many manufacturers reliant on petrochemical products. One byproduct of this industry is polyurethane foam, such as is found in seating from automobiles, to boats to furniture.
At Irwin, we are proud of our comfortable padded seats. Our foam, like so many of our components, is sourced from local suppliers in the United States. Having suppliers in our own community is critical to minimizing production delays. Daily communications with our suppliers ensure that we receive real time status updates.
The wildfires along the country's West Coast in the past few years began a supply shortages of wood and veneer products that has been exacerbated by COVID. In 2017 alone, an estimated 10 million acres were devoured by the California fires. An increased demand for residential construction is also straining supply for commercial construction projects.
Irwin maintains strong relationships with our longtime North American suppliers of wood and veneer; relationships that are mutually beneficial and provide us leverage in times of shortage. By forecasting for seasonal trends as well as commodity price increases, we go the extra mile to avoid production delays and keep our customer projects on time and at budget.
The Suez Canal Blockage
For many, images of the gigantic container ship, Ever Given, turned sideways in the Suez Canal was interesting and perhaps even amusing. For the global supply chain, however, it was yet another disruption to a wide range of industries across the world.
While the canal has reopened, and backed up shipping traffic eased, the impacts of the delays were felt for months. For example, ports on the West Coast are now struggling to accommodate and off-load arriving ships, which adds to transport time. Shipping containers are also currently in short supply and causing delays for products leaving Europe and China. When containers arrive in the U.S. a shortage of truck drivers is creating delays getting shipments from the docks to the final point of distribution.
To avoid delays in container shipping, Irwin works with a variety of domestic suppliers and utilizes air freight to meet critical deadlines. Our manufacturing plants in Michigan and Illinois keeps production and purchasing in direct contact. Materials are delivered to one location, and production is fully under our control.
While the Suez Canal blockage and the covid-related trucker shortage will live on in history books (and internet memes) it’s called attention to some larger shipping concerns that we can learn from.
Prepared To Deliver
While strain on the supply chain persists, there is plenty of room for hope and optimism. The petrochemical industry rebounded in the last half of 2021. Stadiums, arenas, and theaters are coming back to life, which means fans are back in seats, and commercial seating projects are moving forward.
Irwin has leveraged our strong supplier relationships and continues to source additional vendor options both domestically and internationally so our projects can install on time. We’ll continue to forecast and purchase wisely, to ensure our pricing is competitive. Our installation teams are experienced with tight deadlines and low-disruption. From the initial layout to the final inspection, Irwin is here to meet the customer’s schedule and help bring their vision to life.
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