Supply chain lessons learnt during the Covid-19 pandemic

Posted on 14 Jul 2020 by Jonny Williamson

Understanding the supply chain vulnerabilities that emerged during lockdown plays an important role in helping businesses prepare for future shocks, including a potential second wave of Covid-19.

Critical supply chains with immediate impacts on daily life demonstrated considerable resilience and adaptability during the recent disruption and the solutions adopted may also help address some of the key challenges in distributing a vaccine against the virus.

A new paper, published by the National Engineering Policy Centre, looks at how UK supply chains were disrupted during the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic and assesses the success of mitigation measures from procurement to logistics and skills in the food, electronics, telecommunications, transport and energy sectors. 

The results, including spotlights on each of these sectors, are based on evidence gathered from 60 different organisations, ranging from large companies to SMEs and micro-organisations.

The paper makes recommendations for the engineering profession to prepare supply chains to weather future disruptions, including:

Communication across the supply chain network needs to be effective and capable of addressing the questions of future capacity and resilience;

Regulators have a critical role as stakeholders whose influence could drive innovation in both products and processes;

Knowledge sharing within and between different sectors is vital to facilitate innovation and adoption of automation and new technologies and to support companies in future resilience planning.

Industry was found to have responded well to the challenge, reducing uncertainty, developing networks for components and skills and sharing good practice.

For example, electronics companies have been able to share information within their network, using it not only to source materials that were in short supply, but also to help to address future challenges such as skills shortages.

Sharing data and information across different sectors could also help to inform other areas of the Covid-19 response, particularly the distribution of the vaccines currently being developed. This will require significant efforts in procurement, logistics, storage and delivery.

Lessons learned from the food sector’s cold chain, for example, could be valuable in future deployment of a vaccine.

Globally the cold chain is underdeveloped (only about 10% of the required cold chain capacity exists in some developing nations and up to a quarter of temperature-sensitive foods are lost).

Vaccine cold chains are by no means comprehensive and up to 25% of vaccines in the developing economy are wasted owing to the lack of a suitable cold chain.

The critical need to distribute large quantities of vaccine and test kits may require the requisition of cold chain assets from the food/pharma supply chain.

Supply chain challenges, lessons learned and opportunities is available here.

The recommendations form part of a paper prepared for the UK government and will inform future work by the Academy on strategic capabilities.

*Header image courtesy of Depositphotos