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Understanding The Need For A Stronger Supply Chain

As much as we’d like to believe that our supply chains are both quick enough to react to major disruption and flexible enough to maneuver around major obstacles, the global pandemic has taught us that often isn’t the case. It is the single major weakness of most supply chains, an inability to react to a sudden and massive large-scale disruption, which can include pandemics (such as Covid-19) massive weather events, and a myriad of other setbacks. This lack of resiliency is most notable in supply chains for life sciences, health care, and food industries in particular.

The Chinese market is massive, for one thing, and most companies can’t afford to withdraw completely, otherwise, they might lose any competitive edge they might have had.

After COVID broke loose around the world, the current administration issued a call for companies that have offshored their production to Asia, (China, in particular) to bring it back stateside. However, for many companies, this proves to be challenging and counterproductive. The Chinese market is massive, for one thing, and most companies can’t afford to withdraw completely, otherwise, they might lose any competitive edge they might have had. Additionally, because the Chinese market is now either the dominant, if not sole source, for thousands of different items, reducing the dependence on those goods will take a significant amount of both time and money.

Reshoring wouldn’t necessarily mean resiliency either. The meat shortage in the United States is a perfect example of this. The industry’s supply chain is entirely domestic. In an attempt to reduce costs, many companies focused on consolidating manufacturing activities, which means a smaller number of slaughter and processing plants are now producing much of the beef and pork products consumed in the United States. This created a vulnerability as shutting down one plant, even for a few weeks, creates a major impact throughout the country. Farmers, who get paid to raise the feedstock, are now stuck with taking a potentially devastating loss on their products while the rest of the country faces months of meat shortages.

Remap instead of Retreat

Instead of retreating outright from the forign market, the best approach to building resilience into the supply chain is by conducting an internal audit. More specifically it’s the process of mapping out the layers of suppliers, manufacturing plants, distributors, and the other various elements of the logistics network and then implementing a stress test to evaluate the ability to recover from the disruption of any of the various links. Understanding where various bottlenecks will occur means being able to create mitigation strategies which can include increasing manufacturing capabilities, adding more suppliers to the roster, or building up buffer stock.

The added advantage to mapping and stress testing the supply chain is that companies using this method can find unexpected weaknesses or high risks throughout the organization. The more complex the produced good is, the higher the risk of utter disruption.

“Work that one of us (David) did with the Ford Motor Company found unexpected high risk associated with small suppliers, including many local suppliers. One part it identified that fell into this category was a low-cost sensor widely used in its vehicles: If the supply of it were disrupted, the carmaker would need to shut down its manufacturing operations. Because the total amount spent on this item was low, Ford’s procurement group had not paid much attention to it,” reads a recent article from HBR.

Stress Testing on a Policy Level

Essential industries, such as pharmaceuticals and health care, need to have a level of government involvement to ensure that supply chains are resilient enough to continue operating, even during the worst-case scenario. Consider the mask and hospital supply shortage when the pandemic first started to hit the United States. While panic buying created part of the problem, the supply chain itself faltered and eventually failed under the crushing demand.

If such a test can be conducted for banks, it can similarly be conducted for all life-critical supply chains.

There is a precedent for such involvement, however. Back in 2008, during the recession, the U.S. government and the European Union conducted a stress test for banks to guarantee that the major financial institutions that prop up the entire financial system, could survive a major crisis. If such a test can be conducted for banks, it can similarly be conducted for all life-critical supply chains.

The Long Road to Resiliency

Creating supply chain resilience for essential products and services here in the United States could very well require domestic manufacturing. But that’s neither an easy nor cheap fix. Take the pharmaceutical industry, for example. Of the drugs sold in Europe, more than 80% of the required chemical components are manufactured in China and India. Because chemical production is a significant environmental hazard, it would require the development of clean technology and manufacturing processes to create a domestic supply chain. This process could take upwards of 10 years and would require a hefty financial investment. Could it be done? Absolutely. But not easy, and not cheap.

