Chain of Thought

America Has a Weight Problem. We’re Not Heavy Enough.

Next time you’re stuck in traffic, take a look at those big 5-axle semi-trucks surrounding you. You know they could squash you like a bug—both you and your car. But when Tom Moore looks at those trucks, he thinks they should be heavier. In fact it’s his job to try to make them gain weight.

According to Moore, based on highway scale data from 16 locations in the U.S., trucks that are heavily loaded (total gross larger than 70,000 pounds), 8% have capacity for an extra 1,000 pounds, 11% could add 2,000 and 9% could squeeze on another 3,000. To him this is wasted capacity, but more importantly, to his customers, it’s wasted money.

Moore is principal of Transportation | Warehouse Optimization, providers of load optimization software. He wanted my help getting his weight-gain message out to shippers, and he says you don’t even need to use his product to do it.

“I talked to a company that makes light and fluffy stuff,” he told me. “We did an analysis and figured they could pick up an additional 15%. That’s criminal. You shouldn’t need optimization to get within 5%. You can do that with just manual processes. Going from 45 to 46,000 is 2%, and that can be the easiest 2% you ever picked up. Some shippers swear they can’t ship more than 43,000 pounds on their trucks and they’re nuts. Many could have gotten to 46,000.”

Moore attributes this to several things. One of the biggest is the pallet weight used in their calculations. Pallet size and weight can vary and making a standard allowance can put you far off the real number. Some companies are even far off on the weights of their own products. Typically that’s because package sizes change and they fail to update their master product list. Moore suggests you ask yourself the following before planning your next load:

• Are we working against the right target weight?

• Are we including the right cube (using inside-trailer dimensions, not outside)?

• Did we include pallet weight (and is it accurate)?

• Are item master weights accurate?

• Are the people responsible for building the load incentivized to maximize it?

That last question is important, because many operations don’t have guidelines for loading trailers. They just do things the way they’ve always done them.

That was the case at one of Moore’s clients. The internal deployment manager at this company (who didn't want his company's name mentioned for competitive reasons) took Moore up on his do-it-yourself challenge before becoming a client and was able to achieve significant savings just by accounting for the weights of different pallets using his own Excel spreadsheet program. Then after adopting Moore’s software and using the demand planning portion of his company’s SAP system, he was able to input demand figures from each lane into the optimization program to determine the product that needed to be shipped immediately and the product from future shipments that could be added to that shipment to better fill out the load.

As a result, this company changed its average weight per truck from 30,000 pounds to over 41,000 pounds. That has decreased their transportation spend by 5.5%. The deployment manager plans to roll this out to other lanes and to encourage suppliers of third party manufactured products to optimize their loads as well so they can share the savings.

But there’s another savings Moore's client anticipates that Moore himself didn’t mention and that kicks in when the trucker Hours of Service rule is finalized next year. This manager told me the ability to rely on fewer trucks to ship out more freight will be even more critical as available hours are reduced and the number of drivers diminishes.

“If you decrease the hours that might mean needing team drivers and that might increase the rates I have to pay to move a truck,” he said. “That’s why it’s important for us to decrease the number of trucks we have to ship. We’ve already decreased the number of trucks by a half of a percent. And that will increase.”

Related Articles:

Associations File Joint Challenge to Hours of Service Rule

Forget Distribution Center Shape. Think Inside the Box.

Domestic Intermodal Container Volume Surges 14.9% in First Quarter

Battle for Heavier Trucks Gets Video Treatment

Capacity Will Be Tight for at Least the Next Two Years

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