National Academies Hosts Webinar on COVID-19 and the Supply Chain

Apr 13, 2020

by ASME.org

The National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine recently hosted a webinar that highlighted the affects COVID-19 is having on global and domestic supply chains. The webcast outlined how the supply chain industry has responded to past disruptions and touched on lessons learned and best practices garnered from them. The purpose of the webinar was to help logistics managers be able to best respond to disruptions from COVID-19 right now, while simultaneously work to build an even more resilient supply chain for the future.

The event was moderated by Michael Meyer who serves as a Senior Advisor to WSP, which is an engineering professional services consulting firm. He was also a professor at MIT and Georgia Tech for 30 years, as well as Director of Transportation Planning and Development for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Presenters sought to answer the question, “How can we maintain the capacity of the supply chain during and after a disruptive event?”

Anne Strauss-Wieder, Director of Freight Planning for North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority, suggested focusing on immediate needs first, including ensuring key supplies continue to flow for area residents and critical businesses, which also requires identifying the range of resident and business needs. She also recommends communicating frequently and concisely from the outset. In particular, Strauss-Wieder pointed to Pennsylvania’s closing of rest stops as an example of what not to do in a crisis. She noted that these rest stops are important for truckers because they provide a place to eat, clean up, and rest while on the road. Truckers and the goods they carry are a crucial component of the supply chain. Pennsylvania’s response—though meant to lower risk—may cause more harm in the long run.

While Strauss-Wieder discussed how best to prepare and respond to a disruption in the supply chain, presenter Paul Bingham, Director of Transportation Consulting for IHS Markit, highlighted the unique challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic through an economist’s lens. He commented that heavy manufacturing industries such as automotive and aerospace are expected to see biggest downturn, and also noted that business-as-usual will adapt to forever take on a new normal. Bingham also outlined key steps supply chain managers can take to best respond to the pandemic, including:

  1. Accelerate decisions to secure shipment space where capacity is reduced
  2. Map supplier geography and their supplier networks, if not done already
  3. Improve supplier communications and transparency, if not done already
  4. Identify alternative transport service options and their characteristics
  5. Identify suppliers in alternate locations, and associated freight transport options
  6. Monitor governments’ trade / freight-operating restrictions
  7. Assess continued e-commerce transportation costs, including costs of returns
  8. Start or advance assessment of potential supply chain automation
  9. Investigate potential for collaborative shipping to lower cost and disruption risk

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