Tech in Industry Report

Supply Chain
Executive Summary

Overcoming Disruptions: How Industry 4.0 Can Help Your Supply Chain Respond, Recover & Thrive

Peter Wawrow, Ph.D.
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Introduction & Summary

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the challenges of the heavy reliance of a region for global supply chains.


Current supply chains are complex systems spanning global markets (Sharma et al, 2020). North American manufacturers have turned to low-cost countries to develop their supply chains, with China being a major beneficiary over the last two decades of this shift in supply chain strategy, as global supply chains have a high dependence on China (Belhadi et al, 2021). This reliance has resulted in a decline in the manufacturing industry within North America. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the challenges of the heavy reliance of a region for global supply chains. COVID-19 originated in Wuhan, China. The virus had an immediate impact on supply chains, as manufacturing in China ceased, disrupting global supply chains, as parts were not manufactured and delivered downstream.

As the pandemic spread globally, the health care crisis escalated and resulted in demand for personal protective equipment (PPE) and treatment modalities for coronavirus.The reliance on low-cost countries for manufacturing affected the NorthAmerican manufacturing supply chain response to address these needs, as production of these items were delayed, resulting in shortages of PPE and ventilators.This was the result of a combination of the supply chain disruption and the reduced capacity of North American manufacturing.

While COVID-19 is a strong case study for supply chain disruption, various events can lead to these disruptions, including: natural disasters, human-caused crises, system failures, and financial disruptions (Chowdhury et al, 2021). Generally, these disruptions put pressure on the supply chain in the form of internal forces such as depletion of resources and lack of skilled employees, and external forces such as changing consumer behavior and change in government policy (Amankwah-Amoah et al, 2021). It can be seen from the pandemic and the resulting actions to protect people from the virus have resulted in these internal and external forces.

Automotive and airline industries, in particular, have faced supply chain disruptions in the past, but the COVID-19 pandemic has been an unprecedented scale of disruption. For example, supply chain disruptions resulting from strikes or natural disasters are generally short-term and have a predictable course and timeframe for recovery. The COVID-19 pandemic has been a long-term disruption with an unpredictable recovery process, resulting in uncharted territory for supply chains in terms of how to respond and predict the recovery from the disruption.The complexity of supply chain networks has also contributed to the increased risks and recovery of disruptions (Golan et al, 2020).

However, the interconnectedness of the world that has allowed supply chains to be more complex does not necessarily need to be a detriment. This interconnectedness could allow for supply chain optimization and diversification to allow for multiple avenues of product flow. The COVID-19 pandemic has provided an opportunity to evaluate the global nature of supply chain networks.

Peter Wawrow
Peter Wawrow
Director, Applied Research and Development, St. Clair College

Dr. Peter Wawrow currently holds the position of Director of Applied Research and Development at St. Clair College. He is responsible for successfully establishing and managing a research program at the College, by engaging local industry to work with College researchers and students through publicly funded research projects. These grants have allowed a closer engagement between the College and industry, resulting in elevated student learning experiences and improving the economic development of local industry.