Flextronics, which designs, manufactures and ships products for other businesses, expects the software to help identify potential problems with suppliers earlier and redirect work to keep inventory moving.
Some companies have chosen to centrally manage their supply chains using a control tower approach. In contrast, Flextronics wants the whole company to see the same information globally, but let local managers make decisions.
“The guys sitting in the plants can see the information at the same time and they can make their own decisions, said François Barbier, president of global operations and components at the Singapore-based Flextronics in an interview.
To do this, Flextronics which counts Apple Inc., Microsoft Inc.MSFT1.63% and Ford Motor Co.F0.35% as customers, designed real-time collaboration software called Flex Pulse that can send supply chain data to large interactive touch-screen displays in factories, computers, tablets or mobile devices.
Employees based at a factory in Europe, for example, can see trouble spots, such as an earthquake in Taiwan, on an interactive map. By touching the map, they can drill down on specific inventory and supplier data. If needed, they can initiate a video conference with the factory in that region right from the screen.
Effectively managing the supply chain is critical for companies hoping to recover from unexpected events such as political unrest, terrorism, natural disasters and extreme weather. “An earthquake in Taiwan or a fire in China may impact one of our suppliers that won't be able to deliver on time and that might drive another problem in the system because I might not be able to build the product and deliver on time,” said Mr. Barbier. Flextronics produces millions of products each month for other companies, he said.
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At the company’s Silicon Valley innovation center, there are 22 touch screens arranged in a semi-circle where teams can pull up information from different parts of the globe, including real-time video feeds of production facilities.
One of the biggest challenges in creating the software was building uniform part numbers and naming conventions across the company’s global systems. “We allow the factories a certain degree of autonomy and that creates challenges in master data management,” said Mr. Shahin, in an interview.
Over time, Flextronics executives said the system will make a difference to its bottom line, give the company more visibility and improve efficiency and speed. Perhaps most important, it will help the company mitigate supply chain risk.