Much of the push to "re-engineer" business to "streamline for profits" over the last twenty years is captured in the buzz-phrase Just In Time(JIT). If you were a a business owner, experts urged you to store as much as possible of your inventory in the trucks moving toward your customers from outsourced suppliers, minimizing your own payroll and warehousing costs. A product line manager discovered to have amassed a cache of actual inventory faced dismissal, and so on. As a result, trucks in North America and Europe are, in effect, the warehouse system. Hence, the recent argument that under NAFTA, that Mexican trucking companies should be allowed to bring goods in to the US without transferring. The glue that holds this logistical approach together is comprised of the Enterprise Software System, so-called Business to Business (B2B) linkup portals, and a lot of phone calling and fancy shipping contracts. A seldom acknowledged JIT casualty is the near end of the warehouse full of unsold crap merchandise, dumped via "clearance re-sellers". Those clearance malls along the expressways of America are now most likely getting their inventory JIT, as the retail stores in the mall do. One seldom discussed drawback of JIT is the swarm of half- or mostly-empty trucks driving from supplier to distributor or customers and back; or worse, completely empty trucks going half way across the country to get to the next load. With fuel so much more costly and highways slipping into gridlock, might businesses soon have to go back to classic product designs stored in venerable warehouses? Not quite yet. There's another software trick or two left to try. Via WBCSD, Financial Times, 13 March 2007 - "Transport companies are using route-planning software [such as the Roadnet transportation suite] to reduce emissions and internet matching systems to fill empty vehicles. A family in Oregon recently embarked on an unusual experiment. Using the package-flow technology developed by UPS, the global transportation company, the family saved $3.69 a day on fuel – almost $1,000 over the course of the year".
"When such savings are translated to UPS's fleet of almost 92,000 cars, vans, tractors and motorcycles, the results satisfy not only finance executives but also those trying to cut the company's carbon footprint."
Here's the money quote for trucks: "Using this technique, Roadnet customers generate surprising savings on fuel and emissions. Collectively, Roadnet clients save an estimated 54.4m gallons of fuel a year and can cut about 85,000 trucks and cars out of their logistics systems".
And for planes: "Because aircraft are at their most fuel-efficient at cruise altitude, reducing the time spent circling at lower levels substantially cuts emissions. Automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast technology (developed by UPS Aviation Technologies, now part of Garmin International) uses GPS to determine a plane's position and lets pilots space out their aircraft more efficiently during landing. Aircraft can use a continuous descent approach while flying in idle mode, cutting emissions by 3 per cent between cruise altitude and runway, and by 34 per cent below 3,000 feet".
The entire article is terrific and identifies additional techno-fixes to the JIT system. TreeHugger recommends it.
Image credit: Cray -Cyber