Tuesday, December 21, 2021

So Just How is the Rising Wave of the Pandemic Directly Affecting the Supply Chain?

As in War for Good or Bad it is Adapt or Die (So That is What We Will Do)
Shipping News Feature

UK – WORLDWIDE – It's not called the supply chain without reason. Supplying and moving goods safely and securely from producer to consignee requires each link to be able to connect to both ends, taking over the freight and passing it on, and this applies for all cargo, from a postcard to an industrial piece weighing thousands of tonnes.

At the moment we are undergoing a quiet revolution, when the pandemic first struck many were amazed at the upsurge of online trade. Now we are seeing the extra threat of, not only Omicron, but the possibility of a succession of viruses to follow. It is unlikely that we shall ever return to what was the normality of shopping in the high street in the volumes we used to witness.

The cumulative effect of the viruses on the supply chain will not be fully understood for some time, however we already can see a picture developing where certain changes are occurring as a result of their influence. For many, digital shopping is creating more pathways to success, retailers who had invested in their e-commerce and social shopping strategies during earlier outbreaks surfed the wave of growing online orders seamlessly.

Layla Gladwin, Founder of Saledock, a unified commerce platform designed to help retailers sell, manage and thrive, is of the opinion that those who remain capable of moving stock and sharing product visibility will outlast Omicron and future variants and ensure online retail can work hand-in-hand with high street stores in the future.

One obvious thing to be seen as the virus attacks persist is the growth in numbers of ‘white van man’, except that now he is likely to be showing the livery, no matter how muted, of one of the many parcel carriers which are profiting from the rise in trade. The more individual deliveries there are out there, the easier to sort, thus to develop shorter, more efficient delivery and collection rounds, and the more vehicles and drivers required to fulfil those slots.

All in the trade know of the chronic driver shortage, however for last mile work the vehicles are generally smaller and driven on a normal car licence. No lengthy training and driving tests to encounter en route to a new career. Despite this standards must be ensured and there are side benefits for such as Logistics UK which runs its Van Excellence programme.

More than 100 businesses and local authorities are now  operating their vans to the highest standards of safety, compliance and efficiency, thanks to the accreditations received through the scheme. Although run for over a decade it is now that it has risen in popularity with a vast array of companies achieving Van Excellence recognition, including Wayfair, DHL International, Greggs, NHS Blood and Transplant. Other early enthusiasts remain, such South East Water which has retained its certificate for six years running now.

Sponsored by the likes of a variety of 'Gold partners' the scheme offers the opportunity for participants to demonstrate their commitment to safer, more efficient and sustainable van fleets by passing a series of tests. Kevin Green, Marketing and Communications Director at Logistics UK, comments:

“I would like to take this opportunity to thank our sponsors, AA, Bott, Brigade, Hertz, Lex Autolease, Quartix and TVL, for their incredible support; their input over the years has been vital to the ongoing success of the scheme. [We started] the Van Excellence scheme in 2010 with the intention of professionalising van driving; 12 years later, we are so pleased that the scheme continues to go from strength to strength. Whether a business or local authority is operating a fleet of thousands or small fleet of one or two, the need for compliance and safety remains the same.”

Another area which is constantly being refined is the physical process of deliveries themselves, and here we witness technology, not only in action, but actually evolving as the months pass. Despite all the talk of drone and delivery robots these are best left to those of impractical minds who do not understand the physical nature of the industry. Van drivers can’t work from home, robots (as yet) cannot climb steps and open gates.

What we are seeing however are simple, practical steps, such as the collection points springing up, where goods are guarded by passwords enabling the driver to deliver to one local point instead of many and the savings passing to the customer who collects themselves (there is no such animal as ‘free delivery’). Now a POD is often a photo recorded on a driver’s phone showing the proud recipient clutching his items, or that forlorn carton sitting on an untended step.

There are major changes too within warehouses, ports and terminals with the evolution of more efficient tracking, location and retrieval systems in environments where robots are a practical solution. Shortly we shall also hopefully rarely see that strange creature, the 60 centimetre square carton with a tiny item inside as built to fit as automated packing case production takes a hold, boxes formed of a single sheet of card and cut and folded acording to the contents.

One area which has benefitted is the really tough part of the job, those working outdoors in all weathers to reconcile items, including full forty foot containers, with their appointed places. Luca Legnani, European Marketing Manager at Panasonic Europe said this week that rugged handheld systems, as part of a digitalisation strategy, improve visibility, productivity and efficiencies.

Rugged tablets can be useful tools for each of main players in the ports. Ocean carriers can use them for cargo inspection, cargo tracking and documentation, in terminals, rugged devices can streamline processes from unloading/loading operations, documentation, supervision of operations on the ground and oil tanker supervision and can easily be embedded in the different machinery used to move containers.

Similarly, these devices can enhance logistics services, from monitoring and supervising operations on the ground to communication and documentation, they can enable authentication and sign-off for inland transport teams, and provide remote support and data transfer for Technical Services, all without a care to the weather, temperature and the rough handling inherent in these environments.

All these factors combined, and many more, are what is making the supply chain faster and fitter for purpose. Just as a conventional war focuses minds on industrialisation and more efficiency, so too has this multi-national plague engendered changes in both attitudes and procedures in order to maintain the economies of companies, in turn essential for the economies of nations.

Photo: Courtesy of Boston Dynamics.