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Managed Transportation Services: a reminder of the benefits

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The supply chain is becoming increasingly complex. In addition to the ‘normal’ complexity of daily operations, international flows of goods have been hit hard by the coronavirus lockdowns, the trade war between China and the US, and Brexit. As a result, ever-more shippers are choosing to outsource their transport activities – but some people still have their doubts. Here, for anyone who may be a little hesitant, we provide a reminder of the benefits of Managed Transportation Services.

3PL or 4PL?

Let’s start at the beginning. Before shippers can even think about outsourcing their supply chain, they first need to choose whether to work with a 3PL or 4PL supplier. So what’s the difference? Third-party logistics (3PL) suppliers provide Managed Transportation Services by using their own transport assets, whereas fourth-party logistics (4PL) suppliers – such as IDS – do not operate their own vehicles. This independence allows them to select the right carrier for each shipment, while also taking account of factors such as CO2 emissions, pricing and the financial and administrative aspects.

An overview of all the benefits

Managed Transportation Services offer three main advantages – better insights, more control and a smooth-running supply chain – which together enable you to quickly achieve significant cost savings.

Even so, some shippers can be reluctant to make the switch. But there really is nothing to fear, as this list of concrete benefits shows:

  • Guaranteed transport capacity and delivery reliability
  • Real-time end-to-end supply chain visibility
  • Lower freight costs
  • Easier data exchange with chain partners
  • Risk spreading
  • Improved ROI
  • Focus on core processes
  • Operational control
  • Reports and analysis
  • Invoice control
  • Freight auditing & payment services
  • A futureproof business

Fewer logistics headaches

But perhaps the most important advantage of Managed Transportation Services is that it offers peace of mind. You can relax in the knowledge that logistics experts are focusing on optimizing your supply chain on a daily basis, monitoring the entire process – both operationally and tactically – and continuously implementing improvements. At IDS, we don’t only do this for full truckloads of freight; our experts are also happy to help you with smaller consignments, goods with special requirements, logistics challenges or unpredictable flows.

Would you like to know exactly what we can do for your supply chain? Contact Arno Spoek, Business Development Manager at IDS, to find out.


Why not add some more sustainability to your supply chain?

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The sustainability aspect is becoming increasingly important when selecting a carrier. Reducing CO2 emissions is one of the biggest challenges this century and the logistics sector is well aware that it too has a role to play. In fact, the industry is making extremely rapid progress in this area, despite the coronavirus crisis. But for many manufacturing companies, now is not the time to be making significant investments. So how can you make your transport activities smarter, cleaner and more efficient? As a 4PL provider, we’re positioned at the crossroads of sustainability and transport. We have unrivalled insights into how manufacturing companies can move closer towards achieving their sustainability goals without investing heavily. We’re happy to tell you more.

The strength of the supply chain

The true potential for improving sustainability lies in the strength of the supply chain. As a 4PL provider we’re at the very heart of that chain. We have visibility of all our customers’ transport movements including shipment data, volumes, destinations and special conditions. By consolidating shipments, we create more efficient routes with fuller trucks, both there and back. So that means fewer transport kilometres. That is not only good for the environment but also good for your bottom line. But consolidation isn’t easy. It requires insight and open access to data, not to mention intensive end-to-end supply chain collaboration.

Less waste

Another aspect of sustainability is reducing waste – and that includes paperwork. We work with digital consignment notes, for example. And we’re stimulating the switch to reusable packaging components such as pool pallets and collapsible crates and containers. We encourage our customers to pack their shipments as efficiently as possible, without unnecessary empty space and always in a standard size. And needless to say, we’re constantly seeking carriers who excel in maximizing the number of consignments that can be loaded into each truck.

By rail and water

Thanks to our end-to-end chain visibility at IDS, we can also provide sound evidence to consider modalities such as rail or water. These can be sustainable alternatives for road transport, because they offer considerably more loading capacity than a truck, which reduces the number of transport movements. We ensure the goods are transferred to (electric) last-mile vehicles and make use of smart hubs as an extra way of achieving synergy.

