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How can we eliminate single points of failure in global supply chains?

Image credit: Photo by Sascha Hormel: https://www.pexels.com/photo/shallow-focus-photography-of-black-ship-1095814/

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Contrived _voice
Contrived _voice Apr 21, 2022
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How can we make large interconnected global supply chains that are self-correcting so that a failure in a single point can be compensated for before it affects the rest of the network?
The pandemic brought about one of the largest shifts in the way we get goods. The rise in accessibility of products due to online shopping and e-commerce in general is already straining existing supply chain frameworks. To catch up to demand we are building bigger ports and bigger ships which is great. Bigger ships allow more cargo per cost of fuel which makes the end retail price cheaper and also leaves a smaller carbon footprint.
But this growth in scale and complexity means that a single point of failure could bring the entire chain to a standstill. Halting all related businesses and causing large financial losess.
Case study: The Suez crisis
In march 2021 a large cargo ship, the evergiven ran aground in the suez canal. A single ship running aground blocked the path of 12% of the entire planet's global trade leading to tremendous losess and compensation claims .
A timeline of events shows the ripple effects of that single failure.
So how can we prevent that from happening again?

[1]https://www.bbc.com/news/business-56559073

[2]https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2021-06-24/how-the-billion-dollar-ever-given-cargo-ship-got-stuck-in-the-suez-canal

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Creative contributions

AI-powered autonomous robotic transportation network that doesn't belong to any nation

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Darko Savic
Darko Savic Apr 26, 2022
AI-operated, independent, international transportation network comprised of fully autonomous, self-loading ships, trucks, drones, etc. The AI handles all the world's cargo so that people don't have to. The network doesn't belong to any nation and is governed by the UN.
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J. Nikola
J. Nikolaa month ago
It's a great, visionary idea that is actually aiming at solving another problem - human labor but not solving the single points of failure in supply chains. You can have a fully automatic system, whose ship runs aground. I think the time to solve the problem for the automated system would be the same as it was for humans. Changing the whole system to an automatic version is absolutely a plus, but doesn't eliminate single random points of failure which can always happen, don't you think? Or would removing the human factor be enough Contrived _voice?
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Darko Savic
Darko Savica month ago
J. Nikola ship blocks the Suez Canal, all kinds of drones take off, like ants, they establish temporary ports on both sides of the canal, route cargo via multiple paths to increase the bandwidth, unload cargo from the ships that are waiting at one side of the canal, re-load it on the other. All the while people try to get the ship un-stuck. The drones unload that ship too, by airlifting individual containers until the ship is empty.
If all cargo was handled by automated units, the infrastructure would be prepared to handle a situation like this
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Contrived _voice
Contrived _voicea month ago
J. Nikola No, I think humans are even better than autonomous systems here because of our ability to change and personal experiences. Take, for example, If autonomous trucks found themselves gridlocked by a lot of traffic, they would have no choice but to endure it and delay supply chains. Human drivers however can make judgments based on their own logic. They could make illegal u-turns, travel on the sides of the roads, or use shortcuts they know about.
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General comments

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Shubhankar Kulkarni
Shubhankar Kulkarnia month ago
I think the problem pertains to the shipping example you gave in which the Suez canal was involved and not to the entire global supply chain. Suez canal is narrow and a cargo ship cannot even turn 180 degrees in some places. Also, ships are the slowest to maneuver compared to other modes of transport. For example, in the case of a cargo airport, if one plane faces a problem, it could be towed away from the runway and the other planes could carry on. If an airport is non-receptive, nearby airports could be used temporarily. I think the problem is specific to the Suez canal. Its geographical location makes it a preferred choice of the shipping companies. If you weigh the loss incurred in the example you gave and multiply it with the incidence of such events, it will still be lesser than the losses incurred by not using the Suez canal at all.
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Subash Chapagain
Subash Chapagaina month ago
Shubhankar Kulkarni I completely second your argument. I think there are very rare cases where such 'single-point failures' would affect the entire supply chain. However, if we move beyond logistics and look into the realm of data transfer and telecommunications, such 'single point failures' might be worth pondering upon. Take for example the heavy dependency of the data transfer and communication on the miles and miles of submarine cables laid on the ocean floors. What would we do if some of these cable connections break such that the 'safety in numbers' approach adopted by the companies did not work? The world economy can suffer heavily. Similarly, any probable incident that threatens the satellites deserves serious attention.
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Contrived _voice
Contrived _voicea month ago
Shubhankar Kulkarni, I'm thinking just because they aren't common doesn't mean they can't happen. Say a major port was rendered inoperable, that is a single point of failure. Also, say rough, unexpected weather conditions led to the loss of cargo or shipping companies became hesitant to take the risk, 2 single points of failure. A lack of enough workers or automation technology to deal with a surge in demand, another point of failure. Point is they can happen and they don't have to be as major as the Suez crisis.
It could be nice to have measures ready in case of such a failure. A fitting saying here is " A fire escape isn't built because the building is always on fire. "
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Shubhankar Kulkarni
Shubhankar Kulkarnia month ago
Contrived _voice I understand the concern. I am just saying that the cost of developing a fire escape and maintaining it should not be equivalent to an alternative strategy installed for the points of failure. They won't be sustainable or increase the cost of the cargo tremendously.
Probably, in the example you gave, slight amends to the shipping protocol could improve the frequency of such incidences to a large extent. For example, increasing the frequency of dredging or ensuring that dredging is done before the ship even enters the harbor. If not performed, the ship anchors in the sea until it is done. I think such amends to the protocol that is specific to the problem at hand might not increase the cost a lot. On the other hand, a global solution might be costlier.
Such amends are not not known to the shipping companies. They have obviously thought about it. The reason that they might not want to implement them might again be the increased cost compared to the incidental losses.
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Shubhankar Kulkarni
Shubhankar Kulkarnia month ago
Subash Chapagain Great! I did not have digital supply in mind when I read the session. How can we eliminate the failures here?
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