Do your supply chain challenges have you feeling a little snowed under?

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The first day of spring is less than a week away but the Canadian winter is still wreaking havoc on local supply chains. A friend of mine wrote off his beloved Mazda 3 last month after being rear-ended on a snowy country road outside of Ottawa. This unfortunate event kick-started an urgent need for a replacement vehicle that would fit his growing family and replace the car he’d loved for longer than he’d even known his three children. His wife, demonstrating both her love and a generous dose of pity for her grief-stricken husband, agreed to let him upgrade to a brand new Audi Q3. “Don’t worry my friend, the car of your dreams will be here soon. It’s already on a ship to Halifax!” assured the sales rep. Now five weeks late, my friend’s wife is still driving him to work and her pity has all but evaporated. What went wrong you ask? It’s hard to believe, but the ‘car of his dreams’ is currently frozen to the ground at CN Rail’s Eastern Passage Autoport. While it would be convenient to blame this on Nova Scotia’s unforgiving winter weather, the root cause of this delay is really a supply chain planning issue. Borrowing a quote from CBC:

"If we can move the cargo out of Halifax in a timely manner, we don’t get into this situation. Those cars don’t get frozen in," said Kevin Piper with the Halifax Longshoremen's Association Local 269.

The unexpected delays caused by the immovable cars has thrown a wrench into the standard flow at CN, who has stated it could take up to three weeks for them to clear this unpredicted backlog. To top it off, Nova Scotia got another storm this weekend. I’m sure glad I’m not the one paying that bill! Improving the flow through the Autoport is a complex problem, and the unpredictable nature of the business requires rapid response to constantly changing inputs. Though complex, it’s not that different in nature than the basic supply chain problems we face in other industries on a daily basis. To successfully plan the flow through the Autoport you need visibility of inbound cargo, visibility of transportation assets (ships, dock, trains), and a strong model of constraints, including infrastructure capacity, engine availability, and manpower. An efficient plan can be modeled given all the known parameters (much the same way an MRP system plans manufacturing), but there will always be unpredicted challenges that require rapid adjustments to the plan. Any time spent simulating a new plan is potentially time not spent moving cargo. This is an extreme example of how minor inefficiencies in your supply chain plan (in this case, inventory waiting outdoors for just a few days) can snowball into much larger problems.

With that in mind, are you prepared to respond to the risk in your supply chain? I’d love to hear more stories similar to this one! Please share in the comments below.



R Freiberg
- March 18, 2015 at 12:01am
It seems to me that over the last 3 months the weather on the east cost was only one of many dangers to American supply chains, with some problems more disruptive than others. Take the work slowdown and stoppage at the west coast ports for another example at the same time as north east coast weather slowdowns.
Anything going out or coming in to the U.S. or Canada was in jeopardy and how did manufacturing keep running or supplying or export customers? We all used our I inate ability to be flexible and adopt to the situation at hand. We re prioritize or operations slow down output in some cases or change to Air freight, use alternate suppliers, move shipments to unaffected ports go truck rather than rail or vise versa to compensate for the situation. The trick is to recognize problems far enough in advance to implement alternatives and to plan for alternatives as part of supply strategy.

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