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Covid-19 „Supply Chain Parallel Interactions”: How consumers substituting products can disrupt critical supply chains.

An innocent consumer “substitution” could create serious consequences for other supply chains that are critical to society and life. These occur due to „supply chain parallel” interactions. Something I defined and discussed in my 1998 paper „The Supply Chain Complexity Triangle: uncertainty generation in the supply chain” Three interacting effects occur, demand amplification (bullwhip), leads to Parallel Interactions which in turn creates deterministic chaos. Alternatively parallel interactions lead to demand amplification etc. The three elements of the complexity triangle can interact creating a chaotic out of control supply chain network.

During the panic buying of toilet paper and other tissue products, surgical and dust masks it is unlikely that consumers are considering the consequences of using alternative products for the tasks they were not designed for on multiple supply chains and the stakeholders within them.

Kitchen Towels cannot be substituted for Toilet Paper

For example, we are seeing shortages of toilet paper but worryingly also shortages of paper kitchen towels, industrial paper towel used for example, in garages and workshops and other wipe products in supermarkets and wholesale member club warehouses.  These products are not designed to break down in the water.  If kitchen towels, baby wipes or industrial papers is used as a replacement to toilet paper our sewage systems could readily become disrupted resulting in blocks sewers and the resulting chaos from this leading to increased health risks.  Sewage related litter is a key ingredient of the „Fatbergs” we here about. Ultimately water companies may not have the supply chain infrastructure and equipment to unblock the sewer systems due to amplification in demand for such services

Water companies recommend that just three things a put down the loo – don’t forget the 3 P’s – Pee, Poo and Toilet Paper only! – Kitchen towels, industrial towels and baby wipes create must be disposed of correctly if they get into the sewage system and it becomes blocked a further challenge to public health could develop.

Dust Masks to Surgical Masks.

A further example is the panic buying of dust masks, as shortages in pharmacies and chemists start to bite, consumers are reported to be turning to build hardware suppliers for face masks and bodysuits. This means builders, tilers and plasterers or others workers who regularly use masks for protection against airborne particulate matter, for instance, are struggling to get hold of this equipment from certain suppliers. Yet the construction industry relies on this PPE for people to carry out their work – as employers, companies can’t expect their staff to continue without it and Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992 place a duty of care on every employer. So without such equipment employees are unable to work and companies are subsequently unable to undertake work.  UK companies who supply these sectors are starting to feel the strain on certain PPE items and this needs to be monitored”

Supply Chain Parallel interactions

The issue where a seemingly unrelated supply chain channel causes disruption is known as a “supply chain parallel interaction”. In this case, the consumer supply of medical face masks is drying up, so customers turn to industry sources similarly the substitution of kitchen paper towels for toilet paper will have a knock-on effect of disrupting the sewage treatment supply chain – causing shortages in their supply chain as a knock-on effect, thus disrupting a seemingly unrelated industry or sector in a parallel supply chain.

Think carefully before you substitute it could have a bigger effect on society and other supply chains than you realise.

Richard Wilding OBE  is described by the BBC as „one of the worlds leading experts in logistics & supply chain management”. Check out his blog HERE. You can read the original article in LinkedIn HERE.

Photo: Pixabay

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