Innovation is everywhere

Besides price and quality, the CO2 emission level has become one of the most important selection criteria for our clients. Truck and trailer suppliers have now got that message loud and clear too. Innovation is everywhere and the pace of advancement continues to accelerate. From the use of biofuels to fully electric trucks. From tyre-pressure sensors to solar panels on trailers, nowadays such innovations have become key variables in solving the logistics puzzle of getting goods to the right place at the right time as cheaply and efficiently as possible.

Sustainability and reality go hand in hand

In other words, even small changes – sharing transport-related and other data, smarter packaging methods and transport modalities, and focusing on innovation – can make a big difference. But we need to stay realistic. 100% sustainability is not financially feasible right now, but a 100% focus on the lowest price is not the right answer either. At IDS, we’re continuously striving to find the right balance for our customers… and perhaps we can do the same for you, too?

Contact Arno Spoek to discuss how to add some more sustainability to your supply chain!  


6 tips to strengthen your supply chain during the coronavirus crisis

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Thanks to globalization, it’s possible for manufacturing companies to source components and raw materials from all over the world and keep their own stock levels low. However, the coronavirus pandemic has mercilessly exposed the vulnerabilities of that system. The current crisis has shifted the focus onto spreading risk, being creative and working with dependable supply chain partners. But how can you put that in practice, and how can you tell whether you’re on the right track? We’ve put together these 6 tips to strengthen your supply chain.

Tip 1 – Maintain a tight grip on debtor management

The pressure on the economy is placing a strain on business finances. Declining revenues, sometime by as much as 30%, are causing liquidity to dry up. And that goes for more than the worst-affected supply chains. Customers are altering their payment terms and paying invoices later. Investments are being put on hold. Government support has limited the number of bankruptcies so far. But that’s no reason to loosen your grip on your own debtor management activities. Avoid quibbles over what you’re owed by sending out correct, complete and timely invoices.

Tip 2 – Choose the right carrier for you

Consumers weren’t the only ones to go into panic-buying mode as soon as the various lockdowns were announced… Many companies did the same, resulting in depleted stocks and a rush to scale up production capacities. Carriers initially struggled to cope with all the extra work, but the demand dropped off again just as quickly in the subsequent months. Such severe fluctuations may be exceptional, but they do make you stop and think. Whereas price used to be the determining factor, scalability, delivery reliability and risk spreading now play a much bigger role. They should therefore be taken into consideration when choosing which carriers to work with. Evaluate your own selection criteria and reset your priorities if necessary. We’re happy to help you.

Tip 3 – Optimize your shipments

If your volumes, frequencies and destinations vary then it can be worth optimizing your shipments, especially in the case of international transport activities – and more so today than ever before. When a neutral 4PL party like IDS consolidates your freight flows, the risks are spread equally between multiple customers and everyone receives a fair share of the cost benefits.

Tip 4 – Share your data

Even though the coronavirus pandemic has revealed that the interdependencies in the supply chain are bigger than expected, most companies are still reluctant to share their data with others. This reticence means that problems in freight flows can often go unnoticed. By sharing data about the types and quantities of goods, their origins/destinations and the desired arrival times, manufacturers enable all the links in the supply chain to organize their own processes more effectively. And, equally importantly communicate much more accurately about delays, border controls, waiting times or inspections.

Tip 5 – Do more with the same number of people

Although unemployment levels are rising, there is no sign of the labour shortage easing in the logistics sector. In fact, booming online sales are driving a further increase in demand for logistics employees. Retraining will no doubt offer some solace in the longer term, but the easiest solution in the short term is to do more with the same number of people. Outsourcing time-consuming non-critical tasks such as claims and bill control will allow your employees to focus on activities where they can really make a difference.

Tip 6 – Small steps, big impact

At the macro level, it’s easy to say that the key to reviving the economy is for businesses to keep investing and for consumers to keep spending. In reality, companies usually prefer to take a more cautious approach. However, even if you’ve decided to hold off on your investment in IoT technology for now, you can still take a few small steps in the right direction.

