The two most irritating words people hear these days have to be “supply chain“. It seems to be the cause of all problems in life. Not enough toilet paper? Supply chain. Is your favorite ice cream running out in the grocery store? Supply chain. Are prices exploding for things that used to have a stable price? You got it – the interrupted supply chain is to blame.
This also applies to the chemical industry worldwide, which is heavily dependent on chemicals that have to be transported to their destinations by truck, ship and train. Molecules starting in China or India can have a destination in Puerto Rico, Switzerland, or Ireland before meeting a patient or other end user.
Having been in this industry for over a decade, the current crisis in logistics feels even more difficult than the peak of the pandemic in early 2020, where the main difficulties seemed to be the difficulties of social distancing and the challenges of remote working one place to deal with chemical factory. At that time the customers’ orders came, the parts list was created, the raw materials ordered and they appeared. The truck driver may have to do a temperature check before entering the facility and everyone had to wear masks in the office, but that’s about it. The scarcity was generally due to unusually high demand – if you were a new isopropyl alcohol user you had to wait in line after hospitals and hand sanitizer manufacturers received their shipments.
Much of the current difficulty in getting orders has to do with the delays in the sea freight that carries much of the world’s goods. This is no different in the chemical industry, which requires inexpensive international shipping. Yes, some chemicals are considered safe enough to be flown in bulk on cargo planes, but you need to think carefully about whether it’s worth your money fighting for the world’s laptops and fresh flowers for this spot. Ports are overloaded, ships have to stand in line, which is why chemical shipments are delayed – and chemical companies’ sales suffer as a result.
I wouldn’t suggest shipping a container of isopropyl chloride across the South Pacific during the warmer months
Shipping chemicals across the ocean takes some planning. Some chemicals can withstand all kinds of temperature changes. There are probably not too many concerns about sending a container full of sodium benzoate through the Panama Canal, with its tropical temperatures, or across the North Atlantic in winter. It will likely arrive unscathed. I wouldn’t suggest sending a container of isopropyl chloride (boiling point 35 Â° C) across the South Pacific during the warmer months when temperatures easily hit the low 30 Â° C range. You may start with a full product container in the port of shipment, but upon delivery you have an empty container – and a very annoyed ship’s captain.
Of course, there are also ways to control the temperature of chemicals on ocean-going vessels. You can rent or buy a refrigerated container or temperature-controlled tank to transport your chemicals. It will work hard (as long as it’s plugged in!) To keep your chemical in the desired temperature range and to keep your raw material or product from decomposing. However, if your temperature-controlled tank is not working properly, the ship’s captain and crew will recognize your container as defective and immediately boot it from the ship in the next port.
You are now in a race to preserve the product. If your container is unplugged from its new connector or the cooling unit actually malfunctions, the temperature will begin to drift. If a repair is required, you must rest assured that the repair staff (who may not speak your language!) At that particular port will not be afraid of your chemical container, or else you will have to have one of your people fly over and fix your container so that he can disembark on the next ship.
It’s tedious, but at least you have the opportunity to save your valuable material. This has not been the case recently with shippers of potassium amylxanthate. Because of the storm in the waters off Victoria, Canada, this material was likely exposed to water and caught fire. The ship’s crew sprayed the containers with water for as long as they could until they recognized the danger that the reaction of water with the amyl xanthate could release flammable carbon disulfide. The fire eventually went out but you can be sure this product was no longer good. The people waiting for the material to arrive at the port and the shippers and manufacturers waiting for the delivery to be paid for will have to wait longer – just like we all do these days.