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  • The rolling out of the Covid-19 vaccine certainly is a  glimmer of hope in the fight against the pandemic, but the world is far from celebrations.   The next big hurdle facing the world is distributing the vaccine, which relies on a complex supply chain of freezers and temperature-controlled shipping methods called the ‘cold chain.’  Let’s take a look at why the vaccine’s distribution and administration have emerged as an unprecedented logistical challenge.  A tale of troublesome temperatures In the last one year, investment in cold chain infrastructure didn’t gather at the same pace at which the vaccine was developed. Vaccines typically require appropriate storage conditions at all points in the supply chain to ensure their efficacy when they reach the patient. And it’s no big deal. For instance, the flu vaccine requires refrigerated storage between 2° to 5 °C.  However, the covid-19 vaccine has very stringent requirements. The Pfizer and BioNTech covid-19 vaccine needs to be stored at around -70°C. In contrast, the Moderna vaccine requires -20°C temperature to remain stable for up to six months. Thankfully, due to its different formulation, the AstraZeneca vaccine can be stored in normal refrigerated conditions: 2° to 8°C.  Needless to say, with different temperature requirements and handling procedures, advanced cold chain facilities have become critical to administering the vaccine to the masses.  Where the Cold Chain doesn’t go Experts have estimated that somewhere between 12 billion and 15 billion Covid-19 vaccines are needed globally. At present, the world produces and distributes around 6.4 billion flu vaccines annually, and it’s predicted that about 9 billion Covid-19 vaccines will be made in 2021.  The downside to these numbers is that the global cold chain is massively underdeveloped, with only about 10% of the required capacity existing in some developing nations to handle this huge increase...
  • The ocean moves over 90% of the world’s goods, and most of these sea shipments move in containers. To accommodate the wide variety of goods, there are different types of shipping containers, each used to serve a specific purpose.  These containers play an integral role in global trade and ensure that cargo makes it to its destination in one piece. Let’s take a look at some of the most commonly used types of shipping containers:  1.  Dry storage container Dry storage containers are also known as general-purpose containers and are the most widely used containers. They are fully enclosed, have a robust roof, floor and sidewalls.  These containers come in various sizes standardised by the ISO. Typically, their sizes are 20 ft, 40ft and 10ft. Dry containers also come with specific adaptations, such as liner bags for shipping liquid bulk cargo.  2. Flat rack container Flat rack containers have collapsible slides, which makes it possible to store a wide range of cargo. The sides of the container can be folded to make a flat rack. In these containers, the end walls are sturdy and stable enough to secure the cargo in place.  These containers are ideal for oversized cargo such as construction materials, heavy machinery, vehicles, etc.  3. Open top container Open top containers are built so that its top can be removed entirely to accommodate cargo of any height easily.  They are suitable for tall machinery or other bulky goods that cannot be loaded through the container’s door. In the case of such cargo, with the help of a crane or rolling bridge, goods can be directly loaded into the container from the top. These containers are available in 40′ and 20′ and have lashing rings installed. These rings are attached to the upper and lower side rails and...
  • A year ago, none of us could have predicted that 2020 and 2021 would push global trade into utter chaos. But what’s even more astonishing is the spirit of resilience shown by supply chains worldwide all through the pandemic.   Despite facing the full force of covid-19, the industry refused to get bogged down by the crisis.  Now, as we complete a year of the pandemic, it seems like an appropriate time to revisit and reflect on the insights gained from the last several months.  Uncertainty is here to stay, but so are opportunities Even as organisations slowly bounce back from the covid setback, unpredictability is bound to remain. But at the same time, by making efforts to achieve supply chain resilience, global organisations can find opportunities amid the crisis.  The focus now should be on adopting tools that facilitate supply chain transparency and offer rich analytics to make informed decisions.  Counter crisis with the right tools  At the start of 2020, IMO 2020’s regulations forced nearly 10% of the global container fleet to be retrofitted for scrubbers and increased carrier costs by 10-15%. And the disruption caused by the pandemic driven container shortage, Suez Canal blockage, etc., further led to price volatility. Even today, due to faltering contracts, companies are being forced to turn to the spot market. Thus, for those with hundreds and thousands of shipments per month, it’s crucial to have competent tools at hand to secure competitive rates quickly, each time.    Similarly,  with port delays becoming a common occurrence, it’s vital that organisations leverage advanced auto-tracking systems to trace their shipments’ movement. With end-to-end supply chain visibility, shippers can ensure that they’re well-equipped to deal with possible headwinds.  It’s never too late to adopt sustainable practices  The International Transport Forum estimates that about 7% of global emissions...
