November 2009 | Commentary | Green Landscape

Software Tools Optimize Green Logistics

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By now most third-party logistics (3PL) service providers, big and small, have jumped on the sustainability bandwagon. They're reducing ship and truck speeds, designing and restructuring warehouses to cut power consumption, implementing bio-fuels, packing products with reusable and environmentally friendly packaging, and consolidating freight for full truckload runs.

But they could be doing more. Maybe that "full" truckload is actually only 90 percent full. Perhaps there was a better, more efficient way of loading the cases inside the trailer, an arrangement that could have squeezed in more product. Over a few shipments, perhaps one full truckload of deliveries could have been avoided by optimizing the loading plan—and skipping that one truckload delivery would have saved the shipper money, conserved fuel, and reduced emissions.

Today's logistics service providers have access to a wide variety of optimization tools to help improve efficiency, reduce costs, and go green. Ask your service provider if it is using the following strategies:

  • Load planning optimization. Many software tools offer load building simulation capabilities. These applications incorporate a variety of business rules and constraints—such as trailer cube, unit load sizes, package sizes, stackability, and weight—along with complex algorithms to arrive at the optimal sequence and quantity of cases or pallets to be loaded inside the trailer. Optimized loads not only reduce costs through maximum capacity utilization, but also indirectly contribute to reducing emissions by cutting the overall number of deliveries.
  • Network optimization. Changing demand patterns, increasing product mixes, fluctuating fuel prices, and other factors keep a 3PL's network in a constant state of flux. To adapt to these changes and maintain the greenest, most efficient network, your service provider should use network planning and optimization tools to evaluate factors such as the number, size, and locations of its distribution centers; possible routes through which it can execute service at optimum cost and time; and the number of assets—such as trucks, trailers, and materials handling equipment—it requires to serve your needs.
  • Empty container repositioning. Repositioning empty shipping containers near sources of supply represents a significant cost—not to mention a considerable waste of fuel. The problem is compounded when there are multiple demand and supply sources. Empty container repositioning solutions consider constraints such as volume, transit time, port congestion, and vessel schedules to develop strategies to minimize repositioning.

Service Value

Optimization tools can help increase efficiency, reduce costs, and achieve green goals. Talk to your 3PL to find out if it uses these resources to provide you the best—and greenest—value from its service.

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