Isenberg’s Nagurney Shares Expertise on Pandemic Supply Chain Networks
June 23, 2020
“Perishable goods include fresh produce like fruit, vegetables, meat, dairy products, medicines, vaccines, and radioisotopes; even cut ﬂowers and human blood,” observed Isenberg Professor Anna Nagurney in a June 12 webinar sponsored by the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS). Nagurney was invited to give her presentation—“Blood, Sweat, and PPEs”—as the inaugural webinar of a new series focused on applying analytics to real-world problems, and it was viewed live by an international audience as well as recorded. In exploring the impact of COVID-19 on supply chains for perishable products, Nagurney, Isenberg’s John F. Smith Memorial Professor of Operations Management, offered her own network models.
The webinar focused on three areas: food, PPEs (protective personal equipment, such as face masks), and blood. The pandemic’s adverse impact on food supply chains has been dramatic and persistent, Nagurney emphasized. Shortages of meats, rising prices, slower processing, and delays from social distancing have all presented challenges. Lacking sufficient processing, some farms, she said, have discarded fresh produce, including oranges, potatoes, and strawberries.
Employees who become ill and fewer migrant workers have also contributed to delays. To address the labor shortage, Nagurney devised a model that traces labor’s impact on supply chain pathways. The model incorporates production, shipment, processing, and distribution. One significant finding: preserving productivity among as many activities/variables as possible is crucial given labor’s critical importance. Insufficient labor on a single network link, even freight, can significantly alter outcomes.
Personal Protective Equipment
“I take the broad perspective that products are perishable not only in terms of supply and their characteristics, such as their chemistry and underlying physics, but also their market demand,” observed Nagurney. That expanded view, she added, allows for the treatment of PPEs as perishables. The recent story of face masks, she said, illustrates increasing demand chasing inadequate supplies. China, for example, has hoarded millions of masks since the pandemic, inspiring other nations to do the same. In the U.S., states and healthcare systems increasingly compete with each other for masks and respirators. And the manufacturing process for N95s is complex. Once again highlighting labor as a key variable, Nagurney has created a supply chain model for PPEs. It assesses fixed and elastic demand alternatives and several sets of labor constraints.
Moving on to blood—highly perishable with a shelf life of five days for platelets and 42 days for red blood cells—Nagurney noted numerous challenges. Some potential donors are concerned about the very risk of donating, she said. The closing of schools and business offices has reduced the number of collection sites. Extreme reliance on the Red Cross, which accounts for 40 percent of the nation’s blood supply, also presents challenges. In March, the organization had to cancel 2,700 blood drives, leading to 86,000 fewer donations.
Nagurney’s optimization supply chain models—done with collaborators and inspired by the Red Cross—incorporate blood collection sites, blood centers, component labs, storage facilities, distribution centers, and demand points. Working with students, some of whom are now professors, she has devised network models that assess competition for the supply of blood among blood service organizations. And they have mapped potential synergies associated with mergers and acquisitions.
“Like much of my work, these models have widespread academic and also practitioner audiences,” remarked Nagurney, who was recently named winner of the prestigious Harold Larnder Prize for 2020 by the Canadian Operational Research Society. “But they also impact public policy. Analytics has much to offer policymakers and the public.”
Read more here about Nagurney’s research during the pandemic.