Jun 27

Sustainability, quick and dirty calculations

Did you ever wonder how some firms calculated that a particular new solution would remove “X” amount of tons of carbon from its carbon footprint?  What do you do you when you are small, can’t hire an expensive service to figure out what affect a particular action would have on your carbon footprint.

I found at the end of article in the current edition of DC Velocity on Ocean Spray improving its carbon footprint, so easy mathematical formulas, written about the author of the article, Peter Bradley. The link for the article is here: http://bit.ly/19FETqz

The formula for road movement is:

CO2 emissions (road) = shipment weight * road distance * road emission factor.
The article recommends 149.7 grams for you road emission factor.

You might think, I am a small or medium size busy, and what difference does a carbon footprint make with an organization like mind?  Many businesses have found this is a measure of efficiency of operation.  Working to lower your carbon footprint, lowers your cost of doing business.





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Jun 07

Straight Truck Safety

The National Transportation Safety Board has recommended straight truck drivers be required to have a commercial driver license. Please see this article in the website of Heavy Duty Trucking website: http://bit.ly/12wl2eo.

The alarming number is straight truck drivers were in 1,800 fatal accidents in a four year period from 2005 to 2009.  Not only our straight truckers not required to have commercial driver license, but many times because they are of a local nature they are exempt from interstate safety regulations mandated by the US government.  Regulations made come and some states have regulations, but it is important that regardless straight truck fleet operations be run safely.

For the conscious operator of straight truck vehicles many of which are small operations, they should not wait for federal or state regulations to change, they should take a proactive safety approach.  The federal regulations do provide a guidepost and while not perfect (nor can they be) they have proven to be effective in making the process safer.

The steps recommended are:

1) Remember that drivers are human beings. They can only work so many hours a day before getting dangerously tired. They need adequate rest breaks. Studies have shown that drivers should not be run over 11 hours and should have at least 10 hour breaks at least between shifts.  A well rested driver will serve your customers well also.

2.) Make sure vehicles are maintained for safety.  Daily inspections of the vehicle should be made. Breaks and mechanical parts should be regularly checked and maintained.

3) Periodic meeting with drivers and people respond for keeping the operation should be held to discuss safety and safety issues. Make it important and it will be.

Safety materials and procedures can be brought from firms like J J Keller. In the long run, a safe operation is a low cost one.


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May 31

LTL Carrier Costs

One of the hardest thing to understand or know is costs of a vendor you might use to price your business. So when I read Joe Heligs article in page 10 of Parcel Magazine  (http://bit.ly/12m2Eom) I knew I was reading something unusual.  In this article he talks about the actual costs a Less Than Truckload (LTL) carriers faces.

Two of the buzz words these days are “analytics” and “big data”.  What that means is while in the past a business could guess what it cost to serve a particular customer, now with the data available in its computer, they are going to get much closer to actual cost to serve a customer than they ever could before.  When a shipper negotiations for pricing, an understanding of the carrier’s costs will lead to a better result. In the article for instance the author says running an ltl pick up costs $120 to $130 hour. It will make a difference if you are in an industrial area where multiple pickups will occur or if the truck has to make a special one hour drive just to get to facility with no other potential customers around.

If you are a carrier or a shipper, one should always remember numbers tell important story but it is not the entire story.  Maybe that shipper one hour drive with his shipments  provides the outbound balance to loads coming inbound, therefore if a slightly lower price leads to that balance it may be worth it.

Finding a story like the one referenced here in Parcel Magazine is like finding a needle in a haystack. These things are not easily found in a general search engines like Google.  So it is worth looking in the table of contents when you get an industry magazine.

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May 24

Logistics Problem Solving, the Ultimate Team Sport

Thomas Alva Edison, one of the few people who we remember his or her middle name, once said genius is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration. In logistics we are all about the perspiration part. Isn’t most of business the perspiration part, be in it finance, marketing, sales, accounting or operations?  Yes, it is.   But one very strong factor in  logistics problem solving is the importance of making others successful. You make the customer successful by having product to sell. You make the boss look good by organizing your supply chain to add value to the supply chain your customer will pay for.  Even at times, a logician must ask one part of the organization to  be less successful so that the organization good is done. You made increase somebody’s freight transportation budget to cut down inventory because the savings are greater cutting inventory.  Or you may ask that warehousing costs go up so transportation costs can go down more.

To accomplish changes like described in the last few sentences, it takes quite bit of work. Because if you increase somebody’s budget even though you are getting total cost lower and probably providing a higher quality service, top management must be won over. You are asking management to spend to determine this and reflect in its performance metrics. Many times salary incentives have to be rethought. A good argument will not win this case. One has to sell the change to the organization and be persistent.  It will not happen easily.

