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Connecting the Supply Chain
Various networking options to keep the manufacturing supply chain running smoothly.

By: John Shepler

Today's manufacturing supply chain is lean and fast. It has to be in order for an enterprise to be competitive in our 24/7 global economy. The electronic tentacles that link the various elements in the chain must be equally agile and completely reliable because this chain truly is only as strong as its weakest link.

Electronic Data Interchange or EDI forms the basis of the information links between purchasing, vendors, logistics suppliers, automated warehousing, flexible manufacturing, management, accounting, distribution, wholesaling, retailing and, often, the ultimate customers. Usually the emphasis is on compatiblesoftware modules from large scale applications. But, the best software solution in the world will grind to a halt without the right connectivity to get those EDI packets where they are going in a timely manner.

The possible solutions are dedicated networks, private networks, virtual private networks, public networks, or some combination of these.

By public networks, I'm referring to the Internet. It's cheap and universal, but not necessarily up to the task of highly reliable telephone services or secure data transfers. The Internet is best used for information research and as an easy interface to retail customers in their homes.

Between other elements of the supply chain, a virtual private network that includes some links through the Internet makes more sense. It still might not be up to the voice quality standards you want, but your data will be protected from prying eyes by encryption.

Private networks, such as Frame Relay networks, ATM networks, and private IP networks have the advantage of being more reliable than public networks and can be set up to manage quality of service so that you can converge VoIP phone calls and EDIinformation on the same network.

The ultimate in reliability, security and ability to control quality of service is the dedicated line. These are point to point circuits that you have exclusive use of. For critical links in your chain, nothing less than a completely dedicated line may be enough. Perhaps even an encrypted private line for the highest possible security.

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