Firms in the chemical industry have not been as aggressive as those in some other sectors in adopting digital technologies. This has happened despite the fact that senior executives at many of these companies are aware of the range of benefits that digitization can offer in improving their chemical suppy chain.
The global chemical industry is undergoing rapid change. Both demand and consumption of chemicals are shifting eastwards as new manufacturing facilities come up and China’s consumption levels rapidly increase. New production capacities are being developed in the Middle East and in other non-traditional areas.
Purchasing departments that handle the procurement of chemicals often face customer service issues. The level of difficulty in resolving a problem that chemical buyers experience is usually inversely proportional to the size of the buying organization. Large companies demand and receive a high level of service. Suppliers go out of their way to ensure that bulk buyers do not find any reason to complain about their services. If something does go wrong, they immediately take up the issue and initiate corrective action.
Buying raw materials from overseas suppliers holds many attractions for chemical consumers. The primary benefit, of course, is a lower price. If a company in Europe or the US can establish a low-cost supply chain that sources materials from China or the Middle East, it can gain a tremendous competitive advantage.
The price volatility of raw materials can result in rising costs, lower profitability, and a desperate last-minute hunt for new suppliers. But finding alternative sources of supply for chemicals is a time-consuming process involving the verification of the seller’s reputation and its ability to honor its commitments.
Large chemical companies have elaborately designed supply chains that are capable of meeting fluctuations in demand for raw materials. They have several suppliers for each of their requirements.
Chemical buyers often have to perform a careful balancing act in the process of meeting conflicting priorities. Every purchase needs to be made at the lowest possible cost and from the most dependable supplier.
Supply chain management in the chemical industry can be a challenging task. Identifying a reliable supplier of the required raw material could take days if not weeks. Once this task is completed, it would be necessary to negotiate a mutually acceptable set of terms and conditions. By the time an order is placed, the market situation may have changed. The firm that has placed the order may not require the material any longer. It could also be possible that the price at which a particular chemical is finally purchased has increased to such an extent that it makes the entire exercise uneconomical.
Small and medium-sized chemical consumers often find it difficult to get their suppliers to reduce prices or to offer them other concessions. With relatively low buying power, these firms are at the mercy of the companies from whom they source their raw materials.
The availability of reasonably priced chemicals that meet stipulated quality standards is critical to the success of manufacturing companies. High-quality raw materials will lead to the production of high-quality end-products. Conversely, if compromises are made at the procurement stage, the results can include customer dissatisfaction and lost orders.