The missing link isn’t missing any more, at least in terms of supply chain management in Utah’s manufacturing sector. And the implications could be a game changer for the Beehive State.
A little more than two years ago, the Utah Manufacturers Association convened a contingent of about 30 prominent manufacturing executives in the state to answer the question: “How do we improve Utah’s manufacturing industry?” The meetings involved executives from companies like Autoliv, ATK, L-3, Rio Tinto, Mighty-Lite, Merit Medical and Boeing. One of the outcomes of that process was the development of the Utah Capabilities Assessment Network (UCAN), an online portal that connects Utah’s manufacturing companies to bring work back to the state.
“Utah manufacturers are eager to determine whether they can reduce costs, shorten lead times and increase quality in their supply chains through more local partnerships,” says Todd Bingham, president of the Utah Manufacturers Association. “They want to keep more business in Utah, rather than outsourcing it to other states or foreign countries. Our big manufacturers are looking for companies in Utah that can do the type of work they are currently outsourcing.”
The challenge, however, was that many Utah manufacturers didn’t have the time to search for local suppliers. It’s too laborious a process. Outside of word or mouth, networking events or Google searches, tracking down local suppliers was difficult.
That, he says, is why UCAN was developed. Initially called the Virtual Industrial Park, UCAN is a secure, online portal launched in April to connect and align manufacturers. Through UCAN, individual manufacturers and suppliers can identify capabilities, certifications, capacities and much more. The platform offers Utah manufacturers the ability to query the database using key words, industry segments or regions, NAICS codes, capacities, machinery, equipment and certifications to produce lists of possible Utah companies that might meet their needs.
Bingham says Utah companies can search for in-state manufacturers of parts, components, processes, sub-assemblies–including capacities, certifications, equipment and key contacts–through the online portal.
“It’s all there at their fingertips,” he adds. As for populating the database, Bingham says a company can input its data in about an hour. The more data entered, the more searchable the company will be to the other companies in the database. Companies can update data as needed, so it is always current. UCAN also provides the ability to upload project bids, communicate with other manufacturers and manage and track the bid process. A metric page in development will allow companies to know who has visited their pages and requested information.
The Utah Manufacturers Association worked with manufacturers of all sizes and industries, their customers and other industry constituents to methodically determine what company-specific information should be collected and inserted into the database, along with the criterion necessary to identify potential opportunities for Utah manufacturers. Even before the online portal went live it had paid off in terms of bringing work back to Utah. Bingham says during portal development meetings, leaders from a large Utah manufacturer discussed their need for a local supplier of defense-related antenna arrays. Leaders from a structural steel company, also in the meetings, said they could fill that need.
“A $70 million contract was the result,” Bingham notes. “During another meeting, leaders from a large defense contractor expressed difficulty in finding a local cable company. Another leader in the room knew a Utah company that provided the exact product and had the necessary certifications. Before we rolled the system out, by simply having 20 supply chain managers in one room, we generated more than $100 million in projects that are coming back to Utah.”
UCAN, he says, connects Utah’s manufacturers, and that in turn will mean hiring more employees, paying more taxes and creating more economic development. From that perspective, the UCAN portal can show what the supply chain is like in Utah. For example, a company looking to locate here could use the database to find out if there are enough local suppliers for the products it needs. The company could generate a list of possible suppliers, see the certifications and equipment they have and determine if it will have the supply chain it needs to be successful.
Bingham says economic developers would also find the UCAN portal useful for identifying gaps in the supply chain in order to do strategic business recruitment. “If there is a gap,” he says, “specific companies meeting the needs of manufacturers could be recruited to locate here.”
Now that the UCAN portal is online, Bingham’s biggest objective is to get Utah companies to populate their data and begin using it. St. George-based Wilson Electronics, he says, is in the process of uploading a bid to the portal as the company searches for a Utah company that can make injection-molded or die cast aluminum cases for its cell phone boosters, which are currently manufactured in Shanghai.
“Wilson Electronics would love to obtain those products in Utah,” he says. “From a reshoring standpoint, we hope to bring some of those jobs back to Utah. I think we can do it simply by identifying companies locally that might be interested and capable of performing that work.”
Development for the UCAN portal was funded through a Utah Cluster Acceleration Partnership grant and from industry contributions. It was built in four months, he notes, but will continue to be tweaked until it completely meets the needs of Utah manufacturers.
To promote UCAN, Utah Manufacturers Association members are hosting numerous events. Campbell Scientific will host an event on June 30. Other events have been hosted by Utah Industrial Supply, ATK, Mighty-Lite, Wilson Electronics, Barnes Aerospace and L-3. For the events, manufacturing companies are asked to invite their supply chains and, where possible, data from the companies is entered into the portal on the spot.
Bingham is proud to say there is nothing else like Utah’s UCAN portal. It is industry-driven and industry-hosted. Ultimately, it was designed to bring business back to Utah and he hopes Utah’s manufacturing businesses will get on board and take advantage of the opportunity to do just that.