However, until companies have a full comprehension of the vulnerabilities throughout their supply chain, these kinds of decisions can’t be made. The pandemic has created an excellent opportunity and, perhaps more importantly, a motive to put in the necessary time, energy, and resources. Only then can they protect their supply chain from a potential devastating disruption that may be lurking on the horizon.

Do you have supply chain questions that you need answered? Do you need help bolstering your current supply chain to handle these new and disruptive global situations? Feel free to contact one of our logistics experts today and lets talk more about it today.

Detention and Dwell Times: The Menaces of Supply Chain Efficiency

Prolonged dwell times have been an age-old inefficiency that the trucking industry has been trying to curb. Longer dwell times affect the drivers, carriers and shippers alike. An estimated detention time or dwell time can cost trucking companies $3 billion per year as per the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

The total time spent at a facility by a driver is called dwell time while detention is the gap between the allocated time to start loading/unloading and the actual time of loading/unloading. Longer detention at customers’ premises has largely impacted drivers’ available hours-of-service. Ideally, shippers and receivers are allowed a 2-hour window to load or unload a truck. Any time spent outside the allotted time calls for detention charges. Detention is thus used to offset the cost of a truck being detained at a shipper or receiver’s premises.

Dwell time in unprecedented times – A challenge

The month of March saw an unprecedented rise in panic-buying, which resulted in a tremendous spike in demand. The truckers continued to ply on the highways, making essentials available throughout regions. With increased demand, came the perils of heightened dwell times and detention times. The added safety protocols, social distancing, precautionary SOPs to be followed at the shipper and consignee facilities and the shortage of manpower had considerably impacted the driver detention times. On the other hand, transit times may have improved, owing to less traffic congestion during the lockdown period.

Improvement in the check-in process, ensuring social distancing, enhancing driver safety and the use of technology to manage appointments and improve collaboration between all parties have been the key drivers of change.

Improvement in the check-in process, ensuring social distancing, enhancing driver safety and the use of technology to manage appointments and improve collaboration between all parties have been the key drivers of change. While the world adapts to the new normal in supply chains, it is of utmost importance that more sustainable solutions are innovated and implemented.

Detention: Causes and Impact

Inefficiencies at the facility such as the lack of manpower to load and unload consignments, the unwillingness of the shippers or consignors to invest in manpower to accommodate increased freight movement and the inability at the individual level are the main reasons for increased detention durations. Additionally, mismanagement of appointment times such as goods not being ready for dispatch while the vehicle arrives at the premises lead to unwanted delays. Another common reason is the overbooking of appointments – when more trucks are booked than what the loading location can handle. All of the above contribute to increased detention times, which in turn amounts to losses for truck drivers. On average, truck drivers spend two and a half hours waiting at the shipper or receiver premises to load or unload goods. These hours are not considered as working hours, thus, leaving them unpaid.

We need to understand that most of the drivers are paid on a per-mile basis, therefore, every moment lost in delays is a direct loss of income for drivers.

We need to understand that most of the drivers are paid on a per-mile basis, therefore, every moment lost in delays is a direct loss of income for drivers. On the other hand, for LTL carriers, waiting at a certain facility for longer durations can mean skipping the delivery altogether.

As per a  2018 report published by the Department of Transportation Officer of the Inspector General (OIG) that sought to understand the correlation between driver detention times, crash risks and costs incurred, it was found that detention time may impact annual earnings for truck drivers by $1,281 to $1,534 per year in the negative. Shippers of essential goods have experienced longer detention times at facilities lately. For example, the recent crisis of toilet paper around the nation had trucks lining up at facilities for hours before being loaded with goods. Detention fees paid by shippers to carriers can only offset the loss up to an extent but that money fails to cover the driver wages lost by not driving. Primarily, the carrier efficiency and a driver’s payable hours-of-service are at stake, but the effects of longer detention times invariably trickle down to every stakeholder across the supply chain.

