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Covid-19: The disruption continues for supply chains

Richard Wilding OBE, Professor of Supply Chain Strategy at Cranfield University, comments on the latest challenges Covid-19 presents the supply chain.

Consumer demand for face masks is impacting on industry needs

“Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is the latest problem that the Covid-19 virus is causing Supply Chain Directors.  PPE is protective clothing, which are garments or equipment designed to protect the wearer's body from injury or infection.

“As shortages in pharmacies and chemists start to bite, consumers are reported to be turning to building hardware suppliers for face masks and body suits. This means builders, tilers and plasterers or other workers who regularly use masks for protection against airborne particulate matter, for instance, are struggling to get hold of this equipment from certain suppliers.

“Yet the construction industry relies on this PPE for people to carry out their work – as employers, companies can’t expect their staff to continue without it and Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992 place a duty of care on every employer.  So, without such equipment, employees are unable to work and companies are subsequently unable to undertake work.   UK companies who supply these sectors are starting to feel the strain on certain PPE items and this needs to be monitored.

“The issue where a seemingly unrelated supply chain channel causes disruption is known as a “supply chain parallel interaction”. In this case, the consumer supply of medical face masks is drying up, so customers turn to industry sources – causing shortages in their supply chain as a knock-on effect, thus disrupting a seemingly unrelated industry or sector”

Disruption in freight from Italy could impact on European supply chains

“News of the Covid-19 virus striking in Italy brings more problems for Supply Chain Directors. Northern Italy is an industrial heartland, a key manufacturing hub for Europe known for its strong textile, steel and chemical sectors. With the news that Austria briefly stopped trains from Italy, smooth freight transport across Europe can now potentially become a risk factor – this is something that should be on every Supply Chain Director’s radar.

“Many businesses who have effective supply chain resilience approaches embedded will be prepared for challenges like this. But other companies, who don’t have this approach, will be responding ineffectively and will see the impact on their bottom line.

“What’s vital is that businesses fully understand their supply chain, where products are manufactured and what countries they travel through. A full mapping of the supply chain will give a better picture of the risk companies now face.”

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