A Supply Chain Story

A Supply Chain Story
Photo by frank mckenna / Unsplash


You're reading this on an electronic device.

You're probably addicted to it as are most other people by now.

In order for you to continue reading, watching, playing, listening to the endless stream of content delivered to your electronic devices a significant, non-trivial, mostly-hidden-from-view number of things has to happen.

To start with the materials used to make your reading device have to be mined and delivered to refineries where the ores and rare earth elements (that are essential in the production of electronic goods) are purified and turned into useful components found in all the manufactured products that we have become accustomed to in our everyday lives.

In order for the components to be manufactured, factories have to be built and kitted out with the latest equipment which usually entails an increasing number of automation solutions such as robotics systems that also have to be manufactured and maintained using even more of the raw materials mentioned above.

All of this machinery has to be powered by a non-intermittent, stable supply of cheap electricity. The power stations have to be built and maintained sourcing even more raw materials and specialized equipment.

The basic components of your electronic reading device have to be assembled in assembly plants, packaged and then distributed to every country in the world, every point of sale, every warehouse until you either pick it up or it is delivered to your front door.

All of this movement of goods requires a vast logistics network spanning the entire globe. Giant container ships, continent traversing trucks, planes, trains, and vans have to be designed, engineered and manufactured, updated, upgraded, and maintained constantly so that no gaps appear in the supply chain.

This vast network of vehicles require fuel, mostly diesel, which again has to be sourced, transported and refined into the various products that keep the wheels spinning on this merry-go-round.

Oil is also refined into plastics which have become a base material for most of the products we use and the fancy packaging that ends up in the landfill.

The transportation systems require modern safe asphalt roads to be built and maintained through thick and thin. Bridges and tunnels have to be added in all the right places to overcome obstacles along the supply chain routes.

Services have to function around the clock so that all of the above runs smoothly without too many hitches and glitches.

Banks, governments, lawyers, accountants, CEOs, Product Managers, salespeople and cleaners all play their role in the supply chain management ecology from the very beginning to the very end. Banks provide loans and insurance to get the ball rolling. Governments administrate the organization and development of infrastructure laying the ground for all the activity required for a supply chain ecosystem to flourish. They also provide security both local and international to protect trade routes. They regulate trade and tax accordingly usually favoring the native nation's interests but this can sometimes be hijacked by the competition.

All of the people involved in the economy require food and clothing and housing and amenities and all manner of other goods and services just to function in the modern workplace. So the farming, textile, health, construction, energy, transportation, telecoms, shopping and entertainment industries all have to be running at full speed to keep up with the needs and wants of the workers otherwise they down tools and the great machine grinds to a halt.

New generations of engineers have to be produced in some kind of functional education system favoring STEM that covers all the requirements needed to produce electronic reading devices otherwise you would not be reading this right now. Science, Technology, Engineering and Math make the world go around. Without them we would not have washing machines, cars, heating systems, electricity, enough food to go around.

And with the advent of AI and robotics the new gold rush becomes creating a neverending patchwork of server farms, data centers, satellite constellations, new energy sources to power all of the above and an even bigger budget for mining all the required materials.


And the argument about whether AI is truly AI or not is a silly one and irrelevant. The only thing that matters in this equation is the capability of the software and hardware systems to replace human workers through automation of tasks in the workplace and that is happening at an accelerating pace wherever the cost/benefit math works.

So there you have it. We are utterly and irredeemably attached to the world of supply and demand with its chains and networks and webs interconnecting all of the elements in such a way that we don't even notice the joins.


When a supply chain breaks in any way even for a short period of time the complaints start rushing in. The moderns can't take a single day of disruption, barely a few hours at most. If the problem is not fixed sufficiently quickly then desperation builds, anger, frustration, venting at the nearest culpable entity until depression starts to rise. The addict begins to go through the windows of withdrawal seeking substitutes in vain. There are none left.

On a global scale, nation states chase resources to secure them for their true masters — the corporations and conglomerates that dominate the markets. We are seeing this dance play out now in all its glory — a mad rush, a push and a shove to get to the last chair as the music stops.

If the pessimist/realist pundits are right on this one, we can expect shortages of more than just electronic reading devices certainly in the wildlands outside the core of industrial civilization. We can expect food and energy to start not arriving on time in many impoverished areas of the planet as resources are sequestered more and more for the already rich. And timing in supply chains is everything. Electricity supply that constantly comes and goes because no one is maintaining infrastructure anymore is not just a little annoying, it makes industry impossible and companies start to fold or look for pastures new.


There's much buzz around the newly professed era of nuclear power plants coming to save us again just like they were seventy years ago. The problems haven't magically gone away. The industry is still heavily dependent on the supply of uranium which is always inconveniently situated in someone else's country.

Supply chains have choke points. Pipelines can be sabotaged. Bridges can be brought down blocking traffic at one of the largest industrial ports in America. Supply from one source can dry up for any reason and companies scramble to find new suppliers so that the chain doesn't break and the products continue to flow.

This process has become like distributing nutrients around a living organism. If any nutrient is lacking at any given time the organism begins to fail until the flow of nutrients is restored. With the advent of just-in-time manufacturing practices this dynamic has become more intense than it ever was. The complexity embedded in the overall system keeps everything ticking along but also exposes the system to vulnerabilities that may be impossible to overcome if the network suffers more than the usual amount of chaos e.g. a world war or another attempt at global lockdowns.

So when you're reading the latest political commentary on your electronic device or maybe writing some entertaining fiction on your laptop or playing a game on your gaming PC remember to spare a thought for the vast army of indentured servants running around every day doing dull, dangerous and dirty jobs to make that happen.

And never forget that these tools are most definitely being used to mess with our minds, condition our beliefs, thoughts, and behaviors but at the end of the day we're using them to communicate with each other too. We're fighting an information war that we cannot afford to lose. Without the Internet the people fighting this war would not even be aware of the need to fight.

It's going to get rough with censorship measures increasing especially in the EU but just as with all other supply chains and networks we have to keep mending the broken links, finding new platforms, living to fight another day otherwise what was it all for. That's why we must keep moving forward with optimism and an insatiable drive to succeed. Don't let the naysayers get you down. They're usually wrong historically speaking so why pay attention to them now.


Everything is the way it has to be. Things will unfold according to nature's blueprint but that doesn't mean that we can't give a little nudge here and there to help things along.

Until next time.

Chin up, soldier on, and enjoy the ride.

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