Is there a long term solution – that can increase efficiency, while ensuring optimum asset utilization and prioritizing driver safety in times of crisis?

Longer dwell times and increased detention times are not a byproduct of the current economic crisis alone. They have lingered in the industry for quite some time now and only technology can help provide long term solutions to enhance supply chain visibility. In a recent statement by Collins White, the president of Alabama Motor Express, he stated, “It has become progressively worse since 2018. We have bought software that automatically tracks when the truck goes over the allotted two hours of dwell time and automatically bills the customer.” Better technology that tracks the movement of trucks with a precise estimation of time spent at shipper or receiver facilities will help us give a clearer picture of the spots where the detention is taking place. Identifying these spots will further enable a better understanding of bottlenecks, allow correct allocation of resources and change practices to streamline the flow wherever necessary.

On the other hand, the tried and tested drop-trailer business model may have worked for some quite well. In the drop trailer method, a driver leaves a trailer at the facility for a stipulated time period until another vehicle picks it up. This doesn’t time-bound the shippers and they can load trailers at their convenience. Given the current situation of restricted labor availability, this method comes as an interim respite but cannot be considered as an all-round solution to the problem.

Investing in data-enabled technology is necessary to be able to make any supply chain more robust and induce complete visibility.

Investing in data-enabled technology is necessary to be able to make any supply chain more robust and induce complete visibility. Location Intelligence (LI) is set to make location data more accessible to participants in a supply chain. The use of LI is a promising trend as it uses geographical relationships to decipher complex data that can provide fleets with critical insights of accurate detention time calculations. It can provide accurate information such as time of arrival and departure of a truck at a site. They can also monitor a driver’s fuel stop time or break times which can further help enhance asset utilization. Insights into trends pertaining to a particular time of a day or week can translate to better prediction of transit times and estimated time of deliveries. All of these are elemental in aiding data-enabled business decisions through optimized route planning with reduced dwell times that boost overall productivity and enhance supply chain performance.

As the nation grapples with the ongoing economic crisis, a sudden surge in demand followed by flattening of the curve, the unpredictable rise of freight volumes and its correlation with increasing or decreasing dwell and detention times remain a cause of concern. What must not be forgotten is that these problems of detention and dwell times pose the opportunity for a permanent change towards creating a symbiotic relationship between carriers and shippers. There is an immense potential for cost savings and enhanced operational efficiency that will invariably impact the driver community’s way of life on the road.

The Fine Line Between Deregulation and Operation

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When it comes to regulations in the trucking industry, it’s something of a mixed bag. On an economical standpoint, the Motor Carrier Act of 1980 has given the industry free reign. On the other hand, the trucking industry is perhaps one of the most heavily regulated sectors in terms of safety, environmental protection, driver standards, and others.

the Trump administration is also reconsidering some of the regulatory strangleholds the government has over trucking and is leaning in favor of the truckers.

The Trump administration has also been a mixed bag for the industry. For shippers and manufacturers who rely on goods sourced from foreign goods, the tariffs and escalating trade war have made for a bout of white-knuckled planning. However, the Trump administration is also reconsidering some of the regulatory strangleholds the government has over trucking and is leaning in favor of the truckers. “This administration is looking at the regulatory environment a bit differently,” says Mark Rourke, executive vice president and COO of Schneider, the nation’s second largest truckload (TL) carrier. “We’re not seeing a lot of activity with new regulations.”

With President Trump now beyond his midterm, it’s worth taking a closer look at the regulatory environment surrounding trucking. There’s a fine line between too much regulation and not enough. While reducing regulations might make trucking companies more efficient, they could also encourage some unsafe practices. The tradeoff to that is that with more regulations, efficiency drops and rates go up, with shippers picking up the tab, of course.

Hard Hitting Regs

Of the numerous regulations that are out there, there are some that stand out more than others. The biggest of them include the Electronic Logging Device (ELD) the Hours of Service (HoS) and the age restriction that locks out aspiring truckers under the age of 21.

