Ingenuity for the win

From the February 2022 print edition

Many Canadian COVID-19 pandemic metrics appear to easing. Yet the Omicron variant, which was first identified last November and has since spread to most countries, continues to present challenges. These challenges affect all areas of business, supply chains included.

No pandemic lasts forever. But we may see some permanent changes to our supply chains brought about by COVID-19. The design of those supply chains, and how the field deals with risk, may be different going forward. We could see organizations rely more on buffer stock, as supply chain professionals look to shield themselves from disruptive shocks. This would help to cover not just pandemics, but also geopolitical instability, the effects of climate change and other risks.’

Supply chains must become more resilient to remain viable.

Technology can play a big role. A digital transformation, termed Industry 4.0, was already underway before any of us had ever heard of COVID-19. But the pandemic has increased our dependence on technology, and it will continue to play a major part in bolstering supply chain resiliency.

It has sped up by several years many technological changes already underway before the virus emerged. And while no one argues the pandemic is a good thing, our response to it means a shortened timeline on some of those changes by several years.

For example, the rise of e-commerce during the pandemic has meant tight capacity in warehouses. One solution, discussed in our related story on page 20, is to use technology to link warehouse management systems with other supply chain elements. Digitization will no doubt continue to play a role in managing e-commerce going forward.

Companies can use technology to automate certain material management functions. This can help to curb disruption brought on by labour shortages. Automating functions that are necessary but mundane, such as moving parts or equipment around a manufacturing facility, can free up employees for more high-value tasks. For more on this, see our story on supply chain disruption on page 8.

And as our automation story on page 18 shows, data integrity is vital to minimizing disruptions and ensuring supply chain continuity. Technology can once again help here. Organizations can add tools to help provide accurate, up-to-date data. The article contends that artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain are the next frontier in the process of automating supply chains.

Humanity has always shown great skill in problem solving. Our collective ingenuity has meant advances in transportation, health, infrastructure and other areas. Some of those advances were unthinkable just a decade or two ago. That ingenuity, and the technology that comes from it, can help us to address supply chain disruption now and in the future.

Michael Power is editor of Supply Professional magazine.