It wasn’t until early February as companies decanted from the embedded world exhibition in Nuremberg that the electronics industry started to understand that COVID-19 was not to be taken lightly.
Through its operations in China, RS Components sensed something more perilous could be about to engulf the globe much earlier and kick-started its preparations in early January.
“We saw the pandemic coming,” says Debbie Lentz, President Global Supply Chain at RS Components. “We undertook a business continuity review in January, and we were able to heed lessons from talking to the team at our Distribution Centre in Shanghai.”
Lentz stresses that top of the agenda was the safety of staff.
“We initiated social distancing, and acquired all the necessary personal protection equipment (PPE).”
That achieved Lentz and her team started to discuss how they could serve customers while ensuring as little disruption as possible.
“We have distribution centres in all the major geographic regions so we were able to switch things round,” she explains. “When our Milan distribution centre shut down we were able to supply customers from another facility in Europe. And when the French distribution centre closed its doors we didn’t drop a single customer order. We were able to contain problems and there was zero disruption to customers.”
In a pandemic it can’t all be plain sailing. In some areas delivery drivers were prevented from delivering, though as Lentz observes, “that means our customers were locked down too.”
The pandemic has also placed extra scrutiny on RS Components transportation and logistics strategy.
“It’s getting more expensive to move product around the globe,” says Lentz. “we are now looking to reduce transport costs by placing parts in distribution centres closer to the customer.
We are identifying fast-moving lines and placing the stock as close as possible to the customers. It will strengthen the resilience of our service.”
And in a nod to the environmental effects of shifting products around the globe, RS is planning to source more products locally. “Products made in Asia for Asia,” Lentz explains.
Some of the larger products we stock include cabinets, tables, wall boxes. We can source those from local manufacturers for a local market.”
RS Components undertook a distribution centre network study two years ago.
Lentz reveals the thinking. “We wanted to figure out where were the best locations to supply future growth.”
For the Americas that meant major investment in an existing distribution centre in Fort Worth, Texas, and Bad Hersfeld, north east of Frankfurt in Europe.
Says Lentz, “We’ve added another 200,000 square feet of space in Fort Worth and doubled the facility size in Bad Hersfeld to 400,000 square feet. They both use robotics and automation to process orders. No matter where the parts are we can process an order in minutes.”
These along with other RS distribution centres are working full out to support health services during the pandemic.
“Many of our distribution centres are working over weekends,” says Lentz.
In one centre a team dedicated themselves to making home-made masks for local hospitals and surgeries. In Belgium a team worked through their Easter holiday to ensure much-needed supplies reached a local hospital.
Picture shows RS Components’ Bad Hersfeld facility.