We’re happy to help you put these tips into practice to achieve a visible impact immediately. Contact Arno Spoek for more information on 4PL services and Managed Transportation.


How tenders can help you to cope with uncertain times

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This summer, Brexit and the trade war between the USA and China have dominated the business news headlines. At the same time, the economy seems to be stagnating and the labour market remains under pressure. All of these uncertainties have one thing in common: they will most likely cause transport costs to rise in the years ahead. This is a good reason to carefully review your current suppliers and existing contracts, and perhaps even to issue new tenders in the search for partners who can help to further strengthen your supply chain. Or are you holding out and hoping the storm will pass?  

 

It all starts with insight 

Nothing beats issuing a tender as a way of gaining insight into the market conditions. From price-quality ratios and volume discounts to surcharges and exceptions… the tender process gives you a unique opportunity to compare multiple suppliers on multiple levels. But to be truly effective you need to make a fair comparison based on clear objectives. That starts with having insight into your own ordering process, routes, delivery addresses, volumes, frequencies, variation and exceptions. At IDS we help our customers to extract this data from their IT systems and analyse it correctly, so that everyone has a realistic view of the situation.  

 

Ideas for improvements 

The insights that you gain by gathering and analysing the data often generate ideas for improvements before you even get as far as a tender. For example, you might decide to introduce line hauls to hubs, or to improve your customer segmentation to reduce the number of shipment days. Alternatively, should you start taking freight exchange platforms into account, and if so can they be integrated into your existing workflow? 

 

Quality matters too 

At IDS, we regularly help logistics managers to translate the resulting insights and ideas for improvements into a clear tender with concrete selection criteria and preconditions. Increasingly, the long-term effects of lower carbon emissions and horizontal supply chain integration are key factors in that process. But in the current market conditions, capacity management and risk management as well as high-quality and reliable customer service sometimes matter just as much as the price, if not more so. Thanks to our knowledge of the logistics sector, we can help you to emphasize the right aspects in your tender request to ensure you can cope with the volatility.  

 

Multiple roles 

As a 4PL supplier we are an independent supply chain partner. Hence we always go in search of the best transport solution for each customer, without being burdened by restrictive contracts or our own assets. In tender processes, we put our experience along with our data analysis to good use in various ways. For example, its up to you whether our tender experts take care of the entire process for you or limit themselves to just writing a sound project plan, including all the necessary documentation. Alternatively, you can task us with evaluating the tender bids, drawing up a list of potential suppliers or promoting the tender in the market. The result is an optimal mix of different suppliers with whom you can collaborate smoothly, even in uncertain times. 

 

 Reaping the benefits  

After signing up new suppliers, the use of the IDS order platform to exchange information between you as the shipper and your new service providers ensures a trouble-free transition and subsequent operations. Once you have the order instructions, performance reports and invoice control at your fingertips, nothing will stand in the way of you reaping the benefits from the tender. Besides that, you will be in a perfect position to provide your customers with guaranteed service, despite the current uncertainty.  

 

If we can help you with your tender process or you would like to know more about our extensive data analytics capabilities, please contact Arno Spoek: arno.spoek@idsnl.com 


5 Tips for a more carefree summer

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For the majority of us, the summer holiday is just around the corner. Whereas there would usually be a mass exodus to tropical destinations, concerns about sudden virus flare-ups means that many people are considering a ‘staycation’ instead. This will be a different kind of summer for businesses too. The logistics sector has not escaped the economic downturn. Although manufacturing activities are gradually recovering from the initial shock and factory shutdowns, production is nowhere near back at previous levels and supply chains are still not running as smoothly as before the crisis. Nevertheless, there are some small signs of optimism. It might not be an entirely carefree summer, but these five tips will help your supply chain to emerge stronger after the vacation period.

