The cold chain constrains like no other. Perishable products must pass through each link without those constraints conspiring to do them in. If you play in that game you know several of those conspirators, including regulatory hours of service demands, customer demands for adherence to Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) standards and law enforcement's demands for legal load weights. When the number of available trucks is light, your products are heavy and orders are many, it can take more time to plan around your constraints—and the more constraints you have, the more that can go wrong. Dealing with those emergencies will steal time from the precious hours you need to manage your constraints. It's a vicious circle requiring a team effort to tame.
As Don Anderson of Tompkins International writes in this month's feature on cold chains, "defining, developing, testing and implementing the right temperature controlled delivery capability requires participation across a company's entire organization and typically includes all key business processes (Plan, Buy, Make, Move, Store, Sell) as well as enterprise wide technology."
But even with the help of technology, the most important players in those processes—the buyers—can add a level of complexity with their interpretation of the data you generate. In the case of George's Chicken, the food suppler we profile this month, it uses temperature regulators in its trailers and GPS to enable the most time efficient routes. Nevertheless, customers can still read data differently. According to Jeff Overstreet, corporate director of transportation and distribution for George's Chicken, they don't always understand what's behind the data.
"Any refrigerated trailer will go into a defrost cycle," he told me. "When that happens, the temperature of the trailer will increase. It will do so periodically and knowing those details we can call a customer who was concerned and say this is what was going on at this time in the trailer. We'll ask them to get a few product temperatures so we can see if there's something to be concerned about. That's a double edged sword because there are times when it will show the trailer was indeed warm and ran for three or four hours that way. At that point the customer will say this is out of spec and turn the product down."
That kind of truth-telling via visibility can be both challenging and freeing for everyone in the supply chain. There are no lies to hide behind or be crushed by when truth is suddenly revealed. But while everyone trades accurate information, they must also improve their performance so the truth they tell can reflect well on them. That's the price enterprises must pay as transportation and distribution are brought closer together by sharing constraints as well as transactions.
I talked to Fab Brasca about this while preparing the story about George's Chicken. He's vice president of industry strategy, global transportation at JDA Software. While they weren't involved in this particular case, Fab did share some insights about the importance of supply chain partners sharing constraints. You may remember JDA, a supply chain solutions provider (including the i2 and Manugistics brands), merged last year with RedPrairie, a warehouse management system provider. This kind of marriage makes it possible to combine truck routing with warehouse planning and using truck loading as the bridge between them. This is driving the state of supply chain software, Brasca believes.
"Not only do I need efficient transportation, but I also need to leverage the efficiency of my facilities so I don't have any breakdown between the two of them," Brasca says. "That calls for sharing constraints and planning better so I'm not breaking rules down the chain, and when disruptions happen I can also share visibility. We want to get to that notion of dynamic replanning while we're in the middle of execution. That's where we're going."
Supply chains driven by the truth will take everyone responsible for them in the right direction.
Follow me on Twitter @TomAndel.