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Let’s throw efficiency out the window

Sept. 13, 2018
Maybe some academic professors can put their thinking caps on and tell us what logistical distribution system is best for fuel usage, air quality, customer time commitment.

I’ve been involved in the transportation industry for 33 years now since I started working on hardware and software for automated mechanical transmissions at Eaton. Everything, absolutely everything I’ve been involved with and seen for all those years somehow ended up dealing with efficiency.

It’s been better fuel economy, less time at the dock, less dead-heading, less time wasted searching for a trailer only to find it full at the dock being used as inventory storage. It’s been reducing accidents to save cost, but also time. It’s been about preventing breakdowns on the road, more time driving, and carrying the maximum amount of cargo. It’s been about optimizing the size of the pallet and the products on the pallet to put the maximum numbers inside the trailer. I’ve seen the walls of trailers thinned to allow more in the trailer and the increase in double decking inside the trailer. More, better, faster, cheaper are the words out of every customer’s mouth. Or, so it would seem.

Here’s a couple of pictures of packages received at my door recently.

This is a package of four pocket-sized plastic pouches for carrying a few pills in your pocket. It could have been put into a small envelope and mailed to me. Instead, it was packaged in a big box with lots of packing and several other items, such as a packing list, a plastic card, and a paper catalog. 

Home delivery and e-commerce are great for saving me, personally, time and effort of going to a store. In the past I would have had to visit a mall and several specialty stores, taking lots of my personal time and requiring me to drive tens of miles. I’m sure I could argue that it was an overall saving to society that I could use the electric power for my iPad connected to WiFi in my home to search hot servers somewhere in the country for the product. But, in my heart I’m still about moving stuff from point A to point B as efficiently as possible.

It was not that long ago that some of the carriers instituted shipping charges based on both the weight and size of the box. You can check out the rates for UPS and the USPS and FedEx. They have all moved to address this issue by changing rates to include size as well as weight in the calculations.

Amazon is taking a different approach. It’s creating its own delivery service, focusing on single packages, and even faster delivery. Remember when next day delivery was alarmingly new? Now it's within 2 hours. Here is a link to information on Amazon shipping rates. Size and weight are supposed to be part of the calculation. Somehow, I think it is different.

I don’t have the overall answer for how to satisfy everyone that wants both their heavyweight big bag of dog food and their lightweight toilet paper delivered to their door efficiently. Maybe some academic professors can put their thinking caps on and tell us what logistical distribution system is best for fuel usage, air quality, customer time commitment. There has to be a better answer than shipping a box full of air.

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