Riding the wave of materials shortages and how to prepare for the future

Victoria Brocklesby

Victoria Brocklesby, COO at Origin, a manufacturer of premium aluminium doors and windows, offers her advice on how to best manage supply chains and handle materials shortages in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure a consistent delivery for customers.

The pandemic brought uncertainty in all areas of life which seemingly arrived overnight as the UK and the rest of the world was plunged into lockdown. Even now, almost two years later, the country is still on the road to recovery. In fact, we are only just starting to see the true consequences of the pandemic across the manufacturing industry, as the knock-on effect of lockdown on production and supply chains rears its head.

As industry leaders, we are used to spinning multiple plates at any one time to ensure we continue to deliver high quality products on time, in full, but dealing with a once in a generation situation is quite a different task. There isn’t a blueprint to follow. Every business is different, so even if something works for one, it doesn’t mean it will work for another.

At Origin, we focussed on six key areas that not only helped us weather the storm, but also allowed us to ‘build back better’.

Mentality

We are on a continuous mission to innovate and push the boundaries of what is possible. This mentality runs right throughout the business, from our product design and R&D, right through to sourcing materials, manufacturing and delivery. It’s this willingness to adapt and try new things that has held us in good stead during the pandemic. Even before the onset of COVID-19, we had pivoted our operations to prepare for Brexit, so as a company, we were well-prepared for the unexpected on this occasion. Having this willingness to adapt and pivot is the first step to being able to prepare for unpredictable changes.

Product Design

We have seen interest in our doors and windows increase significantly over the last 18 months. When restrictions were first eased, we experienced a period of ‘pent up demand’. Construction companies and house builders were playing catch up on unfinished projects, whilst consumers, who were spending more time than ever in their homes, wanted a change. This unplanned, and in many cases unforeseen demand, left some door and window companies unable to operate. For others, this led to an exciting period that we are still witnessing today. However, managing this demand whilst dealing with day-to-day operational challenges is a delicate balance.

To help manage the process, we explored potentially redesigning some of our products to exclude materials or components that could become in short supply and be difficult to get hold of. So should this day come, there will be a plan ready to action.

Investment

Whilst it might have seemed counterintuitive to spend any money across the pandemic period, Origin actually invested in a new 55,000ft2 warehouse facility along with £11m in stock to fill it. We knew that without being proactive, we could potentially find ourselves in a position where shortages could have a detrimental impact on our day-to-day running of the business. With so many businesses relying on us, this was not an option.

Building Supplier Relationships

As well as investing financially, we have also invested our time to build strategic supplier relationships. Taking this extra time to forge key contacts and strengthen relationships with our most important suppliers means that, in many cases, we are now the preferred client. This has been vital when sourcing materials such as polyamide which is experiencing a global shortage but is essential for manufacturing our products.

Control

Maintaining control in all areas of the business was another thing that helped steer us through the past 18-months. From sourcing and design, to manufacturing and delivery, we brought everything that wasn’t already, in-house, so we no longer needed to rely on other businesses which may well be managing their own pandemic challenges.

Keep it Simple

The overarching theme to everything we have put in place to manage the challenges of the pandemic is keeping it simple. A streamlined approach, without too many moving parts, has been key. That doesn’t mean downsizing, though.

One thing we know for certain right now, is that nothing is guaranteed. However, by having the right processes in place to help minimise the impact of sudden changes, like materials shortages, you can future proof your business incredibly effectively.

To find out more, visit www.origin-global.com

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