More Supply Chain Stories

A guy who makes Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs) writes about his problems getting parts and the impact on his customers.  He describes a PLC as:

…a computer that runs actual stuff. Not things like a washer and dryer but how about the water that comes into your house, the water that leaves, the drawbridge that needs to go up, the MRI you desperately need. Almost everything you touch that is manmade uses one of these controllers at some point in the process.

Lots of comments, many of them from people talking about their own supply chain experiences.

13 thoughts on “More Supply Chain Stories”

  1. So two weeks ago I was slowly waking up, on a morning that was forecast to be about 10 below, when I heard a cracking noise that filled me with dread, fearing what it indeed turned out to be–a crack completely across one of the windows on the staircase landing. I called up Pella when their customer service line opened, and described the issue, and gave them the serial number, the window was made in 2006 and so was fully covered under warranty. The guy said it usually takes 2-3 weeks, but might take twice that, because they’re having all the usual supply chain issues.
    Exactly one week later I went outside to get the paper to find a brand new window propped against the garage door.
    I was very impressed that at least something in the economy is still working properly. Good job, Pella, bravo.

  2. I was just able to put in an order for a timer switch for my GE dryer – and was expecting it to take a month to be delivered – but I have gotten an email from the GE parts department that it will be delivered in a few days. It’s not a computerized item – just a manual timer to replace one which has gotten so frozen fast that a pair of pliers can’t even move it, but I have been hearing of so many delays for repair parts and various items that I was quite surprised.
    Perhaps some stockists have been paying attention, the last year or so…

  3. Sgt. Mom’s timer may have been sitting on a shelf for a while. Those timers were often common between models and even manufacturers, often for years. I’d be curious to know when you get it, where it was made. All of them were made by about two different companies here at one time. Now the tendency is to use electronic controls that change with every model so whenever the spares that were ordered for that model run out, it becomes unrepairable.

    There aren’t that many PLC’s built in China. But, I’m sure a lot of the pieces probably are. Of course, even if they’re just built in Asia, there will still be the problem of landing the containers. On a new install, you might be able to shop around to find a something that’s “in stock” at the expense of learning a new PLC, they tend to be pretty similar. You can also usually integrate a different PLC into an existing installation but it will be a lot more work.

    I don’t think this is going to go away soon. It’s especially hard for small organizations to manage this risk. You used to do it by limiting your choices to someone like Allen Bradley or Siemens and pay a considerable premium for the privilege. That seems to have stopped working.

  4. The electronic test equipment I make is a bit simpler than a PLC, but reasonably sophisticated with a Microchip controller. My solution has been to redesign my circuit boards to accommodate as much as 3 different alternative chips and then populate the boards with what I can find at the moment.
    Interestingly, the most sophisticated part, the controller, is readily available, while basic components are more difficult.
    My low volume gives me a lot of flexibility, for I can scrounge EBay for parts in small quantities.

  5. They just don’t cover it anymore, Biden said the crisis was ended at Christmas, he saved it, so the media has moved on to other things. They’re not covering intermodal yards, they’re filled, which means moving goods from truck to train is slower Export delays are longer than import delays. It is very hard to secure a truck driver and container to ship your product. Over 17,000 BNSF employees are looking to strike, I think a court order is the only thing stopping them. Ports still have a ship backlog, which has improved very little, and the Chinese are going into their Chinese New Year.

    We are still behind on orders at our company, and nothing has improved, even with some of the changes we made. Vendors are still behind supplying us. I guess the only saving grace is we’re different boats on the same ocean, so there is some understanding across the board.

  6. Lead times for internal purchases at my company have gone from about 4-6 weeks to about 6 months.

    At the car parts store yesterday I wanted some gasket remover. They didn’t have any available at the store or in the state. It would have had to pay extra to get them to deliver it to the store, paid in advance. As long as I was paying shipping, I decided to buy it online instead.

    Bureaucrats and politicians who have never run or produced anything have no clue.

  7. For comparison…I see a number of sailing ship trips from China (mostly Hong Kong) to San Francisco in the 1850s quoted at 60-73 days. Only a few clippers in the report, these were in the 33-44 day range.

  8. Hi, MCS! To answer your question – yes, a small mechanical timer, and apparently manufactured in Mexico, but absolutely identical to the one originally in the dryer. It came yesterday, delayed by weather, and my daughter and I just finished replacing it.
    Piece of cake, really. There was an informative video on the GE website on how to replace it. Once the control panel loosened from the top of the dryer, unfasten each connector, one by one, from the old unit, attach to the new unit, one by one … each wire had a little sleeve which went onto the new unit. I was worried that I would have to mess around with electrical tape or wire nuts or something – even soldering, in which case I’d have to call the local handy guy for help. Twist off the old unit, twist on the new, attach the knob on the front panel and reattach the top panel to the back of the dryer. Took all of about twenty minutes. I am so glad that my father taught us all to be adventurous with tools, and instruction diagrams. Otherwise I’d have had to lay out for a new dryer, and that would be a matter of $450 or so, rather than just $70.

  9. Glad it worked out, getting the trim and sheet metal out out the way is usually harder than the actual repair.

    Plowing snow seems to be one of those jobs that Texans won’t do. I’ve been in DFW since 2005 and never remember a worse effort. Very little snow on a layer of ice but even after 24 hours, exactly zero crews out doing anything.

  10. The hardest bit was actually getting the teeny-tiny-screw which secured the unit. It was apparently welded in, beyond all our efforts to dislodge it. We gave up on that, and just cut the sheet-metal tongue and wrenched the screw out of the place.
    The dryer works a dream, now. So glad to have saved the expense and hassle.

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