COVID-19 Exposes the Fragility of Our Global Supply Chains

COVID-19 Exposes the Fragility of Our Global Supply Chains

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. What happens when several links are weak?

If you think shortages of consumer products and personal protective equipment are worrisome, think again. Despite prior warnings that pandemics may paralyze our supply chains, we may soon run out of many other goods, including food and critical vaccines. Deep, scattered supply chains and reliance on a few global suppliers have hindered our ability to respond quickly to changes in demand. As it turns out, a lean supply chain may not be an agile one.


Video Spotlight: Making Vaccines


This post is based on the FiveThirtyEight article, How COVID-19 Is Wreaking Havoc on our Ability to Make Things – Including Vaccines, by M. Koerth, April 15, 2020, and the YouTube video, Vaccine Manufacture: It’s Complicated, by GSK, May 4, 2016. Image source: Shutterstock/Ienetstan.

Discussion Questions:

1. What are the current hurdles in the manufacture of vaccines?

Guidance: The hurdles include: ingredient sourcing (thousands of ingredients coming from factories with many tiers of suppliers; limited quantities of materials to meet surging global demand), worldwide shortage of glass since 2015, and heavy reliance on overseas suppliers and manufacturers.

2. What are Continue reading

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Toilet Paper: A Potential Bullwhip Example

Toilet Paper: A Potential Bullwhip Example

April 19, 2020

Toilet paper demand from retailers is up 25% due to the pandemic.

Even though manufacturers are already operating their mills 24/7, the capacity may be constrained as the workforce is reduced to prevent the virus spread.

Demand may or may not be an issue, depending how long the panic buying associated with the pandemic lasts.  As of the date of this post, most retailers reported being able to resupply stores from their warehouses.  Some manufacturers are shipping directly to retailers to cut lead time and restock their warehouses.

There are two major questions confronting the mills:  Can the mills increase capacity if the pandemic lasts multiple months? Will demand drop because consumers overbought and bullwhip the mills?


Video Spotlight: 


This post is based on the CNN article, Toilet paper makers: ‘What we are dealing with here is uncharted’, by Parija Kavilanz, March 19, 2020, and the YouTube videos in the Spotlight. Image source: Comstock Images/Alamy Stock Photo.

Discussion Questions:

1. How can the Continue reading

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Despite Empty Shelves, Supply Chain Is Still Strong

Despite Empty Shelves, Supply Chain Is Still Strong

April 15, 2020

The pandemic has spotlighted several issues in the food supply chain.

The hallmark of a good supply chain is to plan on disruptions and build in redundancies in the network.  The current spike in demand could lead grocery stores to increase capacity that may not be needed when the pandemic ends.  Without careful management and communication, it’s a potential example of the bullwhip effect.

In addition, the health of farm workers upstream in the supply chain is a major concern, the longer the pandemic lasts.


Video Spotlight: 


This post is based on the CNN article, How grocery stores restock shelves in the age of coronavirus, by Danielle Wiener-Bronner, March 20, 2020, and the YouTube videos in the Spotlight. Image source: Getty Images/iStockphoto.

Discussion Questions:

1. How would you mitigate the bullwhip effect for paper towels?

Guidance: This is a good time to review the bullwhip effect.  Students likely have been to a grocery store where certain items may Continue reading

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