By now, the matter of a truckload capacity crunch has been almost over-documented as shippers are getting more creative in their ways to ensure their freight moves from one point to another ("more creative" in the sense of not just paying extra). For their part, carriers are urging shippers to form longer-term relationships to enable them to more closely answer delivery demands.
"Typically, our carrier is able to meet our delivery needs," says Jeff Michels, vice president with the Container Group division of Great Northern Corp. (GNC). "Occasionally, when something's happened on our end in the manufacturing process — when a truck has to leave to take care of our regular delivery requirement, for instance — we may have to go to an outside hotshot carrier. But that rarely involves more than one or two cases a month."
The company manufacturers corrugated packaging and promotional displays at its three plants in Wisconsin. Most of its customers are consumer packaged goods companies.
Michels estimates that 60% of its business is "brown box" for industrial packaging. The other 40% is graphic packaging and point-of-purchase displays. Most of its work — probably 80% — ends up being handled within 250 miles of GNC's Appleton plant. GNC has another operating group, called Laminations, in California and uses Ruan Transportation to handle that work.
Michaels explains that there's not much inbound beyond rolls of paper brought in truckload quantities to Appleton, where it is turned into corrugated board, then into corrugated sheets.
"The paper rolls are brought in using truckload common carriers," he says, "We mainly use Schneider National Inc. [based in Green Bay, Wis.], because they are trying to give back to our area."
Appleton's sheets are then hauled for finish work to the company's two other facilities, where the sheets are die cut, folded and so forth into product that moves to end users. Moving sheets from Appleton to Racine and Chippewa Falls is handled by GNC's long-time dedicated truckload carrier, Ruan.
Ruan has 27 tractors, more than 100 trailers, a dispatcher and a manager in Appleton, as well as a dispatcher in Racine, explains Ed Vaske, the carrier's vice president of sales.
The carrier frequently will haul sheets to Racine at night, making extra use of equipment so GNC isn't just doing firstpulls during the day, Michels notes. Ruan then hauls finished product from Racine back to Appleton.
"We're doing the same kind of thing with our new acquisition, Kell Container," Michels adds. "Currently Kell has a private fleet that came with the acquisition. We're sending sheets to them and are looking at backhauling paper mills in Minnesota mills to cut down on empty miles."
Sheet load movement has a rather regular schedule. For finished goods, Ruan works in conjunction with GNC's shipping department to build loads. "There are some places we go every day," says Michels, "but loads look different day in and day out."
One hold-up in going forward with new load building technology is the fact that GNC is presently conducting a system upgrade incorporating a new inventory solution. Once that's in place, the company's next step will be to integrate a routing package — a solution that requires the data from the new inventory system to operate properly.
"We run our plants 24 hours a day, five days a week, and sometimes on Saturdays if needed," notes Michels. "We have no desire for a private fleet because of liability issues, personnel issues, maintenance matters, and more. Besides, our carrier's drivers have pretty much become part of the GNC family."