A worker carries boxes through the warehouse. The process that starts with raw materials and ends at your store is called a supply chain. (AP)

A worker carries boxes through the warehouse. The process that starts with raw materials and ends at your store is called a supply chain. (AP)

Logs lie on top of each other in a wood storage. (AP)

Logs lie on top of each other in a wood storage. (AP)

This warehouse stores tires until they can be shipped out.

This warehouse stores tires until they can be shipped out.

A container ship carries cargo across the ocean. From there it goes by truck to your local store.

A container ship carries cargo across the ocean. From there it goes by truck to your local store.

Two customers take a table off a shelf in an IKEA store in Leipzig, Germany. (AP)

Two customers take a table off a shelf in an IKEA store in Leipzig, Germany. (AP)

Supply Chain Game

Posted: May 1, 2020

Imagine a supply chain as a game with lots of connections. The object is to move a product from start to finish. The game involves many people and places. 

The first stages in a supply chain involve raw materials—things used to make a product. Manufacturers need all kinds of them. Did you know that a type of sand is the raw material used to make computer chips? Companies transform wood into furniture. Metals are used to make machinery. Wool becomes yarn and cotton turns into clothing. Manufacturers create synthetic rubber from oil. The list goes on.

After a product is manufactured, it hits the road—or the waves. It’s shipped to warehouses for storage. Wholesalers sell large quantities to stores. More shipping! Finally, a product is in your neighborhood store.

Unexpected obstacles interrupt the supply chain. Over-buying causes a shortage of some products. Natural disasters, wars, diseases, and political unrest can interrupt any part of a supply chain. Products contain many parts or ingredients. If even one is missing, a manufacturer can’t finish making a product. A staff shortage at a production plant can slow things down. So can delivery issues due to road closures, port quarantines, and air traffic delays. 

When a supply chain is interrupted, troubleshooters have to scramble to solve the problem. After all, too many people depend on a supply chain for it to be broken for very long. That’s especially true when it comes to the supply chain for medical equipment during the COVID-19 crisis!