To win the respect a major change requires, you have win the respect before it happens. One must resolved many smaller issues for people in your organization. One most be responsive on issues which may not be top priority but meets the needs of the organization and earns your respect. This probably may not be a direct benefit to you and your branch of the firm but it wins you  the credibility to lead.  People in logistics who think first about their success only, will not be successful in logistics. Its a team sport even if the team is not formally there.



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May 13

Logistics Process – Where is flexibility necessary?

I recently heard a presentation at a joint Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce- Chicago Roundtable CSCMP by Andrea Farris, Vice President of Inventory and In Stock at Walgreens and Dan Smolensky, Principle at the Modal Group. The Modal Group is a commercial real estate companuy in Chicago.

Both speakers said the e-commerce has changed the supply chain, logistics and warehouse markets.   Consumer’s value prompt delivery. In the past it was about getting of truckloads of products to stores. That is still true. But now individual item (SKU) is also needed to be picked at a warehouse to serve e-commence customers. To be effective in this, more warehouses or distribution centers are needed to serve the market effectively to meet the needs of the e-commerce business.

The implications to this is when you are designing your logistics processes.  Lets use the issue warehouse locations planning to illustrate this.

If you have fixed assets like stores you are shipping to you can design a distribution process for them that might functional for the longer term. Multi-year leases for warehousing are less costly per year but limits your flexibility, but may be the most cost effective in that situation.  Where a firm needs flexibility such as e-commerce, limited term leases for warehouses and distribution  would be appropriate.  Not only will customer needs change frequently but technology would be quickly changing too.

Designing your logistics system to allow flexibility where it is needed is the key.  It is a way to handle the volatility of the marketplace.



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May 03

New businesses learning how to export

I recently attended an export seminar on electrical equipment at the Industrial Council of Nearwest Chicago (ICNC). It is an organization to promote small businesses, particularly manufacturers and distributors in some industrial buildings west of the Loop, Chicago downtown area. While the “1871”  gets out the headlines as the virtual business generator in the Merchandise Mart, it is not the only way to grow a business and employment in the Chicago area.

At the seminar, John Allen of Product Safety Consulting and Margie Heffernan of Cretors talked about the electrical safety standards custom officials in foreign countries demand which includes many certificates of safety by established testing groups. Some people relatives new to the business were surprise to learn about the export requirements.  One asked doesn’t the 3PL do this?

The short answer is no but they can help. Those new to international logistics and shipping start off with an assumption they don’t know they are even making that shipping goods internationally is like shipping goods from Illinois to Iowa. Both exporting and importing requires one doing one’s homework to understand what the rules are for shipping your particular goods across the border. In the case of electrical goods, a US based safety certification like from Underwriters Laboratories (UL) may not fly in a foreign country, they may need local certification. If you ship to that country, your goods will be stopped at the border and never get to the intended consignee if local country rules are not met. Your 3PL may have enough knowledge to tell you what the requirements are but your firm will need to do the actual activities required.

The real important upside in doing your homework is your firm will smoothly get your products across the border.

Our jobs as logistics and supply chain people is to make sure the appropriate people in the organization know what is necessary to get products across the border.


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Apr 21

Common versus Special Variance in Logistics Processes

I recently finished H. Edwards Deming last book, The New Economics. I thought of particular interest to Logistics / Supply Chain Managers was the discuss of common versus special variance. Two particularly interesting examples of each.

Common variance:  A salesman comes into the office every day from 10 to 24 minutes late. Always a new excuse.  To correct this type of variance problem a process change is necessary. The correction is rather simple, leave home earlier.That moves the center of the variance line on the graft to the left, and outcomes start moving to the on time area.

Special variance: A school child did a chart on how often the bus arrives at his home on time.  Twenty points are all within 5 minutes of each other. Three points are beyond the 5 minute line caused by a bus breakdown, extreme weather, and a discipline problem. None of these problems can be handled by improving the bus schedule process, they need to be addressed individually.

Logistics / Supply Chain / Transportation managers are constantly facing difficulties and challenges in their operation. What these two variance types say that the solution to common variance issues is a process change, but some problems should be recognized as not being part of the process.




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Apr 12

Hours of Service changes, managing the changes

On July 1 of this year a revision of the Hours of Service (HOS) regulations will occur. The inspiration for this blog post is an article in the February 2013 DC Velocity magazine found here; http://www.dcvelocity.com/articles/20130219-bearing-down/

I have been through a number of regulatory changes.  Probably none were bigger than the deregulation of trucking and rail services. The trucking regulations caused a almost wholesale change in company’s in business, with many older companies dying and new ones coming to take their place.  The rail regulation change caused railroads to completely change the way they operate with many becoming much more entrepreneurial. The key though here is the ones that survived and even thrived managed their way through the changes.

