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Driving Supply Chain Agility in Sheet Metal Fabrication

8 April 2022


Dean Sawyer is Senior Purchasing Controller at Universal Wolf – leaders in complex metal fabrication

Sheet Metal Fabrication Demands Strategic Purchasing

After building my career within purchasing in the manufacturing sector – where I worked in confectionery, medical supplies and ballistics – I joined Universal Wolf and, for the past two years, have been working as a Senior Purchasing Controller. A Purchasing Controller performs all aspects of purchasing at a company. In the world of metal fabrication and sheet metal, tactical purchasing tends to be the common approach. This involves purchasing supplies reactively as and when required. Companies assess what materials they want and usually go to the cheapest supplier.

Over the years, Universal Wolf has adopted a much more strategic approach to purchasing. This involves building relationships with suppliers and, as a result, getting better prices and securing stock holdings, which enable us to access stock on demand. For example, we get box sections made for one of our customers, so we asked the supplier to have the material cut and ready so we could call it in every month on a certain date. That meant there was no need to put them under time pressure when we needed additional supply.

A Better, Smarter Way to Purchase

Taking a longer-term perspective and developing partnerships benefits our customers because we can order material at a lower price today, and guard against future price rises in raw material costs. It also benefits our suppliers because we are giving them a guarantee that we will buy this material from them on a set date.

Often we hear competitors will just look for the cheapest prices as they don’t always have the relationships that we do. Strategic purchasing has real-world benefits. For instance, if there’s a shortage of a material, such as steel, our supplier will often turn other orders away while prioritising orders from Universal Wolf because it provides them with ongoing guaranteed business. At Universal Wolf, we are all part of the pack which, in this case, means collaborating and taking a flexible approach to dealing with the ebbs and flows of material pricing. Because we believe that good enough is never good enough, we work with our customers to share information about the materials they need to get the job done.

A Supply Chain Built on Trust

My aim is to create an agile supply chain for our business. When our customers reduce the number of orders they want, we inform the supplier that we’ve had a reduction in our orders and give them a guarantee that we will continue to purchase the material from them. We can flex our demand in this way because we build a strong level of trust with our suppliers. If prices are rising, our suppliers will let us know and allow us to lock it in for a period. That way, we can give our customers an estimate of what the price will be in three months’ time.

This gives our customers certainty about the costs and ensures there are no surprises coming down the line. Our customers will know exactly what they’re getting for a given time period, so it allows them to plan ahead. We also ask each of our suppliers to share market trend reports that give us a projection of metal, timber and cardboard prices across the world. This provides a good indication of what’s going on in the marketplace and ensures that market prices are being reflected in our pricing negotiations. It’s about being proactive and giving the customer as much information as possible.

We also work with our sister company Tharsus to ensure we can leverage our relationship when we’re buying from the same source. We’ll share information about what’s going on in the supply chain. And at the end of each year, we will review performance against a set of KPIs as a chance to give and receive feedback. It’s all about making progress by collaborating and improving our processes so that we can provide the best service for our individual customers.

 About Universal Wolf:

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