Supply Chain Challenges Reveal Strength
When we’re up against crushing obstacles, we crush the response. Nowhere is that more evident than in the supply chain management challenges that have persisted since 2020.
Ever since COVID-19 turned the world upside down, lead times and pricing in the manufacturing supply chain have remained volatile and high. From raw materials to freight, across quality and availability, supply chain challenges have tested the strength and agility of manufacturers worldwide.
We caught up with Director of Operations Luke Vossen and Supply Chain Manager Ken Cave to explore how CWMF has been able to survive and even thrive through it all.
“Before 2020, suppliers operated effectively on a “just-in-time” model that really doesn’t exist anymore,” explains Cave. “It’s a complete change in mindset around sourcing, ordering, and stocking materials and parts to keep operations flowing and customers happy.”
Common and Continued Challenges Since 2020
The supply chain management challenges we – and virtually all manufacturers – have had to work through, and in many cases are still working through, are extensive. Sometimes, what feels like a solution in one moment becomes a problem the next.
Lead times exploded for most parts and raw materials, which in turn drove price increases and ongoing volatility. Availability became a relative term, with some supply orders taking nearly a year to fulfill. Freight and shipping became costly and unreliable. Eventually, the market started to see changes in quality, as many resorted to suppliers they would not have chosen in the past. On top of all that, many industries, including asphalt and asphalt plant equipment, continued to see steady or even record growth amidst labor shortages and general chaos.
“Lead times that were once next-day became three weeks, one month became three months, and materials that were already long lead doubled if you could get them at all,” Cave told us. “It’s hard to overstate the magnitude of these supply chain challenges to manufacturers like us.”
How CWMF Crushes Supply Chain Challenges
We won’t claim to have “secrets” to success, but one reason we’ve done as well as we have is that we started with a solid foundation and were prepared to pivot quickly and confidently.
Vossen explains, “It has been difficult, no doubt, but we fared well thanks to a few core strengths, including a foundation of longstanding trusted relationships, a culture of innovation and discipline, and a good old-fashioned smart work ethic.”
Vendor and Customer Relationships
We’ve always believed that the best approach is personal. We have longstanding and mutually beneficial relationships with both our suppliers and our customers.
“It all comes down to trust,” Cave continues. “With a supply chain that works together to adapt, much more is possible.”
We see our customers making equipment decisions proactively and early, with much more advance notice than in the past. That’s a real opportunity for manufacturers like us who are ready to collaborate on solutions to supply chain management challenges.
Similarly, our suppliers, many of whom we have worked with for decades, worked hard and creatively to help us keep up with our customers’ demands. “One even referred us to their direct competitor rather than leave us hanging – that’s dedication,” Cave emphasized.
Proactivity and Calculated Risks
Over the last three years or so, we also got more proactive in finding alternatives, scrambling, and doing what it takes, even if that meant paying a premium or taking a calculated risk.
CWMF asphalt plant equipment is highly custom, which makes supply chain management challenges even trickier. Many manufacturers can buy in higher volumes to help with cost and supply. Although we don’t ordinarily buy in bulk that way, we did start designing our equipment in a way that allowed us to use alternatives or proactively stock things a bit more ahead of time, especially parts and materials that tend to have a long lead time.
That means we’re taking on some risk with parts or materials we don’t already have a “home” for, but other investments and innovations made it possible, as described below. It’s also an opportunity in other ways. Buying ahead allows us to lock in pricing, which actually avoids some of the risks of price volatility. That’s important because once we quote a customer, we honor that price even if our raw material prices increase. It’s just the right thing to do.
Investment in Infrastructure and Talent
You might think an expansion or an acquisition would only add to the chaos. That might be true, but it’s also true that we did both in the last three years! We finished an extra 11 acres in 2021/2022, which was a saving grace. The 2022 Warehouse project included inventory locations and a new management system.
We didn’t stop there. We were having real supply chain challenges with our industrial automation and control systems and uncovered an opportunity to acquire our primary supplier for greater efficiency, access, and control.
Talent was another important part of the story. With continued growth and demand, we never stopped hiring. Despite labor shortages, our hiring practices kept us moving.
Cultural Integrity and Operational Discipline
“We’ve had double-digit growth over the past three years, which is significant growth on top of significant challenges,” Vossen elaborates. “The more chaos, the more discipline we needed. The shop is cleaner than ever, with more structure and more planning. We were building on a good foundation. Just working harder isn’t enough – you have to work smarter.”
Our hiring process embodies both cultural integrity and discipline as well. We have high standards, and even with a talent shortage, we don’t compromise on fit or values. They’re too important. That includes looking for ways the team needs to evolve.
“My role didn’t exist before,” emphasizes Cave. “I owe my current role to both the growth and the supply chain management challenges that created the opportunity for CWMF to build out the team and for me to step into a new position. It’s been exciting to see it all come together.”
We’re happy to discuss new and creative ways to crush evolving supply chain challenges. Contact us with questions, suggestions, and opportunities.
Luke Vossen, Director of Operations
Ken Cave, Supply Chain Manager