Manufacturing has always had an element of matchmaking at its core. As a supplier, you want to be found quickly by original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), prime contractors, and tier one and two suppliers. Buyers want to find companies capable of doing their work.
The ability for manufacturers and suppliers to connect has never been more important. The domestic supply chain is quickly evolving due to advanced manufacturing breakthroughs and growing demand for electric vehicles, solar batteries and other high-tech innovations.
Connectivity will also be essential for small and medium-sized manufacturers to capture some of the huge business development opportunities throughout the supply chain coming with major government projects, such as:
Increased awareness of opportunities and capabilities within supply chains gives manufacturers a competitive advantage.
The massive demand for personal protective equipment (PPE) early in the COVID-19 pandemic offers a cautionary tale. Opportunities in your backyard – and nationally – may not be visible unless you are connected to the right supply chain platforms.
When the pandemic began, I was the Program Manager for the SMART Congressional Initiative-Covid Task Force based in New Jersey. I was responsible for acquisition of PPE for more than two dozen federal agencies. At the time, the vast majority of PPE used in the U.S. came into California ports from Asia. As the pandemic set in, the PPE acquisition process quickly broke down. I made a number of trips to California in hopes that would improve our acquisition efforts. Unfortunately, being close to the California ports did not help, and we had less than a 2% success rate in acquiring the much-needed PPE.
Despite the government’s rapid response program, there was little knowledge of capabilities among the domestic manufacturing sector. I eventually learned there were more than 200 companies in New Jersey capable of producing PPE. Having this information a few years ago could have saved a lot of time and money. I would have concentrated my efforts to acquire PPE through these New Jersey companies.
Now, with lessons learned, we are in the process of growing our national database of suppliers. This is being coordinated in each state through local MEP Centers. So, let's not make the same mistake ever again. We now have systems in place that will help capture opportunities to build the domestic supply chain.
The MEP National Network’s Supplier Scouting service was expanded due to the pandemic and can be applied on a national, regional or local scale. With extensive relationships and knowledge of U.S. manufacturing capabilities, Supplier Scouting identifies manufacturers with appropriate production and technical capabilities and connects them with the supply chains of larger companies and government agencies. In addition, suppliers are identified and connected with purchasers, responding to the specific needs of individual companies or agencies. MEP Supplier Scouting helps OEMs and government agencies identify new suppliers that can produce hard-to-source items.
MEP Centers can support vendors, materials or technical searches by identifying:
Many MEP Centers have partnered with private entities to create in-state and national database platforms. The largest, the CONNEX Marketplace, now has a database of more than 140,000 manufacturers. MEP Centers can use these database platforms to find suppliers and fulfill requests issued through the supplier scouting service.
Here are how database platforms generally work:
Buyers and sellers connect directly through the platforms, which allows big manufacturers to search and find you according to your unique capabilities and what you can produce, not just what you have built in the past. It also allows you to easily search and discover large manufacturer needs.
John Kennedy, the CEO of the New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program (NJMEP), has an extensive background in manufacturing. A former manufacturing business owner, John has a doctorate in industrial engineering, and his research focused on production, inventory and supply chain. When John learned about New Jersey’s Offshore Wind (OSW) project coming to the state, he did what comes naturally to engineers – he developed a comprehensive matrix and roadmap for connecting stakeholders.
As details emerged for the New Jersey OSW project, John and his team broke down the approximately 8,000 parts in a wind turbine (bushings, electronics, fasteners, etc.), and cross-referenced those with New Jersey manufacturers’ NAICS codes. He then looked at which companies in New Jersey could supply those parts. This exercise identified 1,464 New Jersey manufacturing companies that might be able to do business with OSW.
He has created a model for how to connect suppliers and buyers:
NJMEP continues to work closely with the state governor’s office, the Manufacturing Caucus and the New Jersey Economic Development Authority in leading the New Jersey supply chain on key areas like offshore wind power generation.
Government projects to boost the evolving domestic supply chain will present more and more opportunities for small manufacturers. While you may not manufacture components for semiconductors, every new fabrication plant will need doors, windows, manufacturing equipment and other infrastructure. There is plenty of incentive to become part of supply chain platforms, for example:
Another advantage to increased connectivity with your supply chain is that you are helping mitigate risk during emergencies and disruptions. Being part of an effective database or network means you are easily identified as an alternate supplier that can help manufacturers improve their supply chain diversity and resiliency.
Your local MEP Center can work side-by-side with you to use the MEP Supplier Scouting service and database networks to increase your supply chain connectivity. If you are a manufacturer, let’s talk.