Manufacturers will face in the next 5 years a period of the “most transformative, most disruptive” change in recent memory, Bill Muir, the chief operating officer of Jabil Inc., told attendees in a keynote address at the Best Plants Conference in Charlotte. This transformation will be fueled by massive changes in demographics, IT systems and factory automation.

Muir said manufacturers are experiencing two key challenges in the behavior of consumers. Mass customization presents manufacturers with the need to move from the old Henry Ford concept of “one size fits all” manufacturing to offer personalized products. At the same time, he said, consumers want instant gratification.

“Consumers want products to show up in hours, at worst in a day or two as opposed to a couple of weeks,” said Muir.

Muir said these changes are being driven in part by the increasing influence and buying power of millennials. In the United States, there are 76.6 million millennials, outnumbering their baby boomer parent’s generation by approximately a million.

These changes are causing manufacturers to seek increased visibility into their supply chains so that they can cope with demands for tighter production cycles, deliver high quality products that are growing smaller and more technically challenging, and do so at a competitive cost.

In a survey Jabil recently conducted with electronics manufacturers, 96% of approximately 300 executives said they see increased risk as a result of limited visibility into their supply chains, manifesting itself in issues such as long lead times and extra shipping time. Yet 70% of these executives said they have real-time visibility for less than half of their supply chain.

Extreme weather events only add to concerns about supply chain reliability. Manufacturers may be ill-prepared for such events, according to the data from the Jabil survey. Some 55% of the respondents said it would take a few days to sort through the impact of a weather catastrophe on their company, while 27% said it would take a few weeks.

These challenges are being felt keenly by Jabil, an $18 billion contract manufacturer and supplier of design and supply chain services for 250 leading brands around the world. Jabil has 90 factories, 17,000 suppliers and 700,000 SKUs. As Muir points out, Jabil has a “massively complex supply chain.”

“We continually ask ourselves, ‘What are the things we can be doing to take complexity out of that supply chain?’” Muir told Best Plants attendees. The company strives to focus on the “real constraints” it faces in its supply chain, he said, and not divert its attention to a myriad of other issues.


To aid in that effort, Jabil has developed a web-based, mobile supply chain management platform called InControl that provides the company and its customers with a high level of analytics and visualization in order to understand their supply chains and proactively identify potential risks.

Muir said customers can look at an InControl screen on a mobile device and determine “the top 10 or 15 part numbers I have to focus on so that my supply chain will be more resilient.”