Winter’s Lesson

June 28, 2022
A lot of people learned about supply chain issues this year May/June 2022 issue

Now that winter is finally over, it’s a good time to ask: What did we learn?

Our winter maintenance issue comes out in September, as the industry begins to gear up for the 2022-23 winter. But let’s dive into the topic a little bit here, shall we? Before you can prepare for next year, you have to assess the season you just escaped, right?

Last month, the American Public Works Association (APWA) held its North American Snow Conference in Pittsburgh (the city of bridges and my home). As I walked around the beautiful David L. Lawrence Convention Center, I spoke to people about what they had learned over the past few months.

Most convention goers said that this winter they discovered just how much supply chain issues have impacted nearly every facet of the winter maintenance industry.

And, the most troubling part: they said they now realize that the supply chain problems are going to continue.

Wilfrid Nixon, the president of the Professional Snowfighters Association, urges people to start thinking about the resilience of your operation. For example, let’s say your truck breaks down in the middle of a snowstorm, when there is more snow on the way that week.

“You can’t get a new truck, so you need to have the parts beforehand,” Nixon said.

However, as a few convention goers pointed out, having a Plan B isn’t good enough sometimes. When it comes to winter storms and supply chain issues, making roads safe means you need a Plan C and Plan D. Maybe even a Plan E.

I was told that the supply chain issue was so severe this winter that if a part arrived to America via cargo ship on the east coast, getting it to the west coast was a serious problem.

That is, of course, if the part was able to get onto the cargo ship in the first place. Space on the ships fills up fast.

Kueper snowplow blades are made in Germany, so you’d think that global supply chain issues would be a major headache for the company moving forward. But, Patricia Schuster told me Kueper is already stocked for next winter.

“The key is to get things ordered early,” she said.

Order early, have multiple plans—the common person driving on a freshly plowed road probably has no idea winter maintenance is this intense right now. Hopefully, the supply chain issues improve.

Now, I bet you’re wondering: What was the second most common topic at the APWA convention? Well, convention goers couldn’t stop talking to me about the wonderful view of the bridges over the Allegheny River from the second floor of the convention center.

OK, I made that up because I’m a Pittsburgh homer.

Actually, as I walked around talking to people, the rising price of fuel rivaled supply chain issues as the most popular topic. But that’s a whole other column.

Before I go, I’d like to add that APWA rocks. That was a fun convention. It’s not the size of the World of Concrete, but size doesn’t matter when it comes to having safe roads. Also, I met a lot of great people. I’ve been in this role over eight months, and talking to people at conventions has been a blast. I’m really looking forward to the next one, which just happens to be in Pittsburgh, as well.

About The Author: Jenkins is the managing editor of Roads & Bridges

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