We're approaching that time when various organizations compile their lists of the most overused words of the year. I'm using my allotted pontification space as editor of Material Handling & Logistics to recognize a two-word combination that can never be used enough, especially when followed by a question mark: "What if?"
The answers to what-if questions set the stage for a strategy, and the features in this edition of MH&L should inspire you to compile a list of questions to spread among everyone on your logistics team. They'll be applied to issues surrounding transportation cost and capacity. One of those is going up and the other in the opposite direction. Guess which is which.
Our cover story addresses the dim weight charges UPS and FedEx will be implementing for ground shipments next year. Author Jack Ampuja reports it could add as much as $1 billion to shippers' transportation spend. This feature invites you to ask, "What if I changed my packaging design? Would it take the bite out of that billion?"
Equally important to packaging configuration's role in transportation costs is the accuracy of the orders going inside the packaging. After reading Ed Romaine's article on picking strategies you should ask yourself, "What if we changed our picking procedures? Would we improve our accuracy and therefore cut the cost of returns and angry customers?
Our Food & Beverage industry update invites the question, "What if we were to ship more frequently but in smaller quantities? Could that help us improve customer service and could technology help us control transportation costs?
All of those issues involve things you CAN do. In his regulatory update, transportation attorney Enan Stillman reports on what's happening in Washington that will result in MUST do's. For example, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), as a follow-up to its Hours of Service regulations, will require trucking companies to use electronic onboard recorders to log those driver hours. Transportation companies will have two years to comply—enough time for them to ponder, "What if I don't?" And enough time for shippers to ask, "What if I have even more trouble finding transportation capacity as a result?"
Intermodal service providers are certainly hoping to be part of your answer to that one. In his piece on intermodal transportation, Jason Kuehn explains the opportunities and challenges these providers face in helping you get your shipments out. The answer could combine a reservation system for intermodal trains and better data sharing capabilities.
As I mentioned, the what-ifs tied to all of these features involve both cost and capacity. When it comes to transportation, cost and capacity are tied to the availability of equipment and talent. Jim Filter, senior vice president of intermodal commercial services for Schneider, told me recently he's optimistic about the impact all of these issues will have on his business.
"This country's rail infrastructure is expanding, especially in the east," he says. "CSX continues to lay track and open ramps, making it possible to service lanes and geographies that were not reachable by intermodal before. As that happens there will be more opportunity to take trucks off the road and shift to intermodal, where you're using 10% of the driver capacity you were before."
What if you were to come up with answers to all of the what-if questions this month's MH&L generates? I'd say you'd have a great start on your list of 2015 resolutions.
Follow me on Twitter @TomAndel.