The most recent of three planned walkouts by members of the RMT and TSSA unions in the middle of the week badly affected commuting in the capital, with folk struggling, like herds of wounded animals, to get into work. Turning to overground trains, buses, bikes and boat services as London Underground services were severely disrupted, the talk was of whether more strikes would occur during the festive season.
Industrial disputes have rocked Europe over the past couple of months. In October, fuel ran out at many French filling stations as strikes over pensions reform affected supplies of oil. And in September flights to, from and within Spain were badly affected by a general strike.
With governments across the continent implementing austerity measures in a bid to get shattered economies back into the black, further industrial unrest seems likely. But if you’re a manufacturer, what can you do to ensure products continue to be made and delivered on time when usually reliable transport networks are crippled?
Emergency logistics company Evolution Time Critical says OEMs and their suppliers should be geared up to deal with any contingency caused by incidents such as industrial disputes. “I don’t think there’s any sign of these strikes going away and with austerity measures being implemented across Europe we may see longer and more damaging disputes occurring,” says Brad Brennan of Evolution. “This winter could be one of discontent.”
From a logistics point of view, he argues that manufacturers and their suppliers can do more to keep moving in the event of disruption. Evolution Time Critical, which specialises in the automotive industry but also works in other sectors, says carmakers sometimes don’t have a consistent approach to planning logistics to keep production on the road in the event of an emergency. The problem is exacerbated by just-in-time supply chains where large spare quantities of stock are not kept. “Relying on stocks can be a little bit like burying your head in the sand,” Brennan says. “It is not going to work with strikes getting longer in duration.” Further, he adds, demand suddenly picks up when unrest ends and transport networks begin to function again. Manufacturers and suppliers can be ill-prepared for this.
One approach Evolution takes with its customers is to give them advance warning of action that could disrupt supplies and manufacturing. The firm also scopes out and arranges alternative systems of transport such as networks of regional airports if, for example, major airports are closed. “Everything we do as a company is time critical – we’re not a logistics company that handles regular movement of freight but we do do emergency, time-critical work and we do it for most of Europe’s major carmakers and their suppliers,” Brennan says. Sometimes the firm will develop an emergency logistics service in advance of problems occurring with a certain transport mode or route. “We need to stay ahead of the game,” Brennan says.
He says he is expecting the business to thrive as austerity measures bite across Europe and industrial disputes occur as a result.
Has your firm experienced production problems due to industrial unrest? And do you as engineers plan for emergency logistics?