Securing the U.S. supply chain is imperative to protect America’s economic future and maximize national security. That’s why the SecureAmerica Institute (SAI) searched nationwide for projects that could fortify a resilient U.S. manufacturing and defense industrial base.
“U.S. supply chain resiliency has taken a hit over the last few decades driven by globalization, where large, specialized businesses find cost advantages through economies of scale,” said Joe Schibi, strategy and operations manager for Deloitte, which is researching multitiered supply chains with SAI. “We can better understand, prioritize and ultimately mitigate vulnerabilities when we illuminate the supply chain.”
Bringing the most basic product to market involves multiple organizations, from those providing raw materials to build the product, to others providing value-added services such as warehousing and distribution. If any step is compromised, nothing gets to the consumer.
For project “Deep View,” researchers at Deloitte and SAI are evaluating two different supply areas of national interest — hypersonic technology and personal protective equipment — to identify thematic risks and services that support U.S. industry.
Analyzing a multitiered supply chain begins with understanding the value chain down to the raw materials. In hypersonic technology, raw materials include items like rare earth elements used in microelectronics for navigation or targeting.
“The majority of rare earth elements production is in China,” Schibi said. “A lack of diversification is a strategic risk to the U.S. that could result in us being cut off from these critical materials when they’re needed most.”
Projects like Deep View can further address the ominous trend of diamond supply chains, which undermine manufacturing security and resiliency, explained Dr. Eleftherios Iakovou, SAI’s manufacturing supply chain director and Harvey Hubbell Professor in the Department of Engineering Technology and Industrial Distribution at Texas A&M University.
“Diamond supply chains happen when major components of critical supply chains are all concentrated in certain countries (deeper in the chain in higher-tier suppliers), often as a result of national industry policy,” Iakovou said.
Disruption in the flow of physical goods is just one dimension of supply chain risk. Indirect goods and services can also impact resiliency. Indirect goods and services include software used to design and protect sensitive intellectual property (IP), which is particularly relevant in a supply area critical to national security like hypersonic technology.
“When we analyzed a segment of the industry, we saw companies using foreign software and web hosting services for product design and collaboration activities,” Schibi said. “This can increase the risk of IP theft.”
While IP theft is less of an issue in a mature industry like personal protective equipment (PPE), other risks like quality control can undermine resiliency.
“Just before the COVID-19 pandemic began, nine million surgical gowns were recalled because of poor sterilization practices by foreign manufacturers,” Schibi said. “Improper sterilization fractured the supply chain and widened the gap between demand and supply when demand was surging. It was truly a perfect storm for the product category.”
In light of the supply chain disruptions caused by the pandemic, calls for reshoring, or transferring manufacturing back to the U.S. from overseas have increased. However, there are economic barriers for many product categories, including PPE .
“We can pursue a multifaceted approach that includes reshoring at strategic points in the value chain, as well as stronger partnerships with ally nations,” Schibi said.
For example, a surgical gown company could diminish the risk of poor sterilization practices by reshoring only the sterilization process. Making this a final activity performed in the U.S. could provide greater oversight, while avoiding more significant cost increases of reshoring all manufacturing.
Both Schibi and Iakovou hope the project’s findings will produce safer supply chains in all industries capable of withstanding raw material shocks and rapid demands spikes and will also encourage the manufacturing industry to pursue solutions domestically in the U.S.
“Supply chain visibility and mapping are absolutely necessary to develop next-generation cost-competitive resilient supply chains for the nation,” Iakovou said. “The supply shocks of the last two years have shown us that viewing raw materials, semifinished goods and finished products starting from suppliers to customers is more important than ever.”