 Tip 1 – Don’t waste time on ‘wait and see’

Whereas the biggest headache for logistics managers used to be the labour shortage, the main cause of sleepless

nights has now become the drop in both demand and production. The whole supply chain is having to cope with different volumes and different routes. And things are unlikely to change for the foreseeable future because – according to the IMF – the global economy will shrink by 5% in 2020, and the recovery from 2021 onwards will be slow and gradual. So you can’t afford to ‘wait and see’. Make use of this summer to think seriously about the impact of the coronavirus crisis, and then take constructive measures. Based out of our offices in Utrecht, our team of supply chain specialists can work in close collaboration with everyone concerned (customers, carriers, logistics service providers and other partners) to optimize your transport activities, both now and after the summer break. They are always on hand to help you.

Tip 2 – Obtain good advice

Every year, highway associations caution motorists to make sure they are well prepared before setting out. That advice is as solid as a rock for the logistics sector too. Every European country has its own rules and limitations, and in Germany the approach to tackling the virus even varies per state. Some travel restrictions are still in place for Sweden and the UK, and parts of Italy are going back into lockdown. The fragmented easing of the restrictions is actually making the situation even more chaotic. At IDS, we monitor the changing situation on a daily basis. That way we can help our customers to make sense of all the rules – both now and in the future. This ensures that we can advise our customers on the optimal logistics solution for them at all times.

Tip 3 – Gain insight

The economic downturn is making headlines every day. A quick look at your manufacturing facilities is probably enough to confirm that things are quieter than normal – but how much quieter, exactly? This is the time for insight, not guesswork,. So that you know where the abnormalities are and where intervention is needed. A transport management system (TMS) puts more data at your fingertips. It enables you to download detailed management reports about freight flows as the basis for gaining insight into where things could be done better, faster and at lower cost.

Tip 4 – Look for extra cost savings

Cutting costs is always on every logistics manager’s to-do list, and it definitely can’t hurt to look for extra ways to make savings this summer. However, it’s important not to compromise on quality and customer satisfaction. Our supply chain specialists love nothing better than using the TMS to help our customers find the most efficient transport solution in each specific situation.

 Tip 5 – Plan for various scenarios

Despite many restrictions now being eased, the future remains uncertain. To gain a greater sense of control over the situation, it helps to plan for various scenarios. What if the volumes decline even more dramatically,/ What if they shift from one raw material to another? What if countries close their borders again, such as France or Belgium? Our TMS really proves its worth when shipment volumes, weights, frequencies and (international) destinations are constantly changing. We can work closely with you to analyse the various scenarios and identify the potential bottlenecks. We can also draw up a plan of action and help you to define KPIs. A reassuring thought!

As carefree as possible

So this summer will be about recharging your battery and preparing for more uncertainty in the future. But it’s always nice to know that you can fall back on a reliable transport management system, and on supply chain specialists who are doing everything they can to make your summer as carefree as possible.

Are you curious to find out how we could do that for your supply chain? Contact Arno Spoek for a meaningful discussion about the future of your logistics activities.


A shift in balance: is Just-in-Case the answer to the coronavirus crisis?

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Although hardly any companies were working exclusively with a Just-in-Time or Just-in-Case strategy, the coronavirus pandemic has triggered a shift in the balance. After years of Just-in-Time being the preferred approach to inventory management, Just-in-Case is now attracting ever-more attention. But is that really the best solution to survive the current crisis? Or are there other ways to create supply chain reliability and safeguard business continuity in these uncertain times? Here, we examine the options.

Just-in-Time vs Just-in-Case

Just-in-Time inventory management has evolved into an art form over the years. When it is executed effectively, it results in little to no stock, a strong cash position and sufficient working capital to finance the other business activities. As long as there is delivery reliability and good alignment with suppliers, components and semi-finished products can be sourced from all over the world. But, as the coronavirus crisis revealed, this model is also extremely fragile; a delay anywhere in the chain can bring the entire process to a standstill. To minimize that risk, many companies have now decided to hold more stock – but even that’s no sure-fire solution amidst the current uncertainty. After all, a Just-in-Case approach ties up working capital and takes up valuable warehouse space. Now that there is such volatility on the demand side too, the supply chain is under pressure from both sides.

Is diversification the solution?

