Unprecedented lead times for machinery have become a persistent reality for corrugated convertors and equipment suppliers worldwide. Numerous factors, including a surge in e-commerce, supply chain interruptions, escalating material costs, and a tight labor market, have compounded the issue and delayed the much-desired “return to normal.”
Are these extended lead times good or bad? Do they benefit or hinder the converters that are forced to look further down the road to forecast their equipment needs and then pay to wait? What about the machine builders that are forced to manage longer backlogs, shifting production schedules, delayed installations, and rapidly escalating costs? There is no apparent winner either way. Market-leading organizations have been wise in using this opportunity to streamline processes, strategize new methods of sourcing, and expose other inefficiencies within their processes. Organizations that understand that the “devil is in the details” are addressing these vulnerabilities using digital technology and remain steadfast in their pursuits of operational excellence.
OEMs and convertors have both seen that the benefits of extended project timelines are the healthier B2B relationships built on dependency, transparency, and trust. Lengthy lead times have contributed to more thorough project planning, which increases the need for more connected customer engagement. Savvy capital equipment buyers are also seeing the long-term benefits of forecasting their timelines to upgrade production capabilities based on overall market demands, versus those of an individual customer. Through this newfound connected collaboration, both parties can set proper expectations with process improvements that produce more vertical machine startups.
Nimble OEMs have become hyper-focused on the acceleration of their digital journey to address rapidly growing backlogs. By developing custom digital technologies, manufacturers can address the symptoms of a tight supply chain and accurately forecast. Using digital twin software, they can maximize the time between machine purchase and installation to train operators on equipment using a digital workspace to reduce or eliminate the learning curve when the equipment is commissioned. Training documents, parts manuals, maintenance schedules, and other important communications from manufacturers can be right in the palm of converters’ hands through the development of a custom mobile application. Augmented reality (AR) service headsets allow remote service connectivity to view what your operators see and collaborate in real time. Other AR, virtual reality, and digital technologies can also be used for training, engineering, collaboration, and project planning. Converters and equipment suppliers now have the ability to be more connected than ever before.
Though we’ve faced some of the greatest challenges of our careers over these past few years, I believe we can also look back and be proud of how much we’ve learned, adapted, and conquered the challenges. The relationship between converter and manufacturer now has a greater emphasis on communication, connectivity, and technology than ever before—and I believe that this lesson is building a better path toward a brighter future.
Tim Connell is director of sales at A.G. Stacker and is vice Chair of AICC’s Associate board.