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Emergency planning: Preparing your supply chain for the unexpected

It’s impractical to plan for every possible scenario in your business. But preparing your supply chain for unexpected circumstances can be worthwhile in the long run. A solid emergency plan can make all the difference when dealing with challenging times.

Governments across the globe are publishing action plans to tackle the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, including limiting travel, cancelling events and closing businesses. 

While many businesses have encouraged workers to stay home, warehouses don’t have that luxury. Warehouses provide a critical service during times of crisis, ensuring people can continue to get the food and other essential products they need. Crises like the current one highlight the vital importance of the supply chain to the economy, and the need for supply chain businesses to prepare for predictable peaks as well as unplanned events. 

Here are five things to consider when evaluating your preparedness.

1. Surging demand

With even the slightest chance of a lockdown, consumers don’t take any risks. Demand shoots up for certain products like masks, hand sanitizer, soap and toilet paper. Businesses can usually prepare for dramatic increases in sales during the holiday season. But when high demand can’t be predicted, it can be challenging to accommodate.

Intelligent warehouse management software can increase agility in adapting to changing demand. When previously fast movers are suddenly not fast movers anymore and the supply of hand sanitizers needs to be replenished quickly, software that can recognize trends and automatically re-slot enables faster, more efficient response. 

2. Staff disruption

For large operations, keeping up with demand becomes even more of a challenge when labor becomes scarce. Staff absences may increase due to self-isolation and fears of the virus spreading at the workplace.

While people remain critical to warehouse operations, an overreliance on manual processes reduces productivity and leaves the warehouse vulnerable to changing labor availability. Automating key processes can eliminate tedious tasks, such as workers walking miles a day to retrieve products, while providing greater flexibility in dealing with unexpected labor issues. 

3. Production closures

Production closures in one part of the world can lead to a shortage of replacement parts in another. If you’ve already shifted to automation, it’s important to ensure the lack of a part or the failure of a robot won’t bring down your entire operation. Automation systems like AutoStore and CarryPick can continue to operate in the event of a failure of one robot, with the remaining robots automatically adapting and compensating for the failure. In addition, the availability of remote servicing options using augmented reality provides expert support when travel is limited.

4. Retail supply shortages

As demand increases and deliveries dwindle, bricks-and-mortar retailers are experiencing supply shortages that have made a significant impact on shelved goods. Where supplies once flourished, bare shelves now stand in their place.

Store replenishment needs to be fast and efficient and automation can help streamline operations. For example, rapid palletizing of store-friendly pallets can speed replenishment at the retail level. 

5. E-Commerce boom

As more and more people adopt social distancing, we’ve seen a rise in online shopping. Those who once relied on frequent trips to the store now depend on e-commerce to deliver their necessities and emergency supplies directly to their door. It’s a time when e-commerce operations need to run smoothly, despite spikes in demand. Using the data available through the sensors and software that orchestrate your equipment, you can better identify bottlenecks and critical elements of your systems that impact availability. 

You might have a perfect business plan, accounting for every predictable peak over the next five years. But if you haven’t accounted for a scenario where you can no longer depend on your workforce to keep your business running, it might be time to prepare an emergency plan. Anything can happen, but it doesn’t have to spell the end of success.