Spanning multiple countries and often even multiple continents, today’s supply chains are longer and more complex than ever. The coronavirus crisis has illustrated just how big the impact of disruption can be. The situation was already tense due to the trade war between China and the USA, the threat of import tariffs for the EU, and the Brexit situation. That’s why countless manufacturers had started making moves to switch to alternative suppliers in Cambodia, Vietnam or the Philippines – but that didn’t help to address the distance problem. Besides that, the new suppliers were still in the process of finding their feet in the well-oiled supply chain machine. Then, the coronavirus situation escalated so quickly and dramatically that many simply didn’t have time to scale up or down and the supply chain ground to a halt.

 Creative response

For many companies, recruiting new suppliers is just one way of safeguarding a healthy future. To guarantee business continuity and keep their companies afloat, various manufacturers have adapted whole sections of their production lines and supply chains in a short space of time as creative responses to changes in market demand. Just two examples include switching from the production of alcoholic spirits to hand sanitizing gels (e.g. Hooghoudt). Or from mattresses to medical face masks (Auping). The lessons learned in this process pave the way for innovations and improved supply chain agility.

Accelerating digitalization

In the meantime, other manufacturers are seeking the answer in even greater efficiency and digitalization, albeit from a different angle. The focus used to be on optimizing operational efficiency and uncovering weak spots. Nowadays the emphasis is increasingly on the use of data to identify opportunities and risks in the end-to-end supply chain. Companies are less and less willing to accept data gaps, a lack of real-time visibility and paper-based waybills. In other words, the coronavirus crisis is intensifying and accelerating the digital transformation that was already underway.

Buy local

The coronavirus crisis has not only revealed the vulnerability of most of today’s supply chains. It also highlighted that globalization has gone too far in some respects. The quest for ‘faster and cheaper’ has created excesses. Such as a Dutch dairy producer importing fruit from South America as a yoghurt ingredient, while that same type of fruit is being grown on home soil for export to Russia. As IDS freight manager Robert Mulders previously observed, manufacturers are increasingly concluding that it makes more sense to source some products closer to home. So it can’t hurt to look at the supply chain from a ‘penny wise, pound foolish’ perspective.

Focus on resilience

A production model based on low costs and minimum inventory enables companies to compete on price. That ultimately leads to a ‘winner takes all’ situation. That model has long been accepted as the dominant market strategy. However, the coronavirus crisis demonstrates that competing based on dependability, resilience or adaptability is a more future-proof approach. There is no simple solution. The challenge is to strike the right balance between more inventory, digitalization, a broader supplier base, sourcing closer to home and new sales opportunities.

At IDS, now more than ever, we work together with our customers to help them make their supply chains more resilient. Contact Arno Spoek for more information.


IDS offers Freight Auditing & Payment services

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The accelerated deployment of new technologies, a huge surge in e-commerce and extreme uncertainty… Over the past few weeks, the world has been turned upside down, and recent events have revealed just how risky just-in-time delivery can be. As we all continue to adjust to ‘the new normal’, one thing is crystal clear: cost efficiency will play a key role. When thinking about solutions that can improve supply chain efficiency, Freight Auditing & Payment (FAP) services should definitely not be underestimated. Read on to learn how FAP services can ease the burden on you and help you to save costs, especially during the current coronavirus situation.

 

Time-consuming paperwork

In the face of the current challenges, time-consuming paperwork is a burden you could do without. You can’t afford to just ignore it, though. So what’s the alternative? Freight Auditing and Payment (FAP) services help you to deal with all kinds of freight-related administrative activities, such as by gathering and bundling invoices, performing pre-shipment and post-shipment audits, arranging (bulk) payments, rate management and analytics. Besides taking care of the paperwork, an added advantage of FAP services is that you gain greater insight into all the freight data.

 

Why it’s the ideal time to outsource

Even though many countries are starting to ease their lockdown measures, coronavirus will have a lasting impact on daily life and business. First and foremost, companies are focused on ensuring the continuity of their services to customers. A knock-on effect of staff shortages can be that administrative activities take a little longer than normal – yet it’s now more important than ever to reinforce trust and gain insight. The Freight Auditing & Payment services from IDS take a huge weight off your mind. Firstly, they help to protect your reputation as a reliable business partner by keeping up with your payments. Furthermore, you benefit from an accurate assessment of the necessary capacity and creative solutions for disrupted supply chains.

