Lately, there have not been a lot of positive stories related to overcoming major supply chain disruption, so when one comes along, credit should be given.

On Sunday, April 15, after a series of 97 tornadoes impacted the state of Kansas causing widespread damage, Spirit AeroSystems, a major airframe subcontractor and high profile supplier to Boeing, had to suspend operations at its Wichita Kansas facility. Spirit CEO Jeff Turner initially indicated that most, if not all, of the company’s buildings located across its production campus were damaged.  Fortunately, there were no fatalities and only one reported worker injury.As initially reported in the Wichita Business Journal, the company suffered a complete suspension of power and gas, with the consequence of the interruption of all phone and computer connectivity preventing any off-site coordination of response.  Spirit employees utilized personal cell phones and emails to communicate with one another. Initial assessments indicated that while there was much structural building damage, product equipment and inventory appeared to be undamaged.  A Boeing defense facility just east of the Spirit complex also sustained damage from the storm, forcing Boeing to suspend operations.

Among other products, Spirit was producing upwards of two Boeing 737 barrel fuselages per day, supporting a Boeing production rate of thirty five  737 aircraft per month. Initial speculation was that production plans could be impacted for a few weeks.

Two days after the incident, Seattle PI cited CEO Turner as indicating by a series of Twitter feeds that after completed assessments, overall damage was not as bad as initially feared. Turner’s indication was that getting production restarted would involve clearing debris and making sure everything was safe.  The SeattlePI posting provides an actual photo of one of the main production assembly facilities. One of the CEO’s Twitter feeds indicated “We are gaining confidence hour by hour”. Last Friday, The Wichita Eagle featured an article that noted that over 1000 construction workers were marshaled from across the country by Eby Construction to make immediate repairs.  There are photos and  a video that readers can view that highlights actual damage recovery activity.

Yesterday, Spirit reported that it has resumed normal production operations roughly 10 days after the major incident.  Coincidently on the same day, Boeing formally reported its first quarter operating results and Boeing CEO Jim McNerney was quick to note that the impact from Spirit was “manageable”.

Supply Chain Matters sends its congratulations and best wishes to the entire Spirit AeroSystems production and operations teams for their outstanding proactive response to the tragedy, and for a praiseworthy demonstration of around the clock supply chain disruption response.  We also praise CEO Turner for his leveraged use of social media tools to communicate timely status and a can-do perspective for both customers and employees.  Spirit seemed to have a response plan that started with executive leadership with access to many required levels of information in a timely manner.

This is indeed a positive outcome that could have been far different given the uncontrollable forces of the unprecedented storms that have impacted the U.S. Midwest these past few years.

A final note for supply chain and operations executive readers. Have you thought about what your organizational response plan will be when a disaster severely impacts your production operations? Have you thought about the possibility that one of your largest suppliers could be impacted?

Suppliers like Spirit truly demonstrate positive supplier responsiveness.

Bob Ferrari