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Partnership simplifies supply-chain sourcing

It might seem like a simple problem: company buyers and engineers learning supplier lingo and vice versa. However, it’s an issue that has plagued the manufacturing supply chain industry for decades and led to months searching for a suitable supplier.

Collaboration between the San Diego East County Economic Development Council and San Diego-based Industrial Interface has resulted in Industry Cortex, a new supply chain interface that is already proving its worth in solving this issue.

“The (Defense Logistics Agency) is the first customer using the interface internally,” said Chris Powell, co-founder of Industrial Interface and its Industry Cortex solution. “And they’re the biggest purchasing agency out there using this process we’re talking about — a process that took DLA two to three months, which they can now do in less than a minute.”

At a recent Connect Nearsourcing event, Powell said engineers at many corporations spend up to 90 percent of their time trying to find a manufacturer to produce specialty parts they need.

Jo Marie Diamond, president and CEO of the East County Economic Development Council, said the nonprofit developed its Connectory — which aims to solve the problem by compiling a database of suppliers and their capabilities — years ago, but its opt-in nature precluded it from ever fully solving the problem.

Industry Cortex automatically pulls in all publicly available information about applicable companies and updates profiles on a monthly basis, with the option to buffer company information with data not publicly available, and uses algorithms to help companies source the most relevant information from the vast amounts of big data in the cloud.

“With regards to what’s new about this, it’s that it can be combined with your existing data to make it more powerful,” Powell said.

“That’s what we are looking for — groups that are interested in taking their internal data and augmenting that with external data that’s available publicly, and then using this new user interface to really streamline their current processes and integrate with their current process so their engineers and supply chain team are all on the same page.”

Diamond said DLA used Industry Cortex through 2013, and is reinstating its contract for the internal integration service so that buyers in one department are aware of what another department is buying, as well as the suppliers they all use.

The interface is not only relevant for the biggest of players, such as DLA, but also for small companies and even individual handymen.

Powell said there are options for a free account that limits the number of searches allowed, but still provides access to the most complete database of U.S. manufacturers and the right contacts at each, and options for smaller companies to pay for more searches and advanced features.

Powell and Diamond agreed that while Industry Cortex can and does serve a purpose as a database, it is most effective when companies integrate it into their workflow to facilitate intra-office information sharing and decision making.

Diamond also said that while the solution is useful for any company or person needing to source parts, it has particular value to defense and government agencies and contractors.

“How do you describe the solution you want or what you want to buy in terms that make sense to the supplier, either custom-made or off the shelf?” Diamond asked. “Unless there’s a part number that runs across multiple industries, it’s very difficult to do that.”

She explained that the Department of Defense and its auxiliary arms are in the tough spot of having to source parts for older infrastructure when even the original makers often no longer carry that part, or don’t refer to it by its original name or number.

“Defense language is no longer the way the industry describes parts. Industry moves at the speed of the market, and the Defense Department has the thankless job of keeping systems decades old running and working correctly for the war fighter.”

As an example of the rampant miscommunication, Diamond said that DLA buys millions of dollars worth of hosing and flexible tubing annually, and solicits this item from suppliers as ‘hose-nonmetal.’

She said that terminology is meaningless to the suppliers and manufacturers, who use the acronym STAMPED (size, temperature, application, material, pressure, ends and delivery) to express the specifications for the hose.

She said having this industry and protocol knowledge is where the East County Economic Development Council comes into play in the collaboration, and where it can help facilitate crossover between supplier and buyer.

While the service is available only in the United States, Diamond said she knows that economic development councils south of the border want access to the system as well, and it’s simply a matter of figuring out when and how to best integrate the Cortex.

As far as Industrial Interfaces’ expansion goals, Powell said he’s hoping to attract a handful of companies in the next few months.

“It would be very good to be integrated into 10 medium- to large-sized business, strategic sourcing and nearsourcing practices by the end of 2014,” he said.

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