Given that the mandate has also begun to tighten capacity even further, it also encourages shippers and carriers to work more closely together in order to increase operational efficiency.

The ELD mandate has been one of the hardest to deal with this year and has caused a great deal of productivity loss for shippers as enforcement went into full swing. While it was originally intended to keep truckers honest on the HoS ruling by removing paper logs it hasn’t been a smooth transition. “After months of issuing warnings, state enforcement personnel began issuing stiff fines for HOS violations last spring. The result, executives say, is between 3% and 8% lost productivity due to the elimination of cheating,” according to Logistics Management. Evening out the playing field with ELDs does have some advantages. It encourages carriers to plan routes more efficiently so as to make their deliveries on time, this is especially important when you consider that some companies are threatening penalties for tardy drivers. Given that the mandate has also begun to tighten capacity even further, it also encourages shippers and carriers to work more closely together in order to increase operational efficiency.

Fine Tuning the HoS

While it has taken some time, ELD compliance has reached almost 99 percent across the entire industry. The biggest gripe truckers have, however, isn’t with the ELD but with the Hours of Service ruling. This is especially true for agricultural, seasonal deliveries, logging, and other select commodities.

With that being said, Washington is looking to tweak some of the HoS terms in order to make it a bit more bearable. According to Logistics Management, there are four main areas, in particular, they are considering amending.

  • Expansion to the current 100 air-mile “short-haul” exemption from 12 hours on-duty to 14 hours on-duty in order to be consistent with the rules for long-haul truck drivers.
  • Extending the current 14-hour, on duty limitation by up to two hours when a truck driver encounters adverse driving conditions.
  • Revising the current mandatory 30-minute break for truck drivers after eight hours of continuous driving.
  • Reinstating the option for splitting up the required 10-hour off-duty rest break for drivers operating trucks that are equipped with a sleeper-berth compartment.

There is also an unintended side effect of the HoS and ELD mandates. Now that most of the entire trucking industry is on the same schedule, there aren’t enough safe places for truckers to park when they’ve run out of drive time. It’s actually gotten bad enough that many carriers are subsidizing their drivers to utilize paid parking at truck stops. These spots can range anywhere from $5 to $20 a night and while that’s not so bad for short trips, long-haul truckers could be shelling out a lot of extra cash to maintain compliance.

The Trucking Age for the Modern Age

The pool of truck drivers is drying up and it’s only getting shallower as more truckers hand in their keys and take to retirement. The Department of Transportation has announced that they will begin a pilot program which will allow drivers under the age of 21 to operate an 80,000 pound truck for interstate commerce.

Given that these youths would be behind the wheel of a 40-ton vehicle, there are more than a few safety advocates who believe this isn’t a good idea.

“The statistics are clear,” says Todd Spencer, president of the OOIDA. “There really isn’t any question that younger drivers are more likely to crash and be involved in serious incidents.” Given that these youths would be behind the wheel of a 40-ton vehicle, there are more than a few safety advocates who believe this isn’t a good idea.

The age restriction has been in place since 1935 and for the most part, no one has argued with the logic. However, the Trump administration is pushing hard to get this particular regulation removed and many don’t agree with it. However, there are some in the industry who think there can be some ways to ease new drivers into handling a rig, without just pushing them straight out of the nest. Handling the first and final mile of driving could give them the opportunity to experience freight handling without giving them total control of the rig from start to finish.

For better or worse, there will be some changes coming to the trucking industry. While these regulations have been put into place with safety in mind, have they reached the point where they’ve hindered operations? At what point does regulation get in the way of an enterprise?

Change Is Coming For The Trucking Industry

Disruptive technologies will often alter the form and function of an industry, at least to some degree. The changes brought about by these new disruptions are subtle, making the sector more efficient (production is a good example of this) but change little else. The transportation industry, however, is standing at the precipice of total revolution. These new, disruptive advancements won’t affect it in small ways, but rather change it altogether, making the industry something completely different from what we’ve seen over the past several decades.   