  • The Ever Given is sailing again. After being stuck for about six days, the mammoth ship held up about $9 billion in global trade a day and further burdened the already strained supply chains. Owing to the dredgers, tugboats and rushing king tides, to everyone’s relief, the 20,124-TEU finally refloated after approximately 30,000 cubic meters of sand and mud were removed from around it.  The opening up of the Canal certainly deserves celebration, but the forecast ahead is delays and some more delays. However, as unrelenting demand continues, cargo containers, as we all have known, will continue to push their way across the seas- come what may!  Where and how it all began and ended: A brief timeline Tuesday, March 23: Ever Given creates a shipper’s nightmare While sailing between the Port of Tanjung Pelepas, Malaysia, and the Port of Rotterdam, the Netherlands, the 20,124 TEU vessel, nearly a quarter-mile-long, ran around Suez Canal. Caught amid high winds of a sand storm, Ever Given became wedged diagonally in the Canal and ended up blocking up to 10% of the global trade.  It created a traffic jam of more than 360 ships as of Sunday, March 28, costing billions of dollars in delayed shipments.  Saturday, March 27: Clash of opinions, will the Canal reopen over the weekend?  While tugboats pulled to free Ever Given that was grounded at both bow and stern, the internet community, memes, experts, and news reporters started speculating when the Canal would reopen. Countless opinions emerged predicting how long it would take for the vessel to refloat. While the Egyptian President’s seaports advisor claimed that the Canal would be back in business by the end of the weekend, maritime salvors reported lead times of weeks.  Monday, March 29: Suez Canal Authority confirms, Ever Given is refloating  After...
  • In the past several decades, global trade has been a force for good. It has driven economic growth, helped millions earn a livelihood and kept the world connected through thick and thin. But all of this has also come at the cost of the environment.  The International Transport Forum estimates that about 7% of global emissions are from trade-related freight transportation. Moreover, ITF predictions indicate that these emissions will increase fourfold by 2050. These are not small numbers. Thankfully, in recent years, the push for sustainable supply chains has significantly increased. Environmental impact has emerged as a blindspot that supply chain leaders are eager to fill in.  Tiny drops make the mighty ocean  Building a supply chain network that serves both your bottom line and the planet well, may seem like a daunting task. But you can always start small. While you may incur additional expenses when implementing sustainable initiatives, the potential long terms savings are bound to outweigh the initial spend.  By 2050, road freight is estimated to account for 56% of emissions. While air transport will account for 9%, according to ITF projections. On the other hand, the CO2 share of maritime freight is estimated to be around 32%, while that of rail freight should be at about 3%. But on a positive note, organisations are investing in doing their bit. For instance,  A.P. Moller – Maersk has accelerated its efforts to decarbonise marine operations with the launch of the world’s first carbon-neutral liner vessel in 2023. Steady steps towards Supply Chain Sustainability  Create a Detailed Map You can’t achieve your sustainability goals without having visibility over your supply chain. The first step in the right direction is to map your entire supply chain. A bird’s eye view will help you uncover inefficiencies and identify risks and impacts. ...
  • With a faint light in sight at the end of the COVID tunnel, pent-up demand has emerged as a major concern for businesses across industries. Every few weeks, there seems to be a speed bump here or an upswing there for the global supply chains, making it impossible to forecast what’s next. Why the fuss over ‘pent up demand’?   When the pandemic hit the manufacturing hubs, goods couldn’t move despite the demand. For instance, there was a demand for 10,000 packages of a commodity, but the company had to be shut down. The demand remained, but manufacturers couldn’t produce the goods, and hence these goods never made it to the market.  However, with the vaccine roll-out and gradual normalisation of trade patterns, this pent up demand is now set to unleash. But no company today is in the position to accurately forecast this demand let alone prepare their supply chains for the impact.  Countering the muddled demand forecast Although most companies have abundant data, it hasn’t necessarily served them well during a once-in-a-century event. They need new tools to look at that data differently, solutions that can automate processes and help strategize and achieve business resilience. It is here that state-of-the-art supply chain technology steps in.  Amid the turmoil, innovative tech solutions are helping companies gain the much-needed agility and have a better chance of not only surviving but thriving during these volatile times.  Automation technology to the rescue Automated negotiations to secure best deals In light of faltering contracts, organisations are rushing to the spot market to keep their goods moving. For companies with hundreds of shipments per month, the traditional practice of manually contacting each vendor and comparing each quote is impractical. However, competent tech solutions can automate everything from creating enquiries to conducting dynamic negotiations and awarding...
  • As volatility continues into 2021, logistics teams are juggling multiple systems to keep their supply chains running. Amid container shortage, capacity constraints and delays, strategies focused solely on cost savings have taken a back seat in the post-pandemic world, and efforts are being directed towards building more agile and resilient supply chains.  It is here that Procure-to-Pay solutions step in.  Today, supply chain leaders worldwide are looking to control costs and gain transparency over their operations based on real-time data. As a result, organisations are increasingly working towards modernising their procure to pay process.  At its most literal level, this is the process whereby a requisition is made, an order is placed, and once the order is received, payment is made based on an invoice from the supplier. However, the term is increasingly being used to describe software tools that automate the process.  What exactly are Procure-to-Pay software systems?   Procure to Pay (or P2P) platforms are automated systems that integrate procurement with accounts payables in order to streamline the process, ensuring accuracy and creating efficiencies in cost and time. According to Gartner, “A procure-to-pay system is a fully integrated solution designed to support an end-to-end process that begins with goods and services requisitioning and ends with ready-to-pay files for upload into an accounts payable system. In addition to core e-procurement functionality, procure-to-pay solutions offer purchase-order-to-invoice matching and processing for invoices that don’t match or when goods are returned.” Competent procure-to-pay solutions can be seamlessly integrated with your company’s existing ERP solution to ensure easy flow of information, precision and transparency.  Why should companies adopt Procure to Pay solutions?  The procurement to pay process flow is often stalled because of endless documents, multiple ERPs, and dispersed supplier information. A paper-based system further complicates the process, making audits a nightmarish experience.  However,...
