Balancing the Value Chain

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by Michael Ouellette


 I’m no scientist, but anecdotal evidence suggests a direct correlation between pandemic work-from-home time and the size of “Honey-Do” lists. 

It seems working from home creates the impression there’s capacity to do more home-type things, even though working from your home office likely increases the workload rather than eases it. Nothing is where it should be, productivity is reduced because the ergonomics are all wrong, and there are plenty of distractions (kids, I’m talking about you).

But none of this seems to faze the Honey-Do list. Mine keeps growing and I can’t tell if my wife, (who is also very busy with her new work-from-home regime) gets more joy from scratching items off the list or adding more. 

One of the major duties I recently scratched off this list was building a large wooden gazebo in our back yard. Like many of our readers, I enjoy working with my hands, but this project was a beast. It was a kit, not built from scratch, and as it came together I couldn’t help but be impressed with the engineering of the total package. 

This was a rather large product designed to be attractive (it is), easily assembled by someone with little experience (if I can build it, anyone can) and to nest perfectly in three Christmas-tree-sized boxes to be shipped across the continent (we received it within a couple weeks of ordering—during a global pandemic). Normally, achieving one of these is enough for a product to be successful. To nail all three is remarkable—and a very Canadian trait.

That’s right, this feat of engineering came from a mid-sized Canadian company with about 30 employees just outside of Waterloo, Ont. Yes, it’s wood and not metal, but many of the processes applied to it are the same—drilling, reaming, CNC cutting. I also have no doubt that, like any metal shop, a portion of the materials and hardware came from overseas. So this little company also manages a global supply chain with all the associated headaches and costs.

Of course, like any product, this gazebo had its flaws during assembly. Some of the holes were drilled a little off specification and some of the edges didn’t meet up exactly, but this isn’t the auto sector so expectations of a zero-defect production run would be unfair. And the engineers accounted for this, including finishing touches that covered up virtually all of the rough edges.

The pandemic lockdown has exposed some critical issues within the global supply chain and has led to numerous calls to begin a comprehensive reshoring initiative to bring home production of parts currently made overseas. But we must be cautious and prudent as we work out the best way forward, because access to a robust global market for supply and sales is a crucial aspect to Canadian industrial success. We simply do not have the critical mass of customers at home to continue growth in revenues without exporting. 

Indeed, it is exactly this kind of supply chain—the kind that delivers to my house an amazing product that answers all my needs and supports a manufacturer less than 100 kilometres away—that Canadian companies need to access more often, not less. SMT

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