Broccoli and Supply Chains Have a Lot in Common!

Romanesco broccoli is one of the most intriguing vegetables in nature. Its complex structure, known as Mandlebrot fractal, is a geometric shape that exhibits the property of self‑similarity, meaning that a small portion of it looks like a scaled down version of the whole. Fractals have the property of showing self-similarity regardless of how big or small they are. In other words, a small piece of broccoli or cauliflower has the same shape and property as a bigger piece. We also see fractal patterns in mountains, snow flakes and human lung tissue as well as cell phone signals. Their mathematical formulation allows us to better understand the underlying structure and, as in the case of cell phone signals, to become more efficient. Anything with a rhythm or repetitive pattern, including Russian dolls, could be a candidate for fractal analysis. That includes supply chains!

Self-similarity is also exhibited in every part of the supply chain. Whether it is a machine, work center, factory, corporation or the entire supply chain, every part of the business can be modeled as such.

In other words, getting the right product to the right place at the right time is the function of every part of supply chain as well as the whole. What makes them complicated is the dependency and sequential nature of the physical flow of goods. Sequential dependency creates risk to downstream nodes. To make supply chains resilient multiple paths or parallelism should to be deployed. Just like the stem of the broccoli holding the entire structure together, supply chains need to have a base so that if one part breaks the rest can still function preserving the property. This is also referred to as a holistic structure. Design of a supply chain for resiliency depends on creating such a foundation to ensure the whole is not dependent on just one part. There might be change in scale but not change in function when one part is no more.

In order to make the whole resilient each part must be resilient. A piece of equipment can shut down the entire supply chain, a bad factory structure can be damaged in an earthquake or a port or waterway may get backed up causing major disruptions. Resiliency implies the ability to function despite an unpredicted event. Think of your supply chain as a community of mini supply chains. In an orchestra, if one violinist breaks a string, the show goes on delivering the piece with little change. If the tenor has lost his voice, then there is backup. In other words, the show goes on perhaps at not so optimal levels, but it functions. This is how supply chains should be designed and operated. Building a foundation for resiliency can be achieved in many ways by creating parallel nodes and paths to remove dependency on one part or a connection. Using AI and Machine Learning predict potential issues and design adequate safety inventory. Of course, this would increase the cost of operations. However, efficiency is no longer the only factor; resiliency is taking the center stage. It is the question of cost v. survival or losing market share. With the AI tools that are currently available much of the potential risks can be eliminated or mitigated. Design your supply chain with a solid “base” that keeps it going with both efficiency and resiliency. For more information on how AI and machine learning can improve supply chain resiliency click Here.

broccoli and supply chains have in common

“In order to make the whole resilient each part must be resilient.”