Powering Through Post-Pandemic Material Shortages

By Jennifer Boeck

It takes a lot to keep power flowing to People's Electric Cooperative's (PEC’s) 16,000 plus member locations that encompass approximately 23,000 meters. Beyond the manpower, there is the hardware: thousands of parts that must be inventoried, maintained, and installed when the need arises or replaced when mother nature takes her toll.

So how do we ensure we have readily available materials in sufficient quantities that can be put in the hands of our maintenance and construction crews quickly?

“Amidst the current situation and shortages that our entire country is experiencing, we especially can’t rely on just-in-time inventory from factories when it comes to parts and materials. You have to have the material when you need it,” says Kyle Stuart, senior vice-president of administrative services.

While our country works to recover from the economic impact that COVID-19 placed on everything from chicken, lumber, microchips, gas, steel, metals, chlorine, and ketchup packets, the pandemic has taken a toll on the movement of electrical infrastructure materials.

“What we’re seeing is our suppliers are alerting us to some significant delays in getting materials shipped to us,” said Stuart. “We’re in constant communication with our suppliers, and we’ve taken measures to ensure we have what we need if we have a major need, but there are some situations that we have had to adjust.”

Those adjustments have included prioritizing jobs, increased internal communications, and looking at how materials can be either used more efficiently or finding where substitutes can be made.

Stuart adds that delays in new construction are becoming more frequent due to disruptions in our manufacturers’ supply chains. The co-op’s warehouse staff has been diligent and aware of inventory levels when sending out jobs, and has increased their long-standing practice of utilizing numerous vendors when sourcing materials.

“We do want our members to know that we’re doing everything we can to make sure we can get materials,” said Stuart. “If a vendor tells us we have a delay, then we go on the hunt to find a supplier that may not be delayed,” Stuart said. “We are doing all we can to make certain we are as prepared as possible for storms or bigger projects that may come up, and we are all working together to make sure our members have exactly what they need in as timely a manner as possible.”