Careful planning puts Joe Wheeler ahead of the supply crunch

Fiber Operations Coordinator, Mark HallAs supply chain issues began plaguing industries across the country in 2020, many cooperatives that had planned on rolling out new fiber service found their efforts hampered by shortages of basic equipment. But Joe Wheeler Electric wasn’t one of them.

Months in advance, cooperative leaders had the foresight to invest in the materials they might need for the buildout of FlashFiber. That planning meant Mark Hall, who joined Joe Wheeler in June as the cooperative’s fiber operations coordinator, has everything he needs to keep the fiber expansion on track.

“Joe Wheeler had the foresight to see that Covid and shortages might make it hard to get some of those materials later on,” he says. “They jumped on board and ordered the main backbone of distribution fiber and the necessary terminals up front. So as far as the buildout goes, that’s not something we’re struggling with.”

While the wait times to receive orders of some supplies like conduit and equipment for running underground fiber in subdivisions are long, fiber crews have kept the buildout on schedule. In fact, Joe Wheeler has such a stockpile of some supplies that it has been able to help some struggling sister cooperatives.

“If we have supplies that another co-op needs and we have an abundance of them, we’re able to loan them some until they get their order in and can return them,” says Hall. “We’ve done that a couple of times, and it’s worked out pretty well.”

While Joe Wheeler made a special effort to plan and order ahead due to the pandemic, Hall says the process has changed how the cooperative will manage its supplies moving forward. Since arriving last summer, he has set benchmarks for certain supplies in the warehouse so the cooperative can place new orders well before the current stock runs out.

“Say we use 100 of a certain item each week, and we know it takes four weeks to get a new order in. Once we have 400 of that item left, we need to place a new order,” he says. “So we’ve adjusted the timeline of when to order materials, and I see that going on into the future. We’ll have to keep watching and adjusting those timelines as order times get longer.”

All of that has added up to a fiber buildout that stays on pace even when supplies are at a premium.

“I think the last report I had prior to Christmas was that our contractors put up 33 miles of cable that week,” says Hall. “That is pretty good when everyone is struggling to grab material here and there. It’s not really slowed us down.”