Are you keen to discuss how the Freight Auditing & Payment services from IDS could support your organization? Contact Arno Spoek from IDS for more details: arno.spoek@idsnl.com.

 

 

 

 

 


Introducing: Jamie van de Kam

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Last month we spoke to Robert Mulders, one of the freight managers at IDS. He told us more about his efforts to keep supply chains running smoothly in these challenging times. Today, we would like to introduce one of his newest colleagues: Jamie van de Kam.

 

Jamie is 24 years old and has recently joined IDS as a freight management specialist. In 2018, he spent some time at IDS doing his thesis on the consolidation of goods flows and the potential efficiency benefits that can be achieved. It was a very insightful study exploring questions such as: What savings can be achieved by consolidating shipments and shipping them a little later?

 

When formulating the questions in your thesis, what were your expectations?

“I expected that it would be possible to consolidate some shipments, and I was right. In theory, smart consolidation can reduce costs by between 10% and 20%. However, it can be challenging to actually achieve that percentage in practice. There can be all kinds of reasons not to consolidate shipments: changing customer requirements, the specific characteristics of a shipment, and so on. But it’s very rewarding when it works.”

What struck you about IDS’s customers during your research?

“The majority of IDS’s customers have large shipments with a wide variety of characteristics and different volumes. What struck me most was the high number of internal transport activities. It can be easy to overlook internal shipments, yet it is an area where many valuable gains can be made. So that was actually a surprising additional insight from my research.”

 

As part of the IDS team, Jamie will have two different roles. Firstly, he will be focused on operational freight management tasks – ensuring that customers’ supply chains continue to run smoothly. Besides that, he will be involved in various stand-alone strategic and tactical projects. “I’m keen to play a part in helping IDS’s customers to achieve optimal results, even in these tough times.”

 

What is your goal at IDS?

“After completing my thesis, I did another master’s degree in Spain and then spent some time travelling in South America,” says Jamie. “The coronavirus outbreak meant I had to return home sooner than planned, but thankfully I was able to start at IDS sooner than planned too, which made me feel very welcome. I was keen to come back here because I felt very at home while doing the research for my thesis – there’s a pleasant atmosphere, friendly colleagues and, above all, interesting work. Most of all, I’m looking forward to getting to know the customers and getting stuck in. In the longer term, I hope to support smooth-running logistics so that our customers can focus on other areas of the supply chain.”

 

In your view, what is the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on IDS’s customers?

Jamie: “I think it will take a while before all the consequences become apparent. We have already seen some of the effects, but the situation is changing all the time.”

  • Some production and supply chains completely shut down in Italy and Spain, for example, and were severely disrupted in other countries. But it isencouraging to see that the freight flows are gradually starting back up again.
  • We’ve noticed some instances of stockpiling here and there – and not only among consumers, but also by businesses too. That is now causing a temporary drop in demand.
  • Many companies are now looking for alternatives: different suppliers, different routes, different types of shipments, and sometimes even different raw materials.

 

It’s a very dynamic time and I’m eager to see how things will develop – not least because IDS is involved in helping companies to find logistics alternatives so that production can continue without delay. I’m keen to play a part in solving that puzzle.”


Coronavirus surcharge: a delicate balancing act

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As the coronavirus crisis drags on, it is becoming increasingly difficult for logistics organizations to deliver on their existing promises. More and more carriers are having to adapt their routes and struggling with extra delays, plus there is a real risk of drivers becoming infected. Following a long-running price war in the sector, some carriers feel they have little choice but to introduce a coronavirus surcharge in order to survive this crisis. At the same time, from our position as a 4PL service provider, we’re seeing the exact opposite happening; other carriers are actively looking for creative ways of avoiding the need to impose extra costs on their customers. Where will this lead? Only time will tell…

Looking for balance

For us at IDS, these unprecedented times mean that we’re utilizing our carrier network more than ever before and doing absolutely everything in our power to keep our customers happy. But at the same time, we’re keen to continue to show solidarity with the sector. It’s a very delicate balancing act. After all, the coronavirus outbreak has cast a whole new light on cost reduction and delivery reliability in recent weeks.

