Manufacturing in the COVID Age

US industrial equipment production

We’ve just about hit the official one-year mark since the onset of the pandemic and the surge of disruption that came along with it. Essentially every sector in the logistics arena was confronted with two primary options when COVID reared its ugly head: adapt or close shop. To avoid reiterating the same story all over again (for what probably feels like the thousandth time), we sought to understand where manufacturers stand in the environment notoriously dubbed as the “COVID age.”

Painting this picture requires an expert pair of eyes that fully understand the intricacies along with obvious uniformities. We hand-selected BDP’s Global Vice President of Sales - Supply Chain Solutions, Mr. Randal Holtzapple, to walk us through where manufacturers are now and how they can successfully continue operating amid an environment where seismic pressures and shifts are becoming the standard. 
Holtzapple highlights three significant shifts and their impact across the supply chain:

“What started with factory shutdowns in China in the first quarter of 2020 has resulted in ocean carriers bypassing major shipping ports. Blank sailings have led to equipment imbalances and a lack of ocean shipping equipment at key ports in China and throughout Asia. Manufacturers are focused on getting their ocean containers booked and the container movement out of Asia. This is the first shift we’re seeing within the industry.”

He goes on to explain that the same increase in demand that haunted the ocean transportation sector at the onset of COVID continues to be a major issue for handling capacity. This paired with the seemingly endless equipment shortage has forced some customers to seek alternative partnerships for a solution. For BDP, Holtzapple affirmed the company is seeing a pattern where customers with long-standing relationships with ocean carriers are now relying on their business, other 3PLs, and freight forwarders to overcome challenges with bookings. 

“The second main shift evident is the request for expedited clearance and movement of cargo upon arrival at U.S. ports, as most containers and air freight shipments are arriving later than planned. Many companies’ inventories have been depleted. For now, getting products for materials out of Asia is their lifeline,” he said.

Keeping customer needs as a priority goes beyond measures taken when chaos ruled the logistics world in 2020. What the industry is seeing now is a new approach to operations with international partners, new resources, and new compliance checks and balances. 

“The third shift that we're seeing is the need to have logistics and trade solution partners versus providers that are offering the lowest cost for transportation movement,” he explained. “In the COVID environment, it's not just about moving product from one port or airport to another, it's about how these partners can move the product safely from new sourcing locations, compliantly. The most significant element of this shift is the focus is no longer on the lowest cost provider. Now, it’s focused on the company that can bring the mentioned capabilities and partner with the manufacturer.” 

Thankfully, we live in an age where technology seems to always come sweeping in to save the day, albeit expensive and complex. The key to optimizing the blend of technology and solutions is found in understanding what the customer needs are and thinking outside of the box. BDP’s experts are no strangers to this. Providing an open line of communication while providing an array of tools and partner connections creates a resilient network the customer can depend on. If you’re not already doing this, your competitor most likely is. Holtzapple explains that having a trusted logistics partner is key for maintaining a competitive advantage while retaining customer loyalty.

“BDP offers customers several technology platforms for support, especially in the COVID world. BDP Smart® is our web-based visibility tool where customers can gain instant access to sensitive documents, track their shipments, and inventory, and rely on up-to-date information on their global booking requests and vessel schedules. An application within BDP Smart is Smart Vū®  and serves as an all-inclusive technology solution for vendor management and supplier logistics. The third solution introduced in 2020 is our self-service platform, BDP GO. This technology simplifies, streamlines, and allows for digital booking of shipments.” 

The common denominator with BDP’s solutions portfolio is customer support via reliable, accurate innovation. This strategy will continue to separate the weak and the resilient throughout 2021. Beyond the platform solutions and options for data integration, refining high-level business strategies are a must. 

“The challenges caused by COVID have been a catalyst for companies to rethink and energize their global supply chains,” he said. “To remain competitive in today's marketplace, manufacturers are taking a broader approach to the selection of logistics and transportation providers. And while costs will always remain important, companies today are seeking partners providing technology and innovative solutions while bringing efficiencies to their supply chain.”*

*This article originally appeared in Global Trade Magazine.

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