Overcoming the pressures of external forces in the supply chain

Problematic issues add complexity to the supply chain and impact the basic principle of what firms like Suttons 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 by sea.
Drivers are a crucial element of the 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 pandemic has had a major impact on driver availability. This issue had been building across the entire haulage and tanker 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. Suttons has gone above and beyond that by improving working conditions for its drivers too.
The company has also invested in its fleet to bring the latest models of Volvo FH vehicles, while introducing cab technology such as Microlise drive tabs, which streamlines the drivers’ job.

Cross border issues

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 four to five days, have increased to upwards of over a week 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.
The transport company has established EDI links with 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 man hours the team spend on this task.
The logistics company has also been proactive in sourcing additional storage capacity outside of busy terminals and port areas to address the extended transit times.

Additional hurdles

Finally, the firm has been offering its 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 proactively introducing a new team of customs agents into the business, sourcing additional storage spaces in the event of backlogs at ports, and offering customers access to tanks in the event of emergency plant shutdowns, the firm has mitigated the brunt of the problems and has adapted to the new normal.
Volatile weather has always been a hurdle for international logistics and shipping and over the recent years this has become more prevalent.
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.
A company spokesman said: “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.”

For more information: Visit: suttons.com

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