Supply chains are a crucial part of our society, ensuring a commodity is produced and then delivered to a consumer. However, the logistics behind moving goods along a supply chain is where it can get quite complicated.
For instance, the International Labour Organization in this article illustrates how shrimp from Thailand is distributed across the globe. To get from the hatcheries in Thailand to your freezer, the shrimp must mature, get harvested, be peeled, shipped to the UK, bought by a wholesaler, and then delivered to your supermarket shelf.
But what about unconventional supply chains in hard-to-reach locations? In this blog post, we’ll talk about five of the most extreme supply chain examples and detail what logistics personnel must deal with to tackle these challenges.
#5 – Marine Outpost, Afghanistan
Afghanistan is a land-locked country, bordering Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan Uzbekistan and China. It’s a mountainous region, with very little in the way of infrastructure largely because of human conflicts over the last 30 years or so.
While the US recently withdrew its military presence in 2016, the country remains an active conflict zone; making delivering goods challenging for logistics professionals.
In a video by SupplyChainBrain, Steve Geary, president of Supply Chain Visions describes a situation where a platoon of US marines urgently needed supplies. Unfortunately, as they were in a difficult to reach location in the mountains, the military needed to be creative in their efforts to resupply the troops.
The solution Lockheed Martin devised, involved retrofitting Federal Aviation Administration-certified helicopters with remote controls, fundamentally turning the aircraft into autonomous drones. The choppers could carry just over 2 tonnes of supplies, approximately 250 miles. Steve went on to say that they’ve run over 1,900 of these missions without a single loss.
#4 – Deadhorse, Alaska
You’ve all seen Ice Road Truckers, right? It’s the reality TV show where truck drivers carry their wares across the Dalton Highway to Deadhorse, keeping oil service companies in the remote settlement supplied throughout the year.
Deadhorse is on the very northern tip of Alaska, in the United States and according to Wikipedia it features as ‘borderline semi-arid-tundra climate’. In July, its warmest month, the temperature very rarely soars past 8.3°C, with a winter low of -40°C frequently expected.
To survive the brutal winters, residents of Deadhorse, require a steady stream of supplies. And they rely on trucks navigating the hazards to the Dalton Highway to keep the remote town running. All manner of goods are delivered along this key supply chain route, including food, building materials, mining equipment and much more.
Truck drivers must navigate blizzards, whiteouts, frozen lakes, melting ice, hypothermia and frostbite in their quest to keep Deadhorse operational.
#3 – Yungas Road – Bolivia
Yungas Road, or The Road of Death, is one of the most extreme supply chain routes in the world. The Bolivian highway is approximately 40 miles long, has over 200 hairpin turns and for the most part, is less than single carriageway in width. The penalty for wandering too far out of your lane? – a 3,000 feet drop into the Amazon rainforest. At the height of its danger, Yungas Road claimed over 300 lives a year.
Being a mountain road, Camino a Los Yungas ascends to around 4,650 metres above sea level. Hazards include the aforementioned sheer drops, but also the usual mountain weather, hill fog and the condition of the road itself. It isn’t a tarmac road, for the most part, it’s instead a mud road, which can become dusty in the dry season or a boggy mess in the wetter climates.
The Road of Death has claimed many lives over the years, and as such, it is peppered with small crosses marking where its victims have died, and despite the risks, people still use the road every single day.
Remote mountain villages rely on trucks, lorries and vans delivering goods to keep their communities running, and despite the Bolivian government building a newer, safer road nearby, some still need to use this road.
#2 – Amundsen-Scott Station, Antarctica
Located precisely on the magnetic South Pole, Amundsen-Scott Station is the southernmost settlement on Earth. It’s a research facility run by the US and is in one of the most remote, coldest and inhospitable places in the world.
Antarctica is well-known to be the coldest place on the planet. Its winters are long, brutal and perpetually dark. The temperature at Amundsen-Scott station in the winter can get as low as -82.8°C and in the summer, temperatures hover around a balmy -21.3°C.
Because of where Amundsen-Scott Station is located, deep inside the heart of the frozen continent, the only way logistics personnel can keep the research facility supplied is by air. The research facility benefits from a runway, and in the summer months between October and February, ski-equipped Lockheed LC-130 Hercules aircraft arrive with supplies every single day. Provisions include food, medical supplies, building materials, personnel as well as a range of scientific equipment.
Pilots must navigate a multitude of dangers on their way to resupply the remote Antarctic station, including sudden blizzards, changeable weather conditions, some of the strongest winds on the planet, and of course, the punishing cold.
Keeping this supply chain running is imperative to those that inhabit the station. With no natural resources accessible, and the unrelenting cold, provisions ensure the research staff survive.
#1 -The International Space Station, low Earth orbit
The international space station (ISS), manned by a combination of scientists from Russia, the US and a host of European nations, is our top extreme supply chain route.
It maintains a low orbit around the Earth, with an altitude of approximately 205-270 miles depending on whether it has fired the engines of the Zvezda module or not. The extra-terrestrial platform circles the Earth in about 92 minutes, completing 15.5 orbits every single day.
Truly isolated, the only way to reach the ISS is via Russian-made Soyuz rockets launched from cosmodromes across Russia and neighbouring Kazakhstan. Therefore, for the astronauts inhabiting the research station maintaining this supply chain is key to their survival.
Typically, stocks of food, water, oxygen, nitrogen and other key consumables are replenished every 90 days or so. Times can vary depending on suitable conditions for launch, as well as whether the astronauts need their supplies replenishing or not.
Supplies are carried onboard Soyuz rockets, and care is taken to ensure these supplies are as lightweight and durable as possible. The less something weighs, the easier it is for rockets to escape our atmosphere.
Spaceflight is not cheap. In fact, according to Zidbits, the ISS is the most expensive object ever constructed, at a cost of $160 billion. Putting astronauts and their supplies into space is costly too, with each trip reportedly costing around $500 million. Therefore, companies like SpaceX are making ripples in the space industry with their FalconX Heavy rocket. It is comparatively cheaper to launch, with a price tag of $90 million per trip.