The new Hours of Service changes the so called “34 Hour Restart rule” requiring at least two 1 AM to 5AM periods be covered effectively in practice extending the restart of hours by several hours. Also after 8 hours driving, the driver needs to take a 30 minute rest. These changes will decrease productivity in some studies by up to 12%.  Not really, because people will manager around the changes. Drivers usage will be planned differently. Some shippers or receivers of goods will need to change dock hours to efficiently use the resource. That has been my experience.

Two factors at work is people dislike change and dislike even more one government makes a rule. But they do adjust.  If the regulations go through and not stopped by a court lawsuit, two years from now the rules will be defact0 standard.  And people would get up in arms if that is changed.




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Apr 02

Limitation of numbers to show reality.

Last week a Bloomburg News story came out about Wal-Mart shelves not being stocked. The story can be found here: http://bloom.bg/13s6n3v

The article contends that the are many reports of shelves of Wal-Mart being empty, primarily because there was not enough labor in the store to stock the shelves.  Responded Wal-Mart spokesperson Brooke Buchanan in the article:  “Our in stock levels are up significantly in the last few years, so the premise of this story, which is based on the comments of a handful of people, is inaccurate and not representative of what is happening in our stores across the country.”

Let me do some speculation here.  Despite contrary opinions from the reporter reporting the stores are reporting out of stocks and the Wal-Mart spokesperson saying stocking levels I think they both right, but statistics Wal-Mart uses lead to conclusions which is beyond the scope of the data.

I remember Wal-Mart in the 1970’s and 1980’s almost literately laughing at its major competitor, K-Mart, as it improved its logistics processes and kept in shelves fill while K-Mart did not. The supply chain processes got the product into the store. With a management who understood how to staff a store the products made the leap from the back room to the shelves. However there was no real to measure getting product from the backroom of the store to the shelf.  Today, RFID could do that, but it is expensive and used only on limited items by Wal-Mart.  My guess the current statistics only show that the product has reached the store, not that it is on the shelf for the customer to buy. So with all the wonderful supply chain talent they have, they can argue that their stock levels are up significantly but that does not mean they are at a place the customer can buy them.  You measure business by numbers, but they all have limitations and you must manage around those limitations.

I do have some knowledge how Big Box stores work. In many cases the amount of labor budgeted is based on the store sales forecast. If they are not reached, the store manager is compelled to reduce the labor budget. It can reach a point were labor is cost so much there is not enough personnel to man the cash registers, keep the store orderly, put out displays, and keep the shelves filled.  If H. Edward Deming was still around, he would call sub-optimizing the system. It makes the profits look good in the short term while hurting long term sales and profits.  Home Depot experienced this last decade.  It allowed its competitor, Lowe’s, to experience high growth as customers switched due to poor service and missing products on the shelves of Home Depot . Once a new management came in, labor policies changed, and Home Depot resumed its growth.

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Mar 29

The Future of Transportation

The Supply Chain Quarterly features an article by MIT’s Chris Caplice on the future of transportation. It can be found here: http://bit.ly/15n91D8. The four  main points of the article are:

Natural Gas will slow fuel inflation.  My research based on publications I have read is that fuel cost savings on large tractor trailer, class 8 trucks is about 20%. with payback for extra cost of natural gas engines being covered in two years.  As these engines become more common they will undoubtedly command less of a premium over diesel engines. Many truck lines are hesitate to spend the capital costs for natural gas engines but I believe the market will force changes particularly for local delivering sooner rather than later. Mr. Caplice wonders if this will slow to switch from truck to intermodal. I suspect that if the cost savings are there for rail, they would switch to natural gas also, than it will be slower than trucks whose capital costs are spread over many owners.

The Panama Canal expansion will not affect containers anywhere near as much as bulk sourcing. Larger bulk vessels going through the canal may create new markets for products, particularly those bulk products originating in South America

The growth of rail movements from interior China to Europe. Mr Capline points to growth of manufacturing in western China. There is infrastructure in place to ship rail from these areas, almost better than shipping within China to the congested East. This coordinator which goes through Russia will be of increasing importance.

Lastly the changes in software. Cloud computing will open new data analysis and operational functions to smaller shippers.  One area of future growth will be in data visibility not so much in being able to see the data, but in making sense of the massive amount of numbers.

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