What do you research and why?
I am Katri Kauppi, Associate Professor of Logistics from the Department of Information and Service Management at the Aalto University School of Business. My research focuses on purchasing and supply chain management. At the moment, my primary research project examines the asymmetry of information in supply chains. This project is funded by the Academy of Finland. I am also carrying out other research covering subjects such as public procurement and social responsibility in supply chains.
How does the coronavirus affect supply chains?
The coronavirus is causing significant production and delivery difficulties in several sectors. Companies whose supply chains rely heavily on Chinese subcontractors began to notice the effects of the virus in March. Due to long delivery times, companies typically have at least 15–30-day stocks for products shipped from China, so the effects are now beginning to intensify.
To begin with, news articles compared the new coronavirus to the SARS virus, but the effects of the new virus will be more extensive. One of the reasons for this is that China’s role in global production and the global economy has grown enormously in recent years. Many companies will probably have to curtail or temporarily suspend production. I expect that production interruptions will soon occur not only because of the lack of imported components and materials but also because of the local effects of the COVID-19 epidemic.
How have companies prepared for the effects of the coronavirus?
Many companies, large ones in particular, have been using a variety of risk management methods to protect their supply chains for a long time. These methods can include reserve stocks in different parts of the supply chain for avoiding supply problems, extra capacity, and alternative suppliers to whom additional demand can be transferred if necessary.
However, normal risk management is typically designed for individual incidents, such as a fire at a supplier’s plant, a strike at a single port, a natural disaster interrupting production in a specific area, or the transferral of production from one country to another due to currency risk.
In the current situation, the materialised delivery risks are of an entirely different scale, and they affect almost all companies as the epidemic simultaneously rages in different parts of the world. It is almost impossible for any company or supply chain to prepare for multiplier effects of this extent.
How can companies try to mitigate the effects of the coronavirus in their supply chain?
Often the largest producers of a particular component or technology are clustered in a specific area, and if the epidemic strikes there, a large part of the global production capacity may become paralysed simultaneously. In this case, it may not be possible to find a supplier who can provide a corresponding component. Instead, it may be necessary to look for suppliers with similar capabilities, i.e. the possibility of using their employees and production lines to manufacture the required component. This type of production capacity could be found in areas that the epidemic has not reached yet or in areas where the epidemic is already subsiding. This approach is already being used in public healthcare: in the UK, the prime minister has been in contact with various engineering companies to ask them to shift their production capacity to the manufacturing of ventilators.
About Aalto University
AALTO University is a multidisciplinary university in the fields of Science and Technology, Economics, Architecture, and Art and Design. It has 409 faculty members and a student body of 20,000, 70% of which are students in Science and Technology. AALTO University was founded in 2010 by merging three Finnish universities: The Helsinki School of Economics, The University of Art and Design Helsinki, and Helsinki University of Technology. The three schools are all leading institutions in their respective fields and in their own right. Aalto University is a multidisciplinary community where Science and Art meet Technology and Business. The university is committed to identifying and solving grand societal challenges and building an innovative future.