The History Of The Supply Chain And How Heavy Sea Freight Changed It Forever

One of the most critical parts of the global supply chain is heavy machinery shipping, and with just-in-time and other lean manufacturing systems, sea freight is a vital part of most international industries and has been for over a century.

The concept of the supply chain is far older than the nomenclature we used to describe it and means any processes or activities that turn raw materials into a finished product in the hands of a consumer.

This includes acquiring raw materials, shipping them to a warehouse or factory where they are turned into a finished product, before being sent via outbound logistics to stores or via direct order to the consumer.

Supply chains have existed since the earliest civilisations, although before the development of mass transportation, long-distance transportation was limited to selling finished goods, for example via routes such as the Silk Road in Asia and the spice trade routes established during the Age of Sail.

International production would only begin with the development of the railroad and later the steamship, two transportation systems that would come to define the Industrial Revolution, as well the development of one of the most important trade routes in modern history in the form of the Suez Canal.

This meant that shipping times from Europe to South Asia would dramatically lower from months to weeks, making international supply chains possible.

However, sea freight was still often loosely stored in the ship’s hull, meaning that it had to be loaded and unloaded by hand until the development of shipping containers and containerisation in the second half of the 20th century. 

This allowed for large cranes and more automated processes for managing cargo at docks, standardising and dramatically increasing the productivity of docks.