Unburden where we can

Thanks to our transport management system (TMS), we provide our customers with visibility of all their shipments and relieve the burden on them wherever we can. But if it becomes apparent that certain delivery agreements are no longer possible using the regular approach, it’s a matter of being creative. Our freight managers are now based from home, but they continue to work on finding solutions to get every shipment to its intended destination at an acceptable price. With their expertise, business instinct and customer focus, they ensure that the costs don’t spiral out of control, without losing the trust of the carriers in our network.

Long-term changes

It’s too early to predict the long-term impact of these developments, but many companies will probably have to overhaul their purchasing strategy and supply chain before too long. Reduced dependency and sourcing raw materials closer to home are both likely to be very high on the agenda.

 

To find out more about how we’re helping our customers to keep their logistics activities running as smoothly as possible under these exceptional circumstances, contact Arno Spoek, Business Development Manager at IDS.


Freight management in the COVID-19 era: fast response and even faster communication

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Following on from the various ‘frontline reports’ that have been provided on a daily basis since the start of the coronavirus outbreak, we’re now interviewing our freight managers, who are continuously working to keep supply chains running in these challenging times. For this interview, we spoke to Robert Mulders, one of the freight managers at IDS. He relieves the burden on customers in the chemical sector by arranging transport capacity. Every day, he and his colleagues work to ensure that loading and unloading can take place as planned, that any problems are resolved and that new routes are made available.

 

What changes have you noticed due to the coronavirus crisis?

“For us as a company, a lot has changed in the past few weeks. Right now there are only four or five people actually in the office; everyone else is working from home. That works fine – we call and Skype a lot. The biggest challenge for us is to respond quickly in the case of an urgent shipment or problem, because that has become a bit more complicated. We need to find out which border crossings are likely to experience delays, and which companies are still operating and which have shut down. After all, we can ship goods, but there also needs to be somebody to receive them. And that can be a problem sometimes, because the coronavirus crisis means that a lot of employees are off sick at the delivery addresses, or in some cases the recipient locations are closed by order of the government. Freight is still allowed through despite restrictions on cross-border movement, but extra checks regularly lead to substantial queues that can last hours and sometimes even days! That was very disruptive at first, but the situation is beginning to normalize again now.”

Robert continues: “Communication remains challenging, though, because drivers are no longer allowed access everywhere, for example, which means longer delays. We monitor everything closely and take swift action if anything looks like it might go wrong. In terms of our customers, for some of them it’s still business as usual whereas the crisis is really causing problems for others. That differs greatly per industry. In some cases panic-buying has played a role, and other sectors are facing a sizeable reduction in transport capacity. For April we’re already seeing a decline in volumes among a number of our customers but, once again, there are huge variations between product groups.”

Looking to the future, what do you expect? How will the ‘Great Lockdown’ change the face of the logistics sector?

“It’s difficult to make any predictions about the next four to eight weeks. I personally think that things will be quieter for the next few weeks, and then let’s hope that it will slowly start to pick up again after that. Parts of China are gradually starting to resume operations, and Austria plans to ease the restrictions. Even Spain has eased some restrictions now. But it will still take some time before the big factories are up and running again and the retail sector regains its momentum.”

Plus there is another challenge, according to Robert: “How many people already have immunity? And how long will it take until a vaccine is available for everyone? I think we’ll continue to feel the effects of this for a long time. The ‘1.5 metre economy’ could well become the new normal, and that will pose a considerable challenge for a lot of businesses. In my opinion, one lasting change will result from many companies in Europe now realizing just how vulnerable their supply chain is as soon as a country like China comes to a standstill. They will conclude that it makes more sense to source some products closer to home. There were already some initial signs of that ‘redundancy’ trend. Now, I really do expect companies to buy more goods within Europe itself or to take a different view of inventory levels.”