Supply chain

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Traditional view of a supply chain as a triad around a company; the arrows symbolize supplier care, internal SCM and customer care.
Modern conception of a supply chain as a complex and dynamic supplier and customer network.

The supply chain (engl. Supply chain [ səˈplaɪ tʃeɪn ]) describes the network of organizations that are involved in the various processes and activities of value creation in the form of products and services for the end customer via upstream and downstream connections . The concept of the supply chain is part of the standard repertoire of economics . In particular, it is the subject of supply chain management (supply chain management ). The supply chain must be distinguished from the value chain and the transport chain .


In a widely used definition, Christopher (1998) describes a supply chain as the network of organizations that are involved via upstream and downstream connections in the various processes and activities of value creation in the form of products and services for the end customer. The supply chain thus takes into account a company, its suppliers , the suppliers of the suppliers, etc. as well as its customers, the customers of the customers, etc. It should be noted in particular that the end customer is also part of the supply chain. In a narrow view, the supply chain is understood as a triad or trinity of direct suppliers, your own company and direct customers; This view lacks a holistic, integrating view from the raw material suppliers to the end customer .

Supply chain vs. Delivery network

The terms "supply chain" and "supply chain" are misleading one hand covers a supply chain not only the supplier side (supply) , but also the customer side and thus leads from raw material suppliers to the end customer; On the other hand it is not with her a "chain" ( chain ), but rather a "network". It is therefore proposed to use the more appropriate term supply network instead of supply chain . In German, the term supplier network (supplier pyramid) is also used , whereby this often only refers to the upstream stages of value creation, in particular the end customer is not viewed as a component.

Another definition differentiates between supply chain and delivery network. The supply chain therefore includes suppliers, suppliers to suppliers, the company, its customers and the customers' customers. A delivery network takes into account that one of the suppliers' suppliers is also a supplier for one of the customers or even for the end customer.

In the case of complex products with an international global production network - such as in the automotive and aviation industries - the global procurement, production and sales network must be planned, controlled and monitored early and integratively. The production, transport and storage routes are described as consecutive intervals, which means that the entire supply chain is mapped uniformly to the customer. The beginning of each interval is clearly delimited by a metering point (logistics) . Alternative production or transport routes are mapped as parallel intervals. The entire material flow is planned, controlled and permanently monitored at the metering points. By determining the respective throughput time for each interval, the respective total throughput time of the required material, parts, assemblies and products in the supply chain can be successively determined.

Supply chains as an object of supply chain management

With the increase in international cooperation and vertical integration, as well as the focus on core competencies, companies have accepted that they are elements of networked supply chains. Fierce competition in global markets, short product launch lifetimes and high customer expectations have placed supply chains at the center of business decisions. The finding in modern management that supply chains are in competition and not individual business units has spawned supply chain management (SCM). With emergence of the "supply chain" in the system "system in supply chain management entirely new questions arise when considering business " in business administration so did not occur, particularly, the SCM likely to occur in supply whiplash effect (bullwhip effect) to and using the postponement strategy to move manufacturing and logistics decisions closer to the end customer. Due to its special system properties, some authors also regard the supply chain as a complex adaptive system , which has an impact on its management.

Goods, information and financial flows

In supply chains, a distinction is often made between goods (and services), information and financial flows: Goods and services flow in the supply chain from manufacturer to consumer. Money flows in the opposite direction in the supply chain: from the consumer to the manufacturer. The information belonging to this chain first flows from the consumer to the manufacturer (e.g. ordering a book in the shop. The latter then orders it from the publisher, who in turn orders its resources for production, etc.). The information accompanying the goods either flows with you (e.g. delivery note ) or precedes it (e.g. delivery notification ).

If the supply chain is followed from the raw material to the consumer, it can be seen to what extent and for what purpose the raw material is needed. In addition, it becomes clear how far-reaching consequences changes in the price of raw materials can have. If the supply chain is traced back from the consumer to the raw material, it can be seen what everything was used to produce an end product . This also allows the effects of changes in demand to be estimated.

Sustainability and Social Responsibility

Incidents such as the building collapse in Sabhar (2013), which claimed more than 1,000 lives, have brought the role of the supply chain as a design object of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) more to the fore. As a result, supply chain management approaches are increasingly being used to strengthen CSR. Wieland and Handfield (2013) propose three sets of measures to ensure CSR along the supply chain:

  • An auditing of products and suppliers must take place, but this auditing must also include suppliers of suppliers.
  • In addition, transparency must be increased along the entire supply chain, with smart technologies offering new potential.
  • Finally, CSR can be improved through cooperation with local partners, with other companies in the industry and with universities.

