[FRC Blog] ImPIHRRfect Supply Chains

Posted on the FRC Blog, 9/14/2022: https://www.firstinspires.org/robotics/frc/blog/2022-impihrrfect-supply-chains

ImPIHRRfect Supply Chains

2022 SEP 14 | Written by Kate Pilotte, Sr. Kit of Parts Manager

Planes, trains, and automobiles is more than just a classic from John Candy and Steve Martin (or maybe you know him through banjo circuits); it’s also a way of listing various ways material gets to FIRST ® teams. The catch is that they’re only useful in transporting that material if the goods are ready at the factory… and those goods can only be ready at the factory if the raw materials made it to the factory and the people are available to turn those raw materials in to those final goods.

This is a drastic simplification, but a helpful setup for what we wanted to express in today’s blog…

These pieces of the process are less predictable than they’ve been in recent history mainly due to the pandemic and other geopolitical circumstances. Raw materials, labor, and transportation are all volatile. We’re seeing it as we source items for Kickoff Kits and FIRST Choice, and we wanted to give you a heads-up too. The item you want may not be available – or if it is available, it may not make it to you as quickly as you were used to pre-pandemic.

We invite you to come at this from a few angles (and borrowing some helpful concepts from conservation efforts!)

  • Plan early (while we don’t recommend a run on the bank, think early and hard about your needs for the 2023 season and start those orders soon)
  • Iterate (be ready to iterate on designs for when you learn that an item you were counting on is delayed, hopefully not stuck in a canal, or out of stock)
  • Help each other (if you have extra devices or material, let your fellow teams know – if you need something, ask around. Resources like ChiefDelphi, Twitter using #omgrobots, or your Program Delivery Partner are all good starting points to share information and materials).
  • Reduce (be diligent about where you’re spending your resources… you may end up needing to spend additional team dollars on expedited shipping or a more expensive solution if you can’t get what you were originally seeking)
  • Reuse (consider pulling items/material from older robots – some teams do this already, but for others it may feel harsh to pull a device from last year’s award-winning robot, but it may be your best option and pretty resourceful)

You don’t have to take our word for it though, Andy Baker, co-founder of AndyMark, President, and Lead Robot Inspector shared his insight:

Dealing with today’s supply chain challenges is difficult and frustrating. AndyMark has been seeing much longer lead times on these items: electronics (roboRIOs, motor controllers, sensors), aluminum extrusions, plastic resin, plastic sheet, electrical items (120-amp breakers). We work hard to provide customers with accurate back in stock dates, which can be seen on individual product web pages. Along with encouraging our customers to buy extrusions and electronics well in advance, when they come in stock, we also encourage them to send us emails at " customerservice@andymark.com" to get more detailed information regarding our products.

Greg Needel, co-founder and President of REV Robotics and FIRST Alumni and Mentor shared his perspective too.

Like many other industries, REV Robotics’ supply chain has been negatively impacted by numerous global factors. We are experiencing shortages of many electronic components that go into our products, cost increases and significant delays in shipping/receiving completed products once they are produced. Some products, such as SPARK Max and the new FIRST ® Robotics Competition control system components can only be produced in batches, further extending lead times for product availability. We are working with our suppliers and vendors every day to ensure timely re-stocking, and update stock dates on our website as we have them. Teams can provide their emails on individual product pages to be notified when products are back in stock. We are still hopeful that the majority of our product line will come into stock in time for this season, but quantities overall may be limited. It is a good idea to take the strategy of purchasing needed parts when they are available rather than waiting for all items to be in stock at once. We are just as frustrated as the members of the robotics community are as we work through these delays and price increases. REV will always do whatever we can to help teams, so please don’t hesitate to reach out to support@revrobotics.com with any questions, concerns, or suggestions (especially if you have several thousand TI gate drivers in your closet).

At least toilet paper’s back on shelves!

