The 2020 Mid-Year Economic Update_long

Airgas Weathers the ‘Whippocalypse’

Explosion at nitrous oxide plant highlights need to mitigate disruption.
Eric-Smith-84x84

The holidays might be a little less festive for anyone looking to top holiday pies or beverages with canned whipped cream. An explosion at an Airgas nitrous oxide plant in Florida last summer put products like Reddi-wip in short supply – and put one of the distributors we regularly cover in the national spotlight.

The accident unfortunately left one Airgas employee dead, but the "whippocalypse" – as some in the media have dubbed it – also severed Airgas' nitrous oxide supply, highlighting the need for suppliers and distributors to improve their risk-aversion processes and supply chain redundancies.

Notable supply chain disruptions in recent years have included labor discord and natural disasters, bankrupt suppliers and manufacturer recalls, said Paul Dittmann, executive director of the Global Supply Chain Institute at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, in a 2015 article from MDM, Preparing for the Worst.

With all these potential disruptions, mitigating risk to your company's supply chain is imperative, says Dittmann, co-author of the book The New Supply Chain Agenda. It's only a matter of time before one of them strikes your business.

"Even though any one event might be highly unlikely and have low probability, like the volcano in Iceland or tsunami in Japan, there are so many things that can happen," he says. "If nothing bad has happened to you in a long time, the probability is pretty high that something major will happen."

Airgas, whose acquisition by Air Liquide was completed in May, had operated that Florida facility for 30 years without a major accident, according to an article in The Atlantic. But even when the plant is back online, the company will fulfill its nitrous oxide medical obligations first, meaning Reddi-wip fans might have to wait even longer for their whipped topping.

"Airgas Nitrous Oxide is making all possible efforts to remedy the situation as quickly as possible," the company said in a statement. "Serving our medical customers is our first priority in this situation. We are providing reduced product quantities to customers in the food industry until supply has stabilized."

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