This post was written by Jay Kulkarni ’20. Connect with him on LinkedIn.
It is said that businesses don’t compete, supply chains do. Trane Technologies, a climate-innovation company with such heavyweight brands as Trane® and Thermo King® in its portfolio, has a multi-tiered global supply chain that will be put under enormous strain by ‘black swan’ events like the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19 presents an unprecedented challenge precisely because it affects suppliers across multiple tiers, with no regard for revenue, size, or location. How can large corporations like Trane Technologies make their supply chains more resilient to disruptions and accomplish their long-term goals of creating a circular closed-loop economy?
A global footprint necessitates that Trane Technologies use a digital supply chain management (SCM) tool to map its suppliers, reduce logistics costs, create long-term forecasts, communicate with suppliers, and maintain visibility over inventory and turnover. The company’s Oracle SCM portal allows their factories to put in requests for materials, and shows suppliers what materials are in transit, inventory already at the manufacturing plant, consumption patterns, and overall performance (such as shipping delays).
However, though Trane Technologies may have oversight over its suppliers, it’s likely that COVID-19 will create supply chain issues with their suppliers’ suppliers. Their subcontractors are smaller and typically wouldn’t have the resources to weather long disruptions, and their failure will negatively impact the company’s manufacturing operations and its push towards a circular economy.
So, what is to be done?
In the near-term, the company should analyse all tiers of their supply chain and communicate with key suppliers to ensure that supply continues without disruption. If needed, supply chain executives should attempt to secure alternate sources of supply, logistics, or manufacturing capacity in case vulnerable supply chain partners fail, even though Trane Technologies will have to pay a premium for these resources. To prepare its supply chain and stakeholders for future disruptions, the company should look to forecasting technology to model for and mitigate supply chain risk.
The first step in modelling is to map your supply chain digitally, including all tiers of supply chain partners. Once the nodes are mapped out, the supply chain risk management team can carry out discrete-event simulations to understand how the supply chain reacts to stimuli such as risk events or business initiatives. Another long-term strategy is to shorten or regionalize supply chains; although it smacks of protectionism and anti-globalism, co-located suppliers can act as a supply chain safety mechanism in case international trade is restricted or impossible. Toyota has successfully implemented just such a strategy with its Kentucky operations, which rely on 350 suppliers all based in the US.
Trane Technologies’ ambitious 2030
Commitments include the Gigaton Challenge (reducing not only its own, but also
its customers’ carbon emissions by one billion tons); carbon-neutral and zero-landfill
operations; and the Opportunity for All initiative that focuses on diversity in
leadership positions. Supply chain risk-mitigating strategies make Trane
Technologies more resilient to disruptions and better positioned to achieve its
strategic and environmental goals.
 Supply chain modelling software is a close cousin to the parametric design software used in architecture and aerospace. Both allow designers to see the link between design intention and design response.