  • Spiralling freight rates have left businesses worldwide scrambling to stay afloat and weather yet another year full of unknowns. Even now, as we have entered 2021, soaring prices are increasingly piling more pressure on the already stretched global supply chains.  To better equip ourselves for future disruptions and safeguard against the present market volatility, we must look at various factors that have shaped freight rates over the last several months. Skyrocketing freight rates: Where did it all begin?  Companies caught global supply chains off guard  In Q2 2020, when governments worldwide imposed lockdown restrictions to contain the spread of covid-19, manufacturing units came to a halt. The assumption was that along with the demand for carrier services, rates would drop as well.  However, the events that followed had a counter effect. Production gradually resumed and caught the global supply chains off guard. Along that time, carriers servicing the main Transpacific East-West and Asia-Europe trades had withdrawn capacity. But demand for carrier space bounced back sooner than expected, resulting in a rush for securing space and inevitably, freight rates soared to record levels.  Blank sailings created a capacity crunch  Shipping lines reduced the number of vessels in water to prevent the rates from dropping too low and fetch better margins. These blank sailings worked against those shippers who could and wanted to ship goods. Despite the drop in oil prices, with cancelled sailings, prices continued to skyrocket.  Acute container shortage crisis  At the beginning of the pandemic, cargo arriving from high-risk countries was quarantined at ports for 14 days. This led to a slowdown in the turnaround time for containers. Besides, as Asian countries were first to recover, thousands of boxes headed out of Asia to the US and Europe, only to not return soon enough.  The cascading effect caused congestion...
  • The recent shipping container shortage that’s left everything from soybeans to smartphones idling in ports threw global trade into chaos. While shippers were scrambling to keep their goods moving, the import/export imbalance pushed ocean rates to eye-watering levels. So, where have all the containers gone? Many remain stranded in inland depots, and hundreds more are piled up at seaports, while others continue to be stuck onboard carriers. The result, an acute deficit in Asia, whilst the US and parts of Europe grapple with severe container congestions.  To fully grasp why the containers have landed where they are, it’s vital to understand the domino effect that has led to the container shortage crisis. Let’s go back to where and how it all started:  1. The Covid-19 pandemic prompted a North American bottleneck As the Covid-19 pandemic spread from China to the rest of the world, international trade was brought to a screeching halt. Many manufacturing units were forced to shut down temporarily. As a result, a large number of incoming and outgoing containers never moved past the ports.  In a desperate attempt to stabilise ocean rates, carriers began to impose blank sailings. They also reduced the number of vessels at sea. Not only did this bring imports and exports to a standstill, but crucially this also meant that carriers wouldn’t pick up empty containers. This made it impossible, particularly for Asian traders, to retrieve empty boxes from the United States.  2. China bounces back Despite having originated in China, the world’s manufacturing hub was also the first to recover. While China resumed production and exports, other countries continued to scramble with a reduced workforce and slow production.  Slowly, as other Asian countries began to get back on track, empty containers in Asia headed out to Europe and North America. However, they...
  • A common thread that runs across the world’s winning supply chains is their ability to build and manage relationships. By mastering the art of supply chain collaboration, these companies have been driving cost savings and process efficiencies. But what does supply chain collaboration mean, and how does it fit into the present-day supply chain management? In an ideal world, everyone involved in sourcing raw materials, turning them into goods and distributing them would collaborate. That would be one of the best ways to ensure cost-effectiveness and reliability. However, to date, what remains an exception is the degree of collaboration.  Does Supply Chain Collaboration make a difference? Not a long time ago, supply chains were mostly vertically oriented. The entire supply chain fell under the direct control of a single enterprise. This essentially meant that one company took care of all the processes right from sourcing the raw materials, manufacturing products, distributing them to sales and marketing. Rarely will we come across such examples today. Modern-day supply chains are dynamic and decentralised. It’s common to find dozens of enterprises involved in a single supply chain, all playing different roles at different stages in the supply chain. As businesses grow more interdependent with no single entity having absolute control over everything, collaboration remains the only way to unite the supply chain.  Industry studies have shown that effective collaborations really do make a difference for companies. A McKinsey survey involving over 100 large organisations across sectors showed that companies that regularly collaborated with their suppliers demonstrated lower operating costs, more growth and increased profitability as against their peers.  However, the idea of operating with a collaborative approach is yet to mature. In many instances, supply chains comprise a combination of companies. While some proactively try to improve supply chain collaboration, the rest stick...
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