In the field of Industrial Logistics – there is a crucial element we need to consider if we want to be successful in our business. That element is Transportation – and it must be seen as an all-round job, as it affects both the input – material incoming; as well as the output – deliveries towards your client*. My post today is aimed to define the most critical aspects of Transport Management; as well as a few hands-on recommendations to improve it.
What is Transport Management? The simplest definition of Transportation is this: the moving of goods from point A to point B. Going forward, Transport Management is the integrated method to efficiently and timely moving of goods from A to B. For a Logistic professional Transport Management means technical information, planning, partnering and executing – and it involves a set of details which I intend to further dissect.
Back to school shall we? Let’s get the technical data straight. What kind of truck does your business require? Most of us know the standard trailers that we see every day on the roads – the big boxes on 3 axels, blocking our way, slowing us down… But there are so many out there: Jumbo, curtain siders, MEGA, tilt, moving floor, tipper, swan neck, open trailer, frigo trucks, containers, bulk, liquid, DGR and/or Waste license, oversized … My suggestion is learn the basic need of your specific business. The more details you know – the better. It will give you an edge in the business, you will know what to look for when organizing a tender, you will be able to measure to the full length your transportation needs.
The most common type of trucks (usually called curtainsiders or tautliners) in the EU have the capacity of carrying 24.5 Tonnes. The trailer width is 2.45 m; the length is 13.6 m. Height usually varies – from 2.60 to 2.80 m (or 3,05 m in the cases of MEGA type trucks). This allows to load 33 EURO-size pallets (120*80 cm) on the floor, with a capacity ranging from 90 to 100 cubic meters. The typical curtainsider can be loaded from the back, from lateral and from above (by crane).
And speaking of pallets – an efficient transportation starts from a very basic (and sometimes neglected) factor: packaging. In an old post I spoke about the importance of using packing units that are suited to your production process – now let’s focus on the transportation side. What you need is sturdy packaging (preferably re-usable; but obviously it depends on the industry) – the type of packaging that can fit on standard-size pallet (be it EURO or Gallia, or…). Bear in mind that the packaging needs to be solid enough to withstand stacking – what you want is to efficiently use the space in the truck. (Obviously there are also heavy industries where if you load 5 steel sheets, 12 m long and 50mm thick – max weight is already attained and even if there is space left you cannot use it! But this does not mean that packaging is not important! Even in such industries you need to bear in mind loading and unloading – packaging does not mean only boxes and pallets!). So always consider when you design packaging that it must comply with these rules : (i) protect the goods, (ii) suitable for transport and (iii) easy to handle. If all these criteria are met – you are good to load!
I want to add one more thing: In today’s world it’s an ever deeper fight for cost cuts and price reduction; thus often we overlook packaging and choose to invest in poor quality boxes/pallets/crates/cartons etc. But the truth is actually the cost is higher if (a) your goods are damaged during transport and (b) you are not able to fully load a truck because of poor packaging. And (c) – let’s also pause and think about environment! Trucks (safely!) loaded to the fullest would not only mean less money on transportation – but also less physical trucks on the road – hence less pollution!**
Next phase is planning – or traffic scheduling. And the biggest question in everyone’s mind is how can I plan something I have absolutely no control over? And in fact now you understand why packaging is critical – it gives you the first information – how much space do I require on the truck and what is the weight. Once you gather the whole information and you know what means of transport you require – the rest is really easy so long as you have good partners (i.e. Logistic Service Provider). And by good partner I mean there is a good number of criteria that have to be met:
• Ideally your Logistic Service Provider will have his own fleet. That is not obviously possible every time – but important is to consider partnering with those traders that have strong, direct connections with carriers. In the world of Logistics it often happens that a load is passed on from one trader to another (often 3-4 times); so to keep your business interest scan carefully your provider and make sure they would only pass the load directly to carrier (I repeat – owned fleet or contracted).
• The best Logistic Provider can ensure more than just one service. Your business can require different type of trucks; you may need to ship out 3*FTL’s, 2*LTL’s (different destination); ten parcels and one expedited pallet – all in one day***. And in the very same day you require some x-docking services, customs clearance support and a consolidation warehouse. Well let me tell you, such providers that can do everything do exist – but I do not recommend it. Do not expect that your Logistic Provider will excel at everything or that there is nothing they cannot perform. It’s impossible. Rather analyse the possibility of relying on 2-3 players, each with its own field of expertise.
• Do not forget that you are choosing a business partner – not a mind reader. Planning is just as important for them as it is for you. Issues will always arise and you will every now and then require a fast car that needs to be here in one hour, load – and arrive at the client (1500 km away) in 8 hours or we stop their production (have I been playing the automotive game for too long?!?). But these situations are not the rule – you should communicate timely your requirements in terms of numbers of loads required, frequency, day of the week that need to be loaded and/or unloaded, etc.
• Build a trust relation, and allow for enough time in case you delays. Do not just presume your will shipment arrive on the required hour each and every time; unless you have a consolidation warehouse in the close vicinity, JIT will never work! Drivers are human beings, and traffic nowadays is impossible to predict, so when you receive an updated ETA, it should not mess up your entire production plan. And this obviously goes both ways – what you want is have a partner that does not hide any delays, but timely and proactively informs you of every step.
• Do not await for disaster to hit – rather build a contingency plan. Don’t forget that trucks operate on roads, and even if we are talking about a small distance an incident can unfortunately occur! Either something really bad which would completely wreck all your goods – or a partial loss (or theft! or malfunction! or…); in either way be prepared. Your provider should be able to compensate you in the limit of the CMR insurance law – or you can opt for an additional insurance if the value of the goods is high. In such regretful occurrence you must be able to rely on a reputable partner that is able both to offer an alternative solution and to make sure you will be able to recover as much as humanly possible of the loss.
Still I can hear your whisper once I had done all of this (packing and partner), how do I then ensure my plan is executed the way I want? After all I cannot be held accountable of what happens on the road! Oh but there are just a few things you can still do to ease the process, and make certain everything goes smooth. Key here is communication with your designated dispatcher (the assumption is that your partner is a professional, as just described). Here are a few useful tips:
a. Make sure you have the correct infrastructure. If your lorry docks are jammed, if there is an issue with the loading equipment, if your best forklift driver on that shift is missing, if… if you indeed have an issue that needs time fixing – make sure you communicate.
b. Make sure you have the goods packed, labelled and with all the required documents ready! Truck scheduling is not wishful thinking! Planning trucks is the resulting action after you had planned production and/or agreed with your supplier. If the goods are not completely ready – do not call the truck in.
c. As much as possible plan your loadings in the morning. Issues tend to happen in the afternoon, when everybody left home – so planning in the morning is advisable. And also – avoid that the loading starts on the first shift – and gets finished on the second!
Transportation Management is indeed a big thing – and every industry should consider it as a strategic matter in its development. After all – it is that modest driver that actually represents the company when presenting himself to unload the truck. It is that driver that hands you the parcel you’ve ordered. It is the driver that you empower to represent you at the supplier site, and allow him to handle the goods that are necessary for your processes. Investing in good, stable partnership with professional and caring Logistic Companies should be a pivotal scope of every Supply Chain department. What are your thoughts on the matter?
*I am obviously not only speaking about the end-customer. My client can be a warehouse or another division of my own company.
** I am aware not all products and business are tailored to fully load a truck every time – but it would ease carriers life if they know that the space in their truck is optimally used, and they can safely plan their next load.
*** In case you are not familiar with all terms: FTL – Full Truck Load; LTL – Less Than Truck Load.