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Visualising the supply chain

The connectivity between Supply Chains usually stays invisible to us. This invisibility has caused the Supply Chain Research Group at WMG
Altro is generally involved with supply chains in partnership. We’ve been one of the first companies that started engaging. We found the idea of a physical representation of a supply chain, which is generally an abstract concept, quite an interesting endeavour. And through our links with Jan and her team, we wanted to support that effort. We never thought about our supply chain in terms of a physical piece of artwork. And interestingly enough, people do say, research says that most of our brainpower is reserved for visual processing of images. We thought it would be interesting, what does it do to us. And when we saw it, the artwork wasn’t what we expected.
And I think it also contrasted very much with the other company who actually agreed to take part. It was a surprise. It was also an opportunity for us to gain an insight on parts of our supply chain which we didn’t think too much of, took for granted. And certainly, we haven’t finished processing the visual end result that we believe is going to help us understand some of our plans. Some of our decision making in the future might be a little different. And certainly, it will be a tool for us to present our internal teams with. Well, the inspiration was really that we started to think about what does a supply chain look like, and what is the shape of it?
And we quite quickly realised that this is the shape of a network, and figured out really that when you think of network, we started to be really interested in displaying that in a form that is not flat. And that’s how we sort of got started. What was interesting about the project was that we were very closely working with these two companies who supplied the data. A couple things to note about that is that they didn’t just have the data ready. So for example, Altro has offices per different region. So they and our contact person had to actually go and email all of those different markets to say, hey, can you please send us this data.
They all sent something different, of course. So we had to– we received lots of spreadsheets, essentially. And then from there, had to puzzle together something that was in that shape. So we went basically from spreadsheets to something more visual. From that more visual representation, we went into something that was a little bit more like code. And then from that representation, eventually we turned that into the components, into those shapes, that were all laser cut. The concept of a supply chain, a lot of the time is a very generic term that people think they do understand. And through the work that Jan is doing with her team, she is highlighting how this isn’t the case.
A lot of the time, it’s an abstract concept. It shows itself up in discussions, in spreadsheets, in numbers, the odd pie chart.
So we think that representing the supply chain in a physical object has the ability in galvanising understanding of what a supply chain looks like, and then enrich the analysis of the spreadsheets, of the graphs, and hopefully the discussion. So basically, the whole installation was one big technical challenge, in terms of its flexibility, which we had to allow for in order to construct everything into such a complex shape, where we had to do a lot of research into different materials, and different sizes of shapes, which would allow for the flexibility that enabled building something so complex.
I guess the biggest realisation is that when we talk about supply chains, the word chain brings up, it evokes this idea of a linear chain, one link linking into another, into another, into another. And that is really not what it looks like. It is much more of a complicated network. And one thing that was really interesting and I learned about supply chains in general, and you see this in the Altro example is that many supply chains have this particular shape to it where there’s many things in the bottom, of lots of suppliers, lots of raw material suppliers going into a few manufacturers, then slightly more distribution channels, and then many, many customers.
And that’s exactly the shape that we see in one of these, in one of these networks that we built. For me, the theme of a supply chain was absolutely new. And when for the first time we were thinking about, OK, what is a supply chain? And I think I was thinking about it more in a linear way, like this thing goes from there, from A to B, and then continues somewhere else. And now I see that it’s an organism, and it’s very fluid and it can take different shapes And it’s much more complex than I ever imagined. so I think that was a very interesting thing to realise. For me, the supply chain is the business.
And it’s very hard to say what a supply chain isn’t.

The connectivity between Supply Chains usually stays invisible to us. This invisibility has caused the Supply Chain Research Group at WMG to think creatively to interpret the data in a different way…

Unfold, an artistic organisation, was commissioned to help demonstrate supply chain relationships and real world perceptions in a more tangible and exciting way…

The result was the LINK.

LINK features Supply Chain data from two globally active companies CHEP and Altro Flooring. The artwork physically demonstrates the links and complex layers these two companies have within their Supply Chains.


“The LINK has turned the invisible, abstract notion of our company’s supply chain into a visible three dimensional physical object that we can see, touch, feel and examine in the human scale. Being able to see our supply chain “in the flesh” has given us new insights and opinions and has enabled us to formulate new hypotheses about its possible future format and structure. The visual element has also emphasised more than we ever expected, our reliance on specific nodes in the supply chain and the implications this has on our business continuity and potential impact on our future growth and global expansion strategy. To use the old cliché it’s fair to say that for us, the LINK has been a true “eye opener” in our understanding of our supply chain.” John Patsavellas, Manufacturing and Technical Director, Altro Flooring
“For me the value of LINK stands in its ability to immediately engage with people’s perceptions in spatial context. The complexity of supply chains can be often overwhelming for the human mind, mainly if we can only see it on a screen or paper. Adding the dimension of space to something so intertwined makes this interpretation of supply chain more similar to other objects that we interact with every day.” Lucia Dubačová, Unfold
“LINK exceeded my expectations as it enables people to engage with the supply chain in a way that was not previously possible. It is a great stimulus to think about the physical shape of other supply chains, their connections, flows and dependencies. It truly starts to make the invisible world of supply chains more visible.” Jan Godsell, WMG



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Supply Chains in Practice: How Things Get to You

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