Logistics in the time of the coronavirus: supply chains under stress

Worldwide flows of goods have taken a massive hit from the coronavirus in a way never seen before. The full repercussions are not yet foreseeable, but for Dachser, one thing is already certain: when plans can no longer be made, there is particular value in robust logistics networks.

An Antonov full of protective medical equipment
An Antonov full of protective medical equipment

Time has been split into two eras: before and after the coronavirus. In between—now, in the present—many supposed certainties in the economy, politics, and society are being called into question worldwide. The lockdown is everywhere. Restrictions are being eased and public and economic life resumed only in small steps. Worries over a new, possibly even more devastating wave of infection are still too great. Reliable predictions are impossible, whether from policymakers or from medical and scientific experts. Uncertainty is the only certainty.

Such a state of affairs is essentially the polar opposite of logistics. The word comes from the ancient Greek logistikē and originally meant “the practical art of calculating.” Today, it refers to all economic systems based on the division of labor in which players rely on the timely, economical, and volume-optimized distribution of goods and services. Such systems depend on an ability to predict events and make plans. However, the recent coronavirus crisis has largely hobbled global supply chains—and it continues to develop in a dynamic fashion, with various political decisions worldwide changing the situation every day.

One thing is certain: when specific areas of production close down, or when entire economic sectors—such as the idle automotive factories or shuttered hotels and restaurants—suddenly no longer need goods delivered, this puts stress on logistics networks, which by nature consist of numerous different gears that mesh together to keep the supply chains moving. If one of those gears stops, the entire machinery feels the effects.

Staying flexible and agile – even in lockdown

“In light of ongoing developments, we have to continuously adjust our business decisions and make new ones,” explains Dachser CEO Bernhard Simon. He goes on to say that Dachser has set up crisis management committees both centrally and in the business units, which provide the management board with excellent, comprehensive information and support.

"We’re here for our customers and partners. You can rely on Dachser—especially in times of crisis," Bernhard Simon, Dachser CEO

“Given the current restrictions on business activities, we can’t avoid a downturn in volume in our industrial goods business, especially in Spain, Italy, and France,” Simon continues. In these countries’ road logistics networks, volumes are down in some cases by around 40 percent. “Our branches showed great initiative and acted in the best interests of the entire company. Thanks to them, and the excellent options for managing our network, we are able to stay flexible in the crisis, making adjustments to the way we organize transports and platforms and scaling back regular scheduled services,” Simon says. “The fact that we are so broadly positioned in European logistics and serve a variety of customers and industries gives us a certain cushion as we respond to changes in conditions where they occur.”

Particularly in food logistics, Dachser delivers a key component of people’s basic needs. While major food customers such as hotels, restaurants, and cafeterias vanished in the first half of the year, demand in supermarkets climbed significantly. Even if, while looking at supermarket shelves cleared by panic buying, some were worried about potentially broken supply chains, logistics was always able to provide reassurance. Every sold-out item auto­-matically triggers new orders, although it then takes a few days until the retailer’s warehouse is full again and can replenish the branches.

En route to Nantes: Face masks from Shanghai
En route to Nantes: Face masks from Shanghai

Protective equipment for medical personnel

Dachser Air & Sea Logistics is also playing an invaluable role in the fight against Covid-19 by transporting essentials through Interlocking with Road Logistics. This is especially true regarding the replenishment of medical protective equipment for doctors’ offices and hospitals. Three examples from Dachser’s European network highlight this cooperation: In early April, Dachser Switzerland and Norwegian machinery supplier P. Meidell AS delivered urgently needed hand sanitizer to Norway via Dachser’s European logistics network. The sanitizer was made by the Strub company, a Swiss supplier that normally makes coolant for P. Meidell, but has switched over to the production of antibacterial hygiene products during the crisis.

France is another example. On behalf of the company Prolaser, Dachser France chartered an Antonov An-124, the second-largest production aircraft in the world, to fly 8.5 million surgical masks from Shanghai to Nantes. Via Interlocking—the seamless interconnection of Air & Sea with Road Logistics—Dachser subsequently also ensured that the palleted goods were distributed throughout the country as road freight to communities, healthcare organizations, and government ministries. Dachser Air & Sea Logistics France worked closely with the aviation authorities as well as the prefectures of Loire-Atlantique and Vendée to carry out this initiative. For security reasons, several of the truck convoys received an escort for their journeys to the Prolaser warehouse in Vendée and to the Ministry of the Interior.

Dachser is involved in the fight against the pandemic in Spain, too. Since the end of March, the logistics provider has provided 4,000 m2 near Bilbao for storing medical supplies destined for the health authorities in the Basque Country. A team of four to five Dachser employees works seven days a week solely on processing orders from the Basque health authorities. By the end of April, the team had stored some 1,450 pallets with more than 29 million medical supplies. These are intended for hospitals, social and health services, police, and fire brigades in the region.

Dachser believes that support actions like these and its ongoing day-to-day business send an important message: the operational readiness in its branches, and at all locations worldwide, is very good despite the coronavirus crisis, and that goes for both Road Logistics and Air & Sea Logistics. “This means we are functioning as an anchor of stability in globally difficult times,” Simon says. “We’re here for our customers and partners. You can rely on Dachser.” 

Workplace health and safety

Health in the workplace is Dachser’s top priority. The branches rigorously follow and expand prevention and hygiene measures taken to protect workers against the virus. Dachser has developed its own guidelines for the use of face masks, which are constantly being adapted to the needs of the business units and in compliance with the specifications of the authorities in the respective countries.

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