Toronto, ON — Canada’s supply chain has a credibility issue, but according to industry leaders a combination of collaboration and technology may help flip the script come this time next year.
“The biggest thing is to get our credibility back after last year’s disruption,” Eric Waltz, president of GCT Canada said at the JOC Canada Trade Conference in Toronto. “There will be disruption, so we need to communicate our plans to help lessen the disruptions.”
According to Marc Bibeau, president and CEO of OEC Group, while the challenges over the past 12 months have been tough, the industry has learned some lessons.
“We have to be responsible as stakeholders to getting the products to market and we need to collaborate to look at strategic ways to improve the system.”
To have a resilient supply chain, more capacity is required, particularly on the rails, said Jean-Jacques Ruest, interim president and CEO of CN. “We need to have a highway whereby we can put more trains on that highway so we can provide what customers expect.” To that end, Ruest explained how CN will be investing in track infrastructure, adding 60 miles of double track and adding 11 new sidings, extensions and spurs to its line.
Ruest also spoke about visibility in the supply chain, particularly when it comes to the increased shipments from Asia. “What’s coming? Where is it going?” he asked.
“There is a blind spot—we need to know how many containers are coming back.”
Being flexible is also important, added Waltz.
“To better handle surges means making adjusts. Sometimes it means adding equipment for the peaks, even though it may be underutilized during other periods.
The use of new technology is another way the industry expects to be better prepared in the future.
Speaking about Maersk’s collaboration with IBM on using blockchain technology in ocean shipping industry, Jack Mahoney, president of Maersk Lines Canada said the intention if for it to become an industry platform.
“We’re seeing interest from government, which will get other supply chain parties involved.”
The proof is in the pudding, responded Bibeau. “I think there are still a lot of unanswered questions about how it will benefit our industry.”
Peter Xotta, vice president planning and operations with the Port of Vancouver, believes the blockchain technology has the potential to build trust amongst supply chain stakeholders concerning the sharing of information.
“Blockchain can help build trust faster. It’s a more effective way to collaborate,” he said. “Right now, we spend 10 per cent of our time on the technology and 90 per cent on building trust.”
CN is looking at technology to help lower costs in its network, according to Ruest as it looks at fixing trains before they break down and using predictive analytics for preventative maintenance of locomotives.
He also alluded to a project CN is involved in with GE Transportation, which is looking into technology that increases visibility across modes in the supply chain.
Technology can also improve efficiencies.
At GCT Canada’s Deltaport terminal in Vancouver, for example, technology was used during the expansion of a rail yard to improve safety.
“We engineered the people out of the yard. Now we keep them safe and allow for a more efficient operation, by combining safety with better planning.”
Challenges remain though.
When the topic of increased fuel costs for ocean shippers because of impending IMO regulations around low-sulphur fuel was broached, Bibeau lamented the lack of transparency in the supply chain.
“How are we going to absorb costs? We need to get our heads out of the sand. The problem we have in our industry is we’re not transparent about costs.”
Next season will see whether investments and collaboration result in less disruptions.
“Rebuilding the west coast supply chain brand is a key,” stated Ruest. “Next winter will be a test.”