Speed and schedules have dominated global supply chains since the advent of modern merchant shipping. Delays keep ships from being used to earn money, and they stop goods from reaching consumers when they need them – especially if that cargo is perishable. Yet, the knock-on impacts of a delay have grown exponentially since the 1970s, when manufacturing industries across the world started to shift towards a Just In Time model.
There are few manufacturing businesses that today warehouse large quantities of engineered parts. As they increasingly rely on meticulously planned delivery timetables to keep production online from day to day, any break in the chain has a dramatic impact on every charterer, factory, distributor, haulier, and port.
The fragility of this system has been highlighted in recent years, becoming particularly acute since the COVID-19 outbreak. The widespread disruption caused by the pandemic, as well as the global port congestion crisis and container shortages, have caused well-publicised headaches.
Why resilience matters
Global crises may clearly show how disruptive an unexpected event can be, but not every crisis is global. Indeed, supply chain disruption is more often caused by far more local issues.
Bad weather is one of the most common triggers for port congestion and delays. For example, parallel tropical storms in the Gulf of Mexico and the Yangzte delta caused ports to close, and freight delays to rapidly increase, last year. This in turn created bottlenecks, incredible queues on both sides of the Pacific, and stories about supply chain disruption to reach the front pages of national newspapers around the world.
Yet, many more weather-related issues are never publicised – especially those that are port-specific. Extreme fog, or heavy rain at night, can easily reduce visibility to the point where it is not possible for port-based operations to safely function. If it is not possible to see cranes or cargoes, work has to come to a stop.
Climate change is already increasing the number of weather-related issues across many parts of the world. This trend will continue, even in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s best-case projections.
Even where there is no adverse weather, night-time operations can represent a risk in their own right. Accidents are more common at night, especially where lighting is not up to standard. In the aftermath of a serious accident, port operations may be shut down or run at a reduced capacity for days – impacting the welfare of all port staff, and creating serious logistical and insurance challenges for a port.
Entire supply chains are only as strong as their weakest points, especially when operating under a Just In Time model. Delays at ports cause knock-on delays for a ship’s next voyage, as well as delays for hauliers and – in extreme cases – production shutdowns for manufacturers. A port that is proving to be a particularly weak link may immediately face legal or insurance costs and lose revenue to diverting ships. One of the worst-case outcomes would be dropping out of favourability with commercial operators in the future.
Putting resilience at the heart of port strategy
Port operators must defend against as many risks as they can. Often, this means planning for the worst and hoping for the best.
In other words, port authorities and operators must do all they can to ensure that they are equipped to offer the highest degree of operational flexibility, securing supply chains against a wider range of disruptive event. Lighting can be overlooked as a potential contributor to the overall effectiveness of high performing ports, particularly in terms of preventing unnecessary disruption or down time. This isn’t just a question of selecting the right lighting level or output, it is about choosing the best supporting infrastructure to complement systems and operating conditions.
For example, when approached methodically, the best lighting can extend the window in which work can be safely carried out in bad weather, extreme heat or to improve safety across a port’s operations. The right solutions can also minimise the impact on operations of dirty power scenarios in ports where variations of these are commonplace. Extending these windows cuts the risk of disruption, and has additional commercial benefits in improved working conditions for port staff and reduced insurance premiums.
This is why Midstream works consultatively with ports to design and build lighting systems that provide consistent and energy-efficient light across their entire operating environment, transparently tailored to an operator’s specific requirements and layouts. All of our systems are built to survive even the harshest marine environments to maintain consistent performance, utilising our low-glare LED solutions to deliver the highest quality of light on the market in the widest possible window of operating conditions.
As a general rule, the most successful ports have always been the most resilient. As more decision-makers gain a deeper understanding of the fragility of their supply chains, and as the risk of bottlenecks and delays increases, this link will only strengthen over the coming years. Ports must improve their infrastructure, including their lighting, today to secure their future success.