Digital allies in the battle against supply chain disruption

In this latest Member’s Briefing article, Member company and Innovation Funding specialists ABGI-UK give a fantastic insight into what can be achieved when manufacturing businesses adopt digital tools available to them.  


Make UK’s Q2 Manufacturing Outlook painted a very encouraging picture for post-Covid recovery with many companies reporting higher numbers of both UK and export orders, a trend which is forecast to continue through into the autumn. This welcome increase in demand is producing a compound effect, driving output growth and demand for raw materials and components. This is however likely to put extra pressure on already fragile international supply chains, as discussed in our first article.


Coping with unpredictable conditions

Many manufacturers are still reporting disruptions to raw materials supplies including metals, plastics, and composites, while others complain of unpredictable component supplies, to the point where reports of counterfeit components finding their way into supply chains is not unusual!

More and more companies are now under pressure to develop strategies to help them cope with unpredictable disruptions, such as:­

  • finding alternative raw materials,
  • redesigning products to eliminate or substitute problematic components
  • and in some instances replacing suppliers to address a bottleneck.


Some tools to manage the disruption

The use of CAD (computer-aided design) and PLM (product lifecycle management) packages can significantly aid the speed of response in managing unpredictable conditions. Particularly when dealing with complex challenges such as substituting materials or components not readily available. The use of a CAD package can assist the design and testing of new solutions for impact on functionality and performance, or simply when experimenting with the geometry. While a PLM package allows a company considering changes in designs and materials, to assess the full impact that making those changes might have on each member in their supply chain.

At its most basic level, CAD allows users to assess whether a new material meets performance requirements, such as:

  • strength,
  • impact on overall weight of the finished product,
  • the functional lifespan of the material and by extension, the final product.

A CAD package can also be put to good use in planning effective alterations to the geometry of a product, such as:

  • slimming down a design to reduce raw material requirements and maintain the strength and robustness of the finished product;
  • or identifying whether changing the design might create new unforeseen product performance or manufacturing challenges.


Collaboration to accelerate innovation across the supply chain

 As well as allowing companies to experiment with variable designs and components, these packages give them the opportunity to share design iterations with suppliers and collaborators, gaining wider feedback on ideas, improving the quality of decisions and the speed of innovation. Additionally, the capability to automatically generate updated bills of materials and manufacturing documentation ensures that all members are kept abreast of the impact of proposed design changes within their own part in the value chain.

If a bottleneck unexpectedly develops within the supply chain, such as a supplier facing an unplanned forced closure – as many have experienced over the last 18 months – or struggling  as a result of capacity within the global freight system, a CAD package combined with product lifecycle management software can help companies to quickly understand the impact of changing one component across the whole value chain, allowing all involved to:

  • understand how many other components might be affected,
  • what documentation needs to be updated and,
  • which stakeholders need to be notified of changes.


Understanding the true scope of the proposed change and its impact across the full supply chain makes it much easier to respond quickly, and effectively address unpredictable bottlenecks.

Finally, using CAD and PLM software together creates a documented history of design revisions and iterations, providing full traceability of changes in designs, bills of materials and manufacturing documentation. Meaning that, when raw materials or components become available again, the supply chain will make the switch back to manufacturing earlier iterations of a design much more easily, giving all members within the value chain the flexibility they need in times of volatility and turbulence.

This is just one example of what can be achieved when manufacturing businesses adopt the digital tools available to them. In our next article, we will explore how the use of digital simulation applications can aid the development process and reduce the need for costly and time-consuming physical prototyping.

To find out more about CAD/CAM, and to kickstart your own digital transformation journey,  please contact Sandy Findlay on 07807 739033 or email

ABGI is a global consultancy with over 30 years’ experience helping some of the world’s best known brands accelerate innovation and business expansion by capitalising on their R&D activities, in compliance with all rules and regulations. They have extensive experience helping companies leverage valuable funding back into their business through government-backed incentives such as grant funding, R&D tax relief, Capital allowances, or Patent Box.