A Buyer’s Responsibilities

Aug. 1, 2011
Buyers of some industrial products and services have the added burden of buying into their suppliers’ safety and quality records.

It’s August, and that means it’s time for MH&L’s annual Buyers Guide issue. Being a buyer of material handling and logistics products and services carries big responsibilities, so we’ve done our best to provide you with a comprehensive listing of leading providers from which to choose. Of course, “leading” is a subjective term, and ultimately, you must decide the quality of the vendors you choose.

Coincidentally, that’s a challenge one of the professionals we interviewed for our lead story on page 15 faces. As both a transportation service buyer and provider for PepsiCo, Mark Whittaker’s assessment of quality carries a heavy responsibility. The quality of a freight carrier has as much to do with public safety as it does timely service. That’s why the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is implementing a Comprehensive Safety Analysis (CSA) initiative aimed at improving large truck safety. The goal is to reduce commercial motor vehicle related crashes, injuries and fatalities. However, while Whittaker is hopeful about those main effects, he’s equally concerned about the potential side effects. Chief among them is less transportation capacity.

With driver profiling, he told me, many drivers and their companies will be taken off the roads. While that may be good for safety, it may also mean 5% to 8% less truckload capacity. The CSA process is bound to be modified to be more effective over time, but another challenge Whittaker anticipates is the evolving quality of the quality rating system.

“One of the flaws of the process is carriers are rated against each other rather than a standard,” he told me. “Carriers within the worst 25% in the industry based on seven different measuring areas will be put on alert. It continues to try upgrading the herd but it doesn’t use a specific standard and that’s scary because over time you’ll be weeding out carriers that may not need to be weeded out.”

Whittaker works for PepsiCo, which has its own private fleet and is committed to compliance with the FMCSA. He’s committed to gaining visibility to all of his transportation providers so he can determine how they stack up and help them determine how to improve.

That’s the same philosophy behind the Food Safety Modernization Act signed into law earlier this year. You’ll read about this in our lead story as well, but it will not only increase Food and Drug Administration scrutiny of food suppliers, but it will require companies to document for the FDA how they’re verifying the safety of what they receive from their suppliers. That’s leading food manufacturers to improve their supplier evaluation processes. An executive from Coca-Cola was quoted in the Grocery Manufacturers Association’s 2011 Financial Performance Report as saying that establishing these higher standards may impact the availability and cost of its supplies.

Sense a trend here? The drive for increased quality and safety in our food chain is putting a lot of pressure on material handling and logistics professionals to be standards setters for their suppliers. Face it, as a buyer you have more at stake in making sure you’ve made a good investment. We hope MH&L’s Buyer’s Guide issue will make your job a little easier.