After a week of ocean cruising, beach jaunts and catching-up on summer reading, we are back and ready to embark on covering global supply chain developments for the final three months of 2011.

Where did the summer go?

You can call us “supply chain freaks” but there is something to be said for the marvels of today’s cruise ocean liners which are self-sustaining townships that float.  I’m not convinced that all of us really comprehend the technology, services and logistics required to house, feed and entertain over 2000 people on the open seas while insuring safety of all the passengers.  The food and beverage director has to know exactly what is required to sustain all meals and celebrations for the week, since storage space is limited and there are shelf-life and food storage considerations.  That is not to overlook the needs for janitorial, cleaning and other supplies.  Fuel is an important consideration since there are no filling stations along the way, and when a vessel is steaming on a 1400 nautical mile round-trip, the fuel needs need to be calculated precisely.  In our particular week, the ship had to maneuver around hurricane Katia which required a faster cruise speed and communications to arrive earlier than planned, before any other storm effects, and leaving one day early to stay ahead of the effects of the hurricane.  All the while, our captain was monitoring satellite and weather advisories on the position and strength of the hurricane. Finally, upon arrival, the turnaround for the next cruise is a mere eight hours, and we marveled as to how multiple re-supply trucks were all lined-up at the pier when the vessel arrived, ready to unload the next week’s supply requirements while recycling some of the waste from the previous week.  Once again, the captain was busy planning the route to get around continued hurricane and storm activity.

The whole experience was a metaphor for how complex systems and variability are managed in a control tower aspect, and how supply chains and process and control systems are often taken for granted.

Stay tuned for continued commentary of Supply Chain Matters.

Bob Ferrari