There are some big questions to answer when contemplating how these new developments will alter and impact the industry.

There are some big questions to answer when contemplating how these new developments will alter and impact the industry. IHS Markit’s latest study “Reinventing the Truck” is taking a closer look at how new power-train and autonomous trucking will affect logistics, trucking, and the energy industry.  

New Changes for the Trucking Industry  

Of these new changes, the first one to consider is that we’re beginning to see new patterns of both distribution and consumption across consumer markets. Typically speaking, a growth in trade reflects economic activity, but that relationship might change due to changes in manufacturing and distribution practices. 3D printing, for example, means that certain consumer goods could be manufactured on site, rather than being transported from a manufacturing facility and then being hauled to a DC before reaching its final destination. Local production of consumer goods could reduce supply chains and lower demand for freight carriers, negating shipping costs entirely in some instances.  

New Technology in the Industry 

Technology will also be a driving factor. According to Markit’s study, there are three key areas in the industry that will be impacted. The first of these is through increased data access. As the IoT and expanded sensor banks allow logistics companies to gain access to more data throughout the supply chain, networks and best practices will see optimization and increased efficiency.   

Electric vehicles are becoming more sophisticated and developing a longer delivery range, making them ideal for urban settings.

Other advancements to be aware of will change fuel consumption patterns throughout the industry. Electric vehicles are becoming more sophisticated and developing a longer delivery range, making them ideal for urban settings. As electric drive trains are quieter, hours of operation can be extended, allowing carriers to operate throughout the night when traffic is reduced, which will change deployment patterns as well as fuel consumption.  

The Role of Automation 

Increased levels of automation within the industry itself will also play a large role in the transformation of the transportation industry. Warehouses are employing more robots for picking and packing of orders. Automated loading and unloading systems can reduce truck detention times, allowing a driver to get back on the road quicker.

Automation will greatly reduce costs by increasing efficiency which will be enhanced as connectivity and communication levels increase.  

Self-driving vehicles are also on the horizon which will allow for a greater traveling distance and might be enticing for new, younger drivers, as a reason to get behind the wheel. Automation will greatly reduce costs by increasing efficiency which will be enhanced as connectivity and communication levels increase.  

New Regulations will Change the Supply Chain 

Lastly, there is the change in trucking regulation to consider, which will have the most immediate impact on the industry. These new regulations are taking place on a local, state, and national level. These policies have a wide range of goals, anywhere from reducing CO2 emissions and improving (reducing) fuel consumption, to addressing longstanding labor issues. Regardless of their intention, these new regulations all share one factor in common, the will to alter the established patterns and practices of the trucking industry. Germany, for example, has allowed individual cities to ban diesel trucks. That alone will significantly change the transportation industry, bringing a new level of complexity for fleet operators that work in and around urban areas as it can vary from city to city.  

Change to Affect More than Just Transportation 

Considering that these changes have a far-reaching impact, not just on the transportation industry, the Markit study also looked at how other industries will be affected. With supply chains being shortened or even negated in some instances as well as new regulations and standards being put into effect, oil refineries and the petrochemical industry will begin to see a diminished demand from their biggest customer. 

Given that the transportation industry plays a considerable role in the global economy, many industries will be affected and will undergo their own set of changes in order to keep pace.  

In short, these new changes will push our understanding of disruptive technologies to a new level as the transportation industry will begin to undergo a metamorphosis. Given that the transportation industry plays a considerable role in the global economy, many industries will be affected and will undergo their own set of changes in order to keep pace.  

Ready for the Change? 

At BlueGrace, we work with you every step of the way. We’re here to help you understand your current freight issues and make sure your supply chain is ready for any changes in the industry without ever missing a beat. For more information on how we can help you simplify your supply chain and achieve your goals without labor or technology investments, contact us today using the form below: