Overcoming The Pressures Of External Forces On Our Supply Chain

Recent turbulent events have had a large impact on the supply chain. Covid, extreme climate events, and Brexit, among many others, have resulted in distinct issues which Suttons International, and other logistics companies, have had to adapt to overcome.

These issues add complexity to the supply chain and impact the basic principle of what we and many other businesses do every day, which is to move bulk chemicals from A to B using various different elements of an intermodal supply chain, such as road, rail, or sea.


Drivers are a crucial element of the chemical logistics supply chain. They are highly trained and utilise a specialised skillset to safely complete the first and last steps of any delivery at customer plants either loading or discharging tanks.


The coronavirus pandemic, of which we are still feeling the effects in all areas of society, has had a major impact on driver availability. This issue had been building across the entire haulage community for many years but was brought to a head with the onset of the pandemic.


A reduction in capacity across all sectors of the driver population has occurred due to driving no longer being seen a job of choice within the workforce. This has been compounded by the impact of covid, which saw many existing drivers move out of the chemical industry and into consumer facing driving roles such as home delivery.


Recruiting new drivers into the industry has been a challenge. Increasing driver wages is the most obvious first step that most hauliers took. At Suttons we went above and beyond that by improving working conditions for our drivers too.


We have invested in our fleet to bring the latest models of Volvo FH trucks, which provide unparalleled levels of comfort for drivers on nights out, we have also introduced in cab technology such as Microlise drive tabs, which streamlines the drivers job, letting them focus on the road and making deliveries.


Another major issue the entire logistics industry is currently facing is new customs requirements that have been introduced following Brexit.


The introduction of customs requirements for products traveling between the EU and the UK has led to additional transit times across the industry. Traditionally fast movements between Europe and the UK, which usually take under 4 to 5 days, have increased to upwards of over 7 days due to the new measures and protocols, which require more time and effort from operators and planners to address.


The additional transit times have caused capacity issues in terminals, which are rapidly filling up due to the longer clearing time for tanks and containers. This has naturally led to a backlog of tank availability across the entire supply chain.


Suttons introduced a number of new processes and ways of working, including the recruitment of an entirely new customs team, to support our operations and planning teams with the complex requirements of the new measures.


We have established EDI links with our customers and customs partners in Europe to ensure product and customs requirement information is accessible instantaneously for all members of the supply chain. This automates certain customs processes and reduces the manhours the team spend on this task.


We have also been pro-active in sourcing additional storage capacity outside of busy terminals and port areas to address the extended transit times. Finally, we have been offering our customers, who are experiencing plant shutdowns as a result of the delays at ports and terminals, alternative storage solutions, to help offset disruption to their operation.


While there was no easy solution to the increased hurdles that Brexit introduced, by pro-actively introducing a new team of customs agents into the business, sourcing additional storage spaces in the event of backlogs at ports, and offering our customers access to our tanks in the event of emergency plant shutdowns, we have mitigated the brunt of the problems caused by Brexit, and have adapted to the new normal.


Volatile weather has always been a hurdle for international logistics and shipping, however over the recent years this has become more and more prevalent, as we all have seen.


Recently we have seen volatile and unpredictable weather have a large impact on the European rail network, inland waterways, and international shipping vessels, all of which are core components in the intermodal supply chain.


Storms surges and high winds force the closure of terminals throughout the supply chain and can have a knock-on impact on vessel sailing schedules as there are delays in and out of ports. On the opposite end of the spectrum, warmer climates can result in lower water levels on inland waterways such as the Rhine, which prevents barges from sailing and in turn increases the demand on rail networks, thus creating capacity constraints.


At times these are very much out of anyone’s control, and naturally will impact not just the chemical supply chain, but the wider logistics industry as a whole.


The key for our business to offset any disruptions caused by unpredictable weather is to be as knowledgeable and informed as possible on the situation from our suppliers and be effective in our communication to our customers.


We maintain an agile and flexible approach so that when we receive information on potential delays, we can predict what the impact will be, and adjust our network accordingly to allow us to continue to deliver a service to our customers.


Our strength is the adaptability of our teams in being flexible in our approach. Our procurement team seeks out all available transport solutions, and our sales teams are quick to react to price changes to ensure our customers do not receive added charges.


There is no one size fits all solution to the issues that the chemical logistics, and indeed the wider logistics industry, is currently facing.


At Suttons our expertise is our ability to react quickly to changing conditions, implement changes to our operation where necessary, and to communicate effectively to understand and overcome potential issues.


The key to overcoming factors outside our control, and to continuously provide great customer service is adaptability and communication. Not only with our customers, but internally, with colleagues and drivers, and externally with our partners and suppliers in the supply chain.


We can learn from our customers, suppliers, and by communicating effectively with each other we can see where we can expect to see delays or a drop off in service levels. This communication throughout the supply chain helps everyone adapt and accommodate to the changes to the expected order schedule.


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