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Building Fluency: Supply Chains

These materials look at talking about Supply Chains.


I have used a section of the article Learning from COVID: how to improve future supplies of medical equipment and vaccines as the basis of the materials. The full article is worth reading if you are really interested and have time.


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Before reading the text below, have a think about the following questions, these are designed to help you to start think about any gaps in your vocabulary around Supply Chains and how you might start to engage with the topic.


  1. What are supply chains?

  2. What does the diagram below show?

  3. How important are supply chains to your business?

  4. What would happen if the supply chain was disrupted?

  5. How can risks to supply chain disruptions be reduced?

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Now read the text below on Supply chain disruptions:


Supply chain disruptions that lead to restricted access to products have happened before, but how we learn from these and how practice changes accordingly is a matter of debate.


I was a supply chain manager in a pharmacy in a large teaching hospital back in the early 2000s, and the recall of products from quality issues and medicine shortages was commonplace. We would receive alerts from regional and national bodies and take action to find affected stock to return or contact suppliers for additional stock. The systems were in place to accommodate this successfully.


Fast forward to 2020, the same practice is in place but other factors have exacerbated the frequency and magnitude of these issues. The globalisation of supply chains, the growth of pharmaceutical companies in this sector, the explosion of the generics market (where products are no longer patented and can be reproduced by other companies) offering high-volume low-cost medicines such as paracetamol, have increased complexity in the pharmaceutical supply chain. Added to this are new trading agreements (eg Brexit), the grounding of the Ever Given ship in the Suez Canal (which delayed supplies) and of course the pandemic. So many high-risk and high-impact events all occurring within one year, have caused chaos with medicines supplies and associated equipment.


Problems within supply chains are endemic, with capacity struggling to match product demand. The pandemic has affected all supply chains so we have seen large scale shortages of key items which are vital to business, including medicines, semi-conductors for computers and electronic devices, wood and clothing. In the US, the erosion of “industrial commons” – domestic capabilities needed to produce goods for home use – was cited as a cause of supply chain deficiencies. The US invoked the Defence Production Act to boost and retain domestic vaccine production to support the country’s own COVID-19 vaccine rollout.


Lean manufacturing principles and “just in time” practices adopted by manufacturers – buying products to be delivered just in time for production to reduce stockholding – left companies with limited stocks to respond to increasing demand, and no toilet rolls on supermarket shelves. In hospitals and other healthcare operations, stockholding capacity is dictated by storage facilities, which can be limited, and a reliance on multiple daily deliveries to keep up stock levels. This does not cause problems if there is fairly stable product demand. The pandemic, however, caused a huge surge in global demand for many healthcare products which resulted in widespread product shortages.


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Vocabulary Building Exercise: fill in the missing words to identify some useful chunks of language related to supply chains.


  1. Supply chain disruptions that lead to restricted access _______ products have happened before,

  2. the recall _______ products from quality issues and medicine shortages was commonplace.

  3. We would receive alerts _______ regional and national bodies…

  4. The systems were _______ place to accommodate this successfully.

  5. The globalisation _______ supply chains,

  6. have increased complexity _______ the pharmaceutical supply chain.

  7. Problems _______ supply chains are endemic,

  8. we have seen large scale shortages _______ key items

  9. buying products to be delivered just in time _______ production

  10. stockholding capacity is dictated _______ storage facilities,

  11. and a reliance _______ multiple daily deliveries to keep up stock levels.


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You've started to think about the topic and build your vocabulary - to really build on developing your spoken fluency then this needs to be done through active usage of the language - contact me on joel.white.english@gmail.com to discuss how we can put together a series of personalised lessons to develop your fluency on the topics that are most relevant to yourself!

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