How digital simulation can solve the Brexit port chaos
While a Brexit deal was agreed on Christmas Eve 2020, concerns remain about unmanageably long queues of lorries at Dover when full border checks come into play in six months’ time - as well as supply chain disruption, food shortages and the associated costs to both UK and EU economies.
Each year, around 2.5 million freight vehicles pass through the Port of Dover which equates to over 3,500 per day or 148 per hour going in each direction. Around 85% of these vehicles carry goods from the EU to the UK across the English Channel between Dover and Calais/Dunkirk.
The Port of Dover says EU lorries are typically processed in around two minutes, whereas it takes 20 minutes or more to clear non-EU vehicles. Pre-Brexit, just 1% of traffic entering and leaving the port were subject to the full custom checks.
Under pre-Brexit check-in conditions, with three check-in desks taking two minutes per EU freight vehicle, the queue was minimal. It reached a manageable maximum queue of 1,071 vehicles.
However, when we modelled the impact of increasing check-in times from two minutes to four minutes for all vehicles, the queue drastically jumped to 52,396 freight vehicles – the equivalent of over two weeks’ worth of vehicles in a backlog. By further increasing the check-in time to the expected 20 minutes, the queue reached a colossal 70,594 vehicles, meaning that infrastructure was nearly 5x overstretched at 469% overcapacity, equivalent to a backlog of around 20 days.
This is clearly unmanageable within the current infrastructure.
We were able to adjust our model to test three of the solutions that have been suggested as ways to ease the flow of freight.
1: Introduce additional parking and seven new inland customs checkpoints
A new 27-acre lorry park will be opened off the M20 motorway to provide additional capacity to hold further lorries and reduce disruption on the transport infrastructure.
There are suggestions that seven new inland custom check points will be opened to better distribute traffic heading into Dover, and that up to 900 extra officials would be employed to assist at the border.
The additional lorry park helped to decrease the strain of overcapacity by 83%, dropping from 469% to 386%, which suggests that five new lorry parks of this scale would be needed to bring the situation in line with capacity.
Opening seven new inland entrances to serve as new custom checkpoints for traffic heading to Dover generated a further reduction of 39%, while introducing additional staff, which the model accounted for with a reduction in the time to process each check from 20 minutes to eight minutes per vehicle, aided a further 44% reduction. These measures together helped to reduce overcapacity to 303%, suggesting that much more would need to be done.
2: Rerouting 20% cargo lorries that were heading to Dover from within the UK to two other UK ports
By introducing a new route for cargo to travel via alternative UK ports such as Hull or Southampton rather than through Dover, depending on their own capacity limits, our digital simulation suggested that overcapacity of Dover operations could be reduced by 119%. The percentage of cargo that is redistributed and the number of other UK ports in play could be adjusted in the model to generate further support and is worth exploring.
The model was adjusted to include this procedure along with the other new measures outlined in contingency idea one, above, and this brought the total overcapacity down to 210%.
3. Rerouting 50% of cargo between Dover and Calais via Felixstowe
Adding to the measures above, splitting the cross-channel route to France between Dover and Felixstowe generated an additional ease on overcapacity by 34%. With all of these additional plans in place, the total overcapacity could be brought down to 147%.
While this is a significant drop from the worst-case scenario, at nearly one and a half times capacity, it also demonstrates that more planning will be needed to ensure that pre-Brexit levels of contingency can be matched.
Again, the model could generate further insights by adjusting the percentage of cross-channel traffic that is re-routed and by including more alternative routes.
There are no illusions that some important contingency plans are needed to ensure that goods travelling between the UK and EU will be able to flow at least as efficiently as pre-Brexit levels.
Adopting this scientific approach is arguably the best way to start rationalising the problem. The thought of over 70,000 trucks stuck on the road is nothing short of alarming at first. However, by testing the options available and then tweaking the system, suddenly it is possible to find out exactly what is needed to alleviate the bottlenecks so that sensible decisions can be made.
Testing all of this in a digital space before it can cause any major disruption in the real world makes digital simulation a unique and invaluable ally.
DHL Claim Multi-Sector Collaboration Key to Fighting COVID
Since January, global logistics leader DHL has distributed more than 200 million doses of the COVID vaccine to 120+ countries around the globe. While the US and UK recently rolled out immunisation plans to most citizens, countries with less developed infrastructure still desperately need more doses. In the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which currently has one of the highest per-capita immunisation rates, the government set up storage facilities to cover domestic and international demand. But storage, as we’ve learned, is little help if you can’t transport the goods.
This is where logistics leaders such as DHL make their impact. The company built over 50 new partnerships, bilateral and multilateral, to collaborate with pharmaceutical and private sector firms. With more than 350 DHL centres pressed into service, the group operated 9,000+ flights to ship the vaccine where it needed to go.
With new pandemic knowledge, DHL just released its “Revisiting Pandemic Resilience” white paper, which examined the role of logistics and supply chain companies in handling COVID-19. As Thomas Ellman, Head of Clinical Trials Logistics at DHL, said: “The past one year has highlighted the importance of logistics and supply chain management to manage the pandemic, ensure business continuity and protect public health. It has also shown us that together we are stronger”.
Multisector partnerships, DHL said, enabled rapid, effective vaccine distribution. While international scientists developed a vaccine in record time—five times faster than any other vaccine in history—manufacturers ramped up production and logistics teams rolled out distribution three times faster than expected. When commercial routes faced backups, logistics operators worked with military officers to transport vaccines via helicopters and boats.
In the UAE, the public-private HOPE Consortium distributed billions of COVID-19 doses to its civilians as well as other countries in need by partnering with commercial organisations such as DHL. For the first time, apropo for an unprecedented pandemic, logistics companies made strong connections with public health and government.
“While the race against the virus continues, leveraging the power of such collaborations and data analytics will be key”, said Katja Busch, Chief Commercial Officer DHL and Head of DHL Customer Solutions & Innovation. “We need to remain prepared for high patient and vaccine volumes, maintain logistics infrastructure and capacity, while planning for seasonal fluctuations by providing a stable and well-equipped platform for the years to come”.
How Do We Sustain Immunisation?
By the end of 2021, experts estimate that we need approximately 10 billion doses of vaccines—many of which will be shipped to areas of the world, such as India, South Africa, and Brazil, that lack significant infrastructure. This is perhaps the greatest divide between countries that have rolled out successful immunisation programmes and those that have not. As Busch noted, “the UAE’s significant investments in creating robust air, sea, and land infrastructure facilitated logistics and vaccine distribution, helping us keep supply chains resilient”.
Neither is the novel coronavirus a one-time affair. If predictions hold, COVID will be similar to seasonal colds or the flu: here to stay. When fall comes around each year, governments will need to vaccinate the world as quickly as possible to ensure long-term immunisation against the virus. This time, logistics companies must be better prepared.
Yet global immunisation, year after year, is no small order. To keep reinfection rates low and slow the spread of COVID, governments will likely need 7-9 billion annual doses of the vaccine to meet that mark. And if DHL’s white paper is any judge of success, multi-sector supply chain partnerships will set the gold standard.