By: Nathan Ginty
The 51 Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) Centers that make up the MEP National Network™ work to enhance the competitiveness of small and medium-sized manufacturers (SMMs) within the United States. Although each MEP Center operates independently and caters to the needs of its local manufacturing community, they share a common mission: assisting manufacturers, in various ways, to improve and succeed in today’s dynamic business environment.
Officially launched on June 1, 2023, the Supply Chain Optimization and Intelligence Network (SCOIN) expands the MEP National Network’s scope from working primarily with individual companies to include taking a more comprehensive approach to manufacturing supply chains. The initiative will help establish new MEP service offerings to provide manufacturers with what they need to improve existing supply chain networks and fill gaps in the supply chain. SCOIN will:
- Map the capabilities and interconnections within manufacturing supply chains.
- Scale-up and enhance the impact of supplier scouting services, which help organizations source domestic products and expand their capabilities.
- Enhance resilience and reduce supply chain vulnerabilities for manufacturers.
- Strengthen and revitalize regional manufacturing ecosystems.
- Connect original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) with SMMs.
Convergence of key supply chain dynamics
The events of the past few years, most notably the business disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the cascading impacts that followed, have highlighted the importance of domestic supply chains.
The federal government has recognized the need to ease supply chain bottlenecks and ensure domestic production of products that are critical to national and economic security. This has led to investments that include direct funding and tax incentives for public and private manufacturing construction such as:
- The CHIPS and Science Act.
- The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (with its Build America, Buy America requirements).
- The Inflation Reduction Act.
- The Advanced Manufacturing Job Sprint (Investing in America Workforce Initiatives).
The CHIPS and Science Act of 2022 authorized a pilot program of awards that would allow MEP Centers to provide services focused on resiliency of domestic supply chains, workforce development and adoption of advanced technology upgrades by SMMs. As a first step, the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST) MEP, under the SCOIN initiative, awarded roughly $400,000 to each of the 51 local MEP Centers to kickstart these supply chain efforts.
What is the Supply Chain Optimization and Intelligence Network?
SCOIN has three key tenets for every MEP Center that will help them provide expanded services to local manufacturers. They are:
- Dedicated resources for staffing in supply chain management and/or supplier scouting to help companies identify domestic suppliers.
- Mapping and understanding supply chains and supplier capabilities, from OEMs to Tiers 1-4 suppliers.
- Identifying, engaging with and learning the needs of key OEMs.
The Centers also will be learning about the supply chains in strategic or emerging industries, such as semiconductors, electric vehicles, energy and biomanufacturing. They will learn about where these key industries are going and the opportunities and challenges for SMMs in those industries. This information will better equip them to advise local manufacturers.
SCOIN calls for a more systematic and inclusive Network approach that includes all 51 Centers as well as:
- A supply chain operations team. This is a community of more than 51 practitioners who will meet regularly to share what they’ve learned and best practices.
- A national strategic team. These are leaders from various areas such as Center Directors, the NIST MEP national program office, and the MEP Advisory Board. This group will focus on strategy and outcomes. The strategic team also will be seeking to build focus groups of companies in key industries for additional feedback and accountability.
Industry mapping is key for increasing engagement with large companies
The supply chain mapping element is a significant opportunity for Centers and OEMs to align wants and needs. This will help Centers to make further inroads and increase awareness with OEMs that are upstream from their primary client base of small- and medium-sized companies.
With this initiative, each Center is required to engage with large manufacturers to gain more understanding of their needs and expectations, from components to certifications and Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) goals. ESG is a set of frameworks used to assess the impact of a company’s sustainable and ethical practices on its financial performance and operations.
Some MEP Centers have already done similar mapping work with encouraging results. For example:
- New Jersey MEP (NJMEP) has been part of a statewide offshore wind initiative, the largest of its kind in the U.S. NJMEP completed an assessment of current workforce capabilities and development needs. NJMEP also conducted a Supplier Identification Project that found that 1,464 of the state’s 11,000 manufacturers could supply parts or services to the initiative.
- The Illinois Manufacturing Excellence Center (IMEC) was a key stakeholder in developing an assessment of the Impacts of Electrification Transition on Illinois’ Automotive Industry. The report includes a risk assessment for the state’s automotive supply base, and it includes opportunities, concerns and recommendations for Illinois stakeholders.
The structure of the SCOIN should result in a dramatic increase in the data collected and shared across the MEP National Network. Stakeholders expect there also will be significant learning opportunities about business-to-business relationships and partnerships (such as between tier 3 and 4 suppliers in a specific supply chain), an increase in supplier scouting, and a big opportunity to develop business around emerging industries that align with requirements for the Build America, Buy America initiative.
There is a new kind of energy behind the SCOIN Initiative
SCOIN goes beyond simply connecting organizations with domestic suppliers. The initiative will enable a more rigorous assessment and analysis of domestic manufacturing capabilities, allowing for a deeper understanding of the strengths, capacities and potential areas of improvement within the U.S. supply base.
By leveraging the expertise and knowledge of each MEP Center, SCOIN will facilitate the expansion of local manufacturing ecosystems. This means that the Network will not only focus on individual suppliers but also consider the broader context of regional manufacturing clusters and their interdependencies.
Reach out to your local MEP Center for more information on the benefits SCOIN can provide to your manufacturing facility or for help with supply chain issues.
Blog originally appeared here.