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Supply issues would hurt less if we had more time in the season, just saying ¯⁠\⁠_⁠(⁠ツ⁠)⁠_⁠/⁠¯

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We do have more time than we used to, given no bag day…

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Wow…

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Is this the first time Chief has been explicitly mentioned in the blog? I can’t recall it before. The closest I remember is the whole “active discussion in our community” euphemism.

I don’t know what the heck is going on at HQ, but it seems like a pesky wall is finally starting to break down. Here’s hoping.

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Who’s this ChiefDelphi? Is it like a mentor or something?

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Kate asked me a few weeks ago to provide a quote regarding supply chain issues. Now that it was released, if y’all want to fire questions at me, I will do my best to answer.

I assume that other FIRST-focused suppliers will do the same.

Andy B.

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I’m admittedly ignorant to supply chains beyond the ephemeral idea of them existing and how various factors can impact them. With the potential railroad strike this week does that further constrict the supply chain such that even when/if it gets resolved that ripples will be felt for months? (If you know)

I just have no clue how much (or what items, beyond reading that a lot of hazardous materials go mostly by train) goes across/around the U.S. on trains vs. trucks, etc.

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Not for all teams Peter.

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Seriously!! HQ’s been rapid-firing a ton of great changes lately, I’m really hoping this keeps on being their MO for this upcoming season and beyond.

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Andrew, perfect point.
I have a feeling this one’s going to hurt really bad this year.
I cant imagine those less fortunate resourced teams trying to order (and constantly seeing out of stock).

Now if they could at least release the game object before kickoff…

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My only question would be any idea if the Rio 2.0 will be around anytime for non-rookie teams.

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Good question. Yes, the railroad strike could impact a lot of people quickly. AndyMark and similar companies pay logistics providers to coordinate, ship, clear customs, and deliver shipments from overseas. Usually, the cheapest way to ship a sea container or multi-pallet shipment is by sea from Asia, then by rail after the shipment clears customs. We sometimes use Chicago as the “port of entry”. Even in this case the shipment is transported by rail from the west coast to Chicago.

This shipment → sea → port → customs clearance → rail → our warehouse process usually takes 5-7 weeks these days. Last year, it took much longer.

So yea, if the railroads hold things up, it’s gonna hurt.

Andy B.

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LOOK EVERYONE ITS US

Serious thought though: The cry of “Nobody panic!” doesn’t seem to work very often… Wouldn’t this announcement drive people to start mass buying and pre-ordering as of right now, thus making the issue inherently worse?

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Yes, but in a limited quantity.

We just had a small batch of 100 pass through a couple of weeks ago. We notified the few hundred people who put in their address to the “sign up for a notification when available” within the roboRIO product page. I recommend anyone to put their email in there if they want notified when they become available.

During the last small batch sale, we limited individual orders to qty. 1 per order. It’s been many years since we did anything like that.

We were just notified that another small batch is coming within 2-3 weeks. After that, a larger portion is in process. Please keep checking the roboRIO product page to see if forecasted in stock dates are available. If not, poke us at customerservice@andymark.com.

Andy B.

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I’m here also…Feel free to fire away.

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No love for FIRST Forums?

You’ll know that we’re truly through the looking glass if FIRST mentions the (unofficial) FRC Discord in a blog post.

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I have love for everyone. I’ve even been known to post on the NI forums, Teamforge, and GitHub.

Genuinely, it’s nice to see HQ embracing where a lot of community is and suggesting it as a resource.

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FIRST just sent out an email today.
There was no link to this (seemingly important) FRC Blog in that email (right?). Maybe tomorrow?

Much work to be done there is.

Gripe...

At least its not a constant search of Twitter, IG Stories, Facebook posts, Blogs, and Emails to get important FRC info. Now we’re mostly down to lead contact emails and blog posts.

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How are you feeling about the ION non-electric stuff like extrusions, gears, gussets etc.?

By January do you expect plenty of stock still available for teams wanting to dive into that ecosystem?

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