Supply chain laws

In various countries, a responsibility for companies to comply with human rights, labor law and environmental standards along the entire supply chain and thus also for suppliers abroad has been legally stipulated or a statutory regulation has been required. For example, France passed a law to hold large companies liable for violations of human rights abroad, and in the Netherlands a law obliges companies to prevent child labor along the supply chain. In Germany, an association of 64 civil society organizations has been calling for a supply chain law since September 2019 . In Switzerland, the corporate responsibility initiative is calling for such a law to be passed by referendum.


Consider a raw material , for example ore (see also steel production ):

  1. This is extracted in a mine or open pit and sold to a steel mill.
  2. The steelworks melts the ore and produces steel blocks that, rolled into sheets, are attached to you as a coil
  3. Automotive suppliers are sold, who processes them into a body part that is sent to a
  4. Automobile manufacturer is sold and built into a car there.
  5. This car is sold to a dealer who will eventually sell it to you
  6. Consumer resold.

See also


  • K. Alicke (2005): Planning and operation of logistics networks - cross-company supply chain management , 2nd edition (German) ISBN 3-540-22998-1 .
  • Sunil Chopra, Peter Meindl: Supply Chain Management. Strategy, Planning, and Operation . 3rd Ed. Upper Saddle River, 2007.
  • M. Essig, E. Hofmann, W. Stölzle (2013): Supply Chain Management. ISBN 3-8006-3478-3 .
  • Hartmut Stadtler, Christoph Kilger: Supply Chain Management and Advanced Planning: Concepts, Models, Software, and Case Studies . Berlin / Heidelberg 2005.
  • K. Hoyndorff, S. Hülsmann, D. Spee and M. ten Hompel (2010): Fashion Logistics. Basics about processes and IT along the supply chain , HUSS-Verlag 1st edition (German) ISBN 978-3-941418-35-6 .

Individual evidence

  1. a b cf. IJ Chen, A. Paulraj: Towards a theory of supply chain management: the constructs and measurements . In: Journal of Operations Management , 22/2, 2004, 119–150
  2. a b cf. Andreas Wieland, Carl Marcus Wallenburg (2011): Supply chain management in stormy times . Berlin.
  3. In the English original: "the network of organizations that are involved, through upstream and downstream linkages, in the different processes and activities that produce value in the form of products and services in the hands of the ultimate consumer." Martin Christopher: Logistics and Supply chain management. Strategies for Reducing Cost and Improving Service . 2nd Ed., London 1998, p. 15.
  4. cf. E.g. Sunil Chopra, Peter Meindl: Supply Chain Management. Strategy, Planning, and Operation . 3rd Ed. Upper Saddle River, 2007, p. 4.
  5. Wilmjakob Herlyn: PPS in the automotive industry. Production program planning and control of vehicles and assemblies , Munich 2012, p. 131 ff.
  6. cf. David Simchi-Levi, Philip Kaminsky, Edith Simchi-Levi: Designing and Managing the Supply Chain: Concepts, Strategies and Case Studies . 3rd Ed., Boston 2008, p. 1.
  7. cf. Douglas M. Lambert, Martha C. Cooper, Janus D. Pagh: Supply Chain Management: Implementation Issues and Research Opportunities . In: The International Journal of Logistics Management , Vol. 9, No 2, 1998, pp. 1-19.
  8. Choi, TY; Dooley, KJ; Rungtusanatham, M. (2001): Supply networks and complex adaptive systems: control versus emergence . Journal of Operations Management, Vol. 19, No. 3, pp. 351-366.
  9. ^ Andreas Wieland, Robert B. Handfield (2013): The Socially Responsible Supply Chain: An Imperative for Global Corporations . Supply Chain Management Review, Vol. 17, No. 5, pp. 22-29.
  10. Bread for the World: Milestone for the Protection of Human Rights. March 27, 2017, accessed July 15, 2020 .
  11. Bread for the World: Dutch law against child labor. May 14, 2019, accessed July 15, 2020 .
  12. ^ Initiative of the Supply Chain Act. Retrieved September 17, 2019 .
  13. Corporate responsibility initiative: corporations should be responsible for unscrupulous business dealings. Retrieved July 15, 2020 .