As one of the global leaders in such technology, FEI has operations spread around the globe, and so keeping its supply chain operating with maximum efficiency is a top goal.
As Carl Douglas, senior manager of supply chain quality, explains, keeping FEI’s supply chain at peak performance is not something that the company can do alone. He says FEI relies on the strong bonds it has created with its suppliers and partners to maintain a high level of efficiency and live up to the company’s definition of supply chain success. “Success is when we’re 100 percent in line, and that would mean our products are coming on time and to the quality expected at reasonable and fair prices,” Douglas says.
FEI has three main manufacturing facilities in Oregon, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic. The company’s operation in the Czech Republic recently expanded with a purpose built facility of more than 300,000 square feet. In addition to those main facilities, FEI has laboratories and other facilities around the world.
FEI’s roots go back more than 30 years, growing out of a relationship with Philips. As Douglas explains, FEI was one of the original suppliers when Philips entered the electron microscope market, providing the global technology giant with the electron sources for those microscopes. Over time, however, Philips made the decision to divest itself of the electron microscope side of its business, giving FEI the opportunity to pick up where Philips left off. In fact, Douglas says, many of the company’s current suppliers are holdovers from the time FEI spent as a Philips supplier more than 30 years ago. “It’s really like a family,” he says.
The family-like atmosphere FEI cultivates with its partners and suppliers is one of the main reasons why the company has such an effective supply chain, Douglas says. Because it works closely with its partners, FEI can count on them to deliver the components and services it needs exactly when it needs them. For its part, FEI works to maintain those strong bonds through events like its annual supplier day, during which FEI gathers its suppliers together to share the direction of the company and lay out its upcoming objectives.
Communicating those objectives is crucial for FEI, Douglas says. “I think the biggest challenge we have is really making sure there is a good understanding of what the expectations are,” he says. “That’s probably the biggest challenge, is aligning those expectations.”
The close relationship FEI has with its key partners and suppliers exists in a physical sense, too. Douglas says many of the company’s active suppliers have multiple locations, a factor that comes into play when FEI selects partners. “Our goal is to try and put the supplier sites as close to the manufacturing sites for the products they’re using whenever it makes sense,” he says. “It keeps some of the costs down and improves communications.”
Given how important FEI considers the relationships it has with its partners and suppliers, the company goes to great lengths to ensure that the companies it works with are the right ones, as well as trying to ensure its existing partners live up to FEI’s standards. Douglas says his department partners with FEI’s sourcing department to compare notes when it comes time to select a new partner. “FEI as a general rule does its best to use objective evidence of performance, capability, and capacity to select suppliers,” he says.
To ensure all of its most important suppliers live up to the same high standards, FEI has a business scorecard with 23 key performance indicators. The scorecards are used to evaluate the company’s most strategic suppliers and how well they fulfill FEI’s requirements in terms of quality, efficiency and speed.
For critical suppliers who fall short of FEI’s expectations, that doesn’t necessarily mean an end to their partnership. Douglas says FEI has a program in place to help low-performing suppliers improve their operations. He says his team will go into those suppliers’ facilities and act as external consultants to offer guidance for improving their internal processes and policies. This approach has been found to be mutually beneficial for FEI and the supplier in every instance, Douglas says. “In nearly every case, we’ve found a win-win.”
One of the most critical areas in which FEI helps its customers succeed is through education. The company’s FEI Academy program helps its customers understand the latest advancements in microscope technology through a series of training courses.
“It is important to support the professional development of the customers working with our technologies,” the company says. “That’s why FEI offers a variety of training courses aimed at improving skills to get maximum results out of [clients’] FEI systems.”
The training courses at FEI Academy cover a wide range of technology for practically all levels of experience. The company offers courses that cover the use of its Quanta scanning electron microscope and other instruments, as well as other technologies and techniques such as cryo-microscopy.
These courses are hosted at FEI’s various NanoPort facilities, which the company describes as global technology centers. “The FEI NanoPort serves as a center of technical excellence where our world-class community of customers and specialists collaborate on the ongoing development of new ideas and innovative solutions,” the company says. “At FEI, we believe in the importance of supporting the development of those working with our technologies. As the center of excellence, the FEI NanoPort provides an ideal environment for customer training. Visitors to the FEI NanoPort are partnered directly with our application experts, as both parties explore custom solutions.
“Within our NanoPort sites, we offer a variety of customer training courses, intended for various levels of expertise,” FEI adds. “These programs provide users with the knowledge and hands-on exposure required to optimize their overall benefit from their instrument.”
Picking Up the Pace
Douglas says FEI doesn’t see the pace of technology letting up any time soon, and he understands the pressure that puts on the company and its suppliers. “I think we’re going to be looking at new products and a supply chain that is going to be challenged to build those products,” he says, adding that as long as FEI continues to hold its suppliers and partners to the standards put forth on its scorecards, it will continue to deliver the products its end-users count on. “When you get that right, the quality will be there.”
No matter what the future holds for FEI, Douglas says the most important thing for the company will be to continue to create and maintain strong relationships with the partners and vendors that supply it with crucial components. “It’s the people that are building those pieces that make all the difference,” Douglas says.