The complexity of any supply chain encompasses 3 key components: reliance, interconnection, tolerance.  Generally, these have their own variables of risk.  Risks can be related to people, materials, design, suppliers, procedures/processes, and much more.  Most risks typical to supply chain initiatives are sufficiently “known” and considered routine. This leaves those “unknown” risks as outliers for the supply chain to prioritize and manage.

However, in a nuclear engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) supply chain, risks are not just spread over many tiers, but buried inside layers of paperwork pertaining to the most mundane of parts to be installed. A single bolt with an incomplete signature can be the root of a schedule delay.  Unfortunately, this is all too common in the nuclear industry and has been one of the major cost factors making the nuclear power source option less viable.

Here’s why…The rigidness of the nuclear industry leaves very little tolerance. Each action requires a process and/or a procedure that drives work. Adding to this is a dwindling list of suppliers who are familiar with these rigid regulations.  Whether it’s qualifying a new supplier, overseeing the fabrication of an item, getting a contractor access to the site, or installing a major piece of equipment, every step taken to complete work has an expectation of what is required in order to finish the task(s). Failure to follow these steps, or even documenting that the steps were followed, may cause the supply chain to come to a screeching halt that then requires a heroic and costly recovery. These failures cripple the supply chain and ultimately paralyze the project schedule.

Things to consider when setting up and managing the supply chain in a nuclear environment…

1) Plan with the end in mind…Know how procurement types (safety versus nonsafety) will impact your work overall. Consider the coordination of each item and its related requirements through final acceptance. Additionally, understand that your supply chain, for nuclear work, has no boundaries when it comes to roles and responsibility. A silo’ed approach is unacceptable between departments and between suppliers.

2) Centralize Data… Leverage the software systems that will manage the project. Centralizing key information with software is the critical differentiator in an intelligent supply chain environment. Working offline via spreadsheets and Word documents only adds to the confusion often creating old or conflicting information. The data within these rouge documents and spreadsheets are driving your work. DO NOT FALL INTO THIS TRAP!

3) Knowledge sharing with key players…Leverage your relationships with the top 20% of your key suppliers and employees to determine the best practice in executing work. Take advantage of their knowledge.

The nuclear supply chain spans from the very beginning of work (issued for construction) through the acceptance of ITAAC(s) and the conformance of the Combined License requirements. In order to be successful, the supply chain must work to get everyone throughout the project, not just the purchasing/contracting department, to adopt this as reality. Failure to understand this simple fact will inevitably cripple your supply chain initiative(s). Oh, and by the way, did I mention that there is little tolerance for failure?