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Working together with our supply chain to maintain continuity for our customers

Tuesday 2nd June 2020

During subsea fibre optic cable repairs, universal joints (UJ) are used to reconnect damaged or broken cable ends carrying vital data for people and businesses globally, ensuring service continues uninterrupted. Each cable type and variant in use on the seabed uses very specific components or piece parts which when bought together form what is the basis for UJ technology. From our site in Portsmouth, our team procure, assemble and dispatch for our customers all the piece parts and equipment required to undertake these subsea fibre optic joints that provide an essential element to the installation and maintenance of subsea fibre optic cables.

Recognising the importance of keeping the world connected

With on average around 300-400 UJ kits produced each month for customers around the globe, comprised of over 22,000 individual components, the Covid-19 pandemic has been a catalyst for a surge in orders. Customers are keen to be prepared for the eventuality of a fault on a telecommunications cable which would, in the current environment, impact on the increased capacity many operators are seeing with the increase in working from home, and those away from work or school using streaming services and browsing the internet more so than usual. For example, Facebook-owned WhatsApp has seen a 40% increase in usage during the pandemic, and Vodafone has reported a 50% increase in internet usage in some European counties as people work from home and turn increasingly to services such as Netfix.

Organisations including the ICPC are recognising this unprecedented increase in demand as they call on governments and industries to facilitate and expedite the deployment, operation, and repair of submarine fibre optic cables during the Covid-19 pandemic in order to protect increasingly important broadband Internet connectivity and the governance, health, education, and commerce activities that depend on such connectivity.

Built to order

Built to order, the UJ kits are made of several hundred components carefully manufactured, assembled and compiled, the production of the kits relies on close relationships with our supply chain, something which in the current climate has thrown up its own unique challenges.

Open lines of communication and a traffic light system

At the outbreak of Covid-19 after first looking internally at our own business processes and response to the pandemic, our focus shifted to also understanding the response of our regular suppliers and customers. With around 50 different suppliers involved in the supply chain of our UJ kits, a critical success factor to enable the production to go ahead was in the regular and honest communication with suppliers, and subsequent understanding of their status.

We found within our own supply chain new shift patterns were introduced, some operations closed entirely for weeks, some saw parts of their business hugely shrink whilst others remained operational in as close as possible to ‘normal’ conditions as they could. With this knowledge we were able to implement a clear traffic light system to allow everyone in the team to quickly and clearly see the status of our key suppliers. This then facilitated planning capacity for the coming weeks.

Remaining loyal to our trusted suppliers

Whilst there was some temptation from new suppliers to switch, we chose to continue to work alongside our quality approved and price-benchmarked suppliers with whom we have built solid, long-term relationships with over many years, supporting them with continued business during what has sadly been for many a future-altering time. As many businesses will attest to, cash flow during the pandemic has been an especially significant challenge, so our emphasis on paying our trusted suppliers within contractually agreed timelines has been crucial.

Working flexibly to customer’s needs

Managing our end customer expectations and keeping them abreast of our situation through regular contact has also played an important role in our strategy during this time. Confirming a fortnight delay in all orders has allowed us to still meet the revised customer deadlines, building in contingency for the risk of potentially small increases in delay from our own supply chain, whilst in many cases flexing to exceed customers expectations. Due to the strength of our supply chain we’ve been able to pull some orders forward where there has been an urgent requirement.

Being together, from afar

Working to social distancing guidelines, we’ve been able to  minimise physical contact by exploiting technology including Zoom and Teams to maintain communication but from a safe distance, ensuring things such as our quarterly reviews have continued with both suppliers and customers. This method was used for a BSI ISO 9001 surveillance audit which was successfully completed, and we’ll implement lessons learnt from this to future audits and other vital reviews with our supply chain.

Continuing to learn and evolve

Throughout this experience, we’ve learnt to embrace change. We plan to use the knowledge from this time to challenge what has been the norm in the past and continue with the improvements where we’ve seen them; making these changes permanent and embedding them so there is no going back. Looking at the market, scenario-planning and re-inventing services and solutions has enabled us to move from merely responding to the curve-ball that has been Covid-19, through to recovering, and we look ahead to a period where we will be once again able to thrive alongside our suppliers, customers and peers, in an industry that delivers the infrastructure that keeps the whole world connected.

The submarine telecoms industry organisation, SubOptic, have been hosting a series of Spotlight events with different themes as we all navigate through the current situation. The forthcoming session, with representative from across the sector each with different experiences and value to add to the conversation, focuses on keeping the supply chain alive and ensuring continuity in delivery over the coming weeks and months. You can register on the SubOptic website ahead of 3rd June

Global Marine is a founding member of the Universal Joint Consortium (UJC), and as a result, has played a pivotal part in the development of the UJ. The team has exceptional knowledge and is able to support the global customer base and ensure that each individual requirement is met with great accuracy. Find out more about UJ services.