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The COVID-19 pandemic has clearly exposed the vulnerabilities and weaknesses in global supply chains. It has demonstrated the dangers of relying on a single supply chain route and manufacturing facilities situated in one country for almost everything. As the virus continues pounding the world’s economies, the modern supply chain has been shown as having been built on shaky grounds. This has resulted in businesses and industries struggling to get the necessary materials needed during the crisis. The escalation of the pandemic has put what was seen decades ago as a supply chain process with few hitches under a test and has emerged as seriously flawed.

It all began with countries’ restriction of certain materials, mainly the medical supply in March, followed by a travel ban that has since been imposed worldwide. The blockage of movement between regions and nations meant that cargo pilots and engineers among other professionals were geographically constrained.

The challenges come at a time when products are needed urgently to combat the virus and help others stay alive. With the damages that have been made, how materials and products move from manufacturer to the consumer has been severely broken. This is happening as the link between China, the ground zero for COVID-19, and the rest of the world has been severed. This leaves countries in the west whose manufacturers had moved to China due to the low cost of production vulnerable. The confusion occurs when nations such as the US are in a desperate need of testing kits, masks, personal protective equipment, and ventilators to support the ongoing fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

Large corporations are struggling to keep crucial products on their shelves, a phenomenon that no one has ever witnessed before. Companies that have always been dependable, like Kimberly-Clark (KMB) and Proctor & Gamble (P&G) are facing an uphill task in fulfilling customer needs. This is happening as goods that they usually provide are scarce due to the damage that the virus has had on the supply chain.

As mundane items such as toilet paper and hand sanitizer continue being scarce due to high demand, governments and businesses are coming to terms with the fact that depending on a single country to supply everything is unwise. Companies are now calling on governments to implement their responses to the pandemic intelligently to allow flexibility and avoid grounding supply chain systems that facilitates the movement of goods, including those needed to treat people affected.

Even with the need for large amounts of medical supplies such as masks, ventilators, PPEs, and others, these items have fallen short. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, about 95% of surgical masks are made from overseas, with a larger portion coming from China. On the other hand, 70% of respirators such as N95 masks also come from overseas. With the shortages that have been experienced due to high demand occasioned by the COVID-19 and the damage caused on the supply chain, local US companies such as 3M have expanded their mask manufacturing capacity. Despite this, their current capacity cannot meet the rising demand.

Although losses have been incurred due to past mistakes, not all is lost. The pandemic has taught many countries on the importance of having their own strong manufacturing industry. Similarly, many players in the industry are learning the importance of having many suppliers from different parts as a way of ensuring the occurrence of a disaster does not put everything on hold. COVID-19 is a massive test for the supply chain in all aspects, and it is now upon players to build a more resilient future that has limited human contact by leveraging digital signatures, and that allows critical goods to travel without barriers.

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Scott Koegler

Scott Koegler is Executive Editor for PMG360. He is a technology writer and editor with 20+ years experience delivering high value content to readers and publishers. 

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