Well, Well, Well…Look who showed up

Adam Bahret
Adam Bahret

I don’t know if anyone even remembers Alphabet Engine at this point. So, for those of you unfamiliar, it is a project I started in 2021. Basically, I have designed and am currently building a fuel injection, air intake, and ignition system for my 1979 Porsche 911. The project had been stalled due to a supply chain issue with the control computer. Well, look who just showed up at my door 15 months late—a special little package from Australia.  Over the past three years, I have observed many of my customers suffer from similar supply chain issues. I believe we all thought that when the pandemic ended, things would return to the way they once were.

Instead of the delays being driven by a few missing elements in the pipeline that, when available, would set things back in motion, we learned that the supply chain is a living animal that can’t be restarted by a mere flip of a switch. When interrupted, it collapses, unravels, dies, and must be built back up.

Billion-dollar companies learned that they had single-sourced critical components. At some point, suppliers had become the only individuals who could create them because they were the sole holders of the design specifications. They had made many approved design updates over the years, and the internal paperwork was never updated.

I now see smart companies putting initiatives in motion to ensure this vulnerability is closed up. The ones that really get it are allocating manpower and big dollars to this new approach to the supply chain, rather than meetings or ideas.

Some strategies include having backup designs ready if a second supplier can’t support production.  These alternative designs would be less cost-effective, slower to make, and require tedious construction with low-level components, however they would be doable in even the most grim of supply chain conditions.

Next, let me ask you a personal question. What have you done to ensure that you aren’t this vulnerable to supply chain variability moving forward. Anything?  Have you only put energy into recovering from the past three years?  Here’s another personal question, if you don’t mind.  How much does your business spend on fire insurance, health insurance, liability insurance, and legal teams?  Why aren’t you allocating resources of an equal magnitude to build up your insurance against supply chain problems now that you have learned what a big risk it is?

So, back to Alphabet Engine.  I have no idea why they couldn’t build the computer for over a year.  It wasn’t a critical project for me to stay in business, it was a hobby project, so I didn’t interrogate them.  Unknowingly, I put myself way out on a limb with an extremely specialized design. If fuel injection systems were my core business and I knew what I know now about supply chain risks, what would I do differently?

I would have designed a second system that could be built from off-the-shelf parts.  It was actually a consideration when I started this. I could easily take other existing and more plentiful systems and use them as a base for my design.  Would this have been cost-effective?  No.  It would have taken engineering resource time and delayed the design process.  But that is what insurance is.  It is an investment early on, money or time-wise, that sometimes mitigates big losses later.  So, lesson learned, and more importantly, Alphabet Engine is back in motion.


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