Making Network Design Decisions in the Supply Chain in Practice

Managers should keep the following issues in mind when making network design decisions for a supply chain.

Do not underestimate the life span of facilities. It is important to think through the long­term consequences of facility decisions because facilities last a long time and have an enduring impact on a firm’s performance. Managers must consider not only future demand and costs but also scenarios in which technology may change. Otherwise, facilities may become useless within a few years. For example, an insurance company moved its clerical labor from a metropolitan location to a suburban location to lower costs. With increasing automation, however, the need for clerical labor decreased significantly, and within a few years the facility was no longer needed. The company found it difficult to sell the facility, given its distance from residential areas and airports (Harding, 1988). Within most supply chains, production facilities are harder to change than storage facilities. Supply chain network designers must consider that any factories that they put in place will stay there for an extended period of a decade or more. Warehouses or storage facilities, though, particularly those that are not owned by the company, can be changed within a year of making the decision.

Do not gloss over the cultural implications. Network design decisions regarding facility location and facility role have a significant impact on the culture of each facility and the firm. The culture at a facility will be influenced by other facilities in its vicinity. Network designers can use this fact to influence the role of the new facility and the focus of people working there. For example, when Ford Motor Company introduced the Lincoln Mark VIII model, management was faced with a dilemma. At that time, the Mark VIII shared a platform with the Mercury Cou­gar. However, the Mark VIII was part of Ford’s luxury Lincoln division. Locating the Mark VIII line with the Cougar would have obvious operational advantages because of shared parts and processes. However, Ford decided to locate the Mark VIII line in the Wixom, Michigan, plant, where other Lincoln cars were produced. The primary reason for doing so was to ensure that the focus on quality for the Mark VIII would be consistent with that of other Ford luxury cars that were produced in Wixom.

Do not ignore quality-of-life issues. The quality of life at selected facility locations has a significant impact on performance because it influences the available workforce and its morale. In many instances, a firm may be better off selecting a higher-cost location if it provides a much bet­ter quality of life. Failure to do so can have dire consequences. For example, an aerospace supplier decided to relocate an entire division to an area with a lower standard of living in order to reduce costs. Most of the marketing team, however, refused to relocate. As a result, customer relations deteriorated, and the company had a very difficult transition. The effort to save costs hurt the com­pany and effectively curtailed the firm’s status as a major player in its market (Harding, 1988).

Focus on tariffs and tax incentives when locating facilities. Managers making facility location decisions should consider tariffs and tax incentives carefully. When considering interna­tional locations, it is astounding how often tax incentives drive the choice of location, often overcoming all of the other cost factors combined. For instance, Ireland has developed a large high-tech industry by enticing companies with low taxes. Even within nations, local govern­ments may offer generous packages of low to no taxes and free land when firms decide to locate facilities within their jurisdiction. Toyota, BMW, and Mercedes have all chosen their facility locations in the United States due in large part to tax incentives offered by different states.

Source: Chopra Sunil, Meindl Peter (2014), Supply Chain Management: Strategy, Planning, and Operation, Pearson; 6th edition.

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