Smaller Batches Win In Transportation

Screen Shot 2014-08-11 at 7.27.56 AM I’ve written about doing things in Shorter Cycles / Smaller Batches in the technology realm. This is a quick observation about how this has materialized in the transportation industry by looking at trains versus trucks.

My family went on a two-week camping trip, returning the end of last week. We drove over 3,200 miles – from Colorado through Utah, Nevada, California, Oregon, and then back again. On the big interstates we were often close to train tracks.

I didn’t keep count, but I saw on the order of 100 times the amount of semis hauling trailers than trains moving cargo. I see this as evidence that transportation operates more in smaller batches (semis with trailers) than larger batches (trains).

I just did 15 minutes of quick research and learned that most sites say that hauling freight via train for long distances is more energy efficient, and includes lower fuel costs. However, the operational inefficiencies of working in large batches means shipments arrive later and inventory sits longer. Imagine a long train unloading, and moving containers to staging areas, to be picked up later by a truck and taken to it’s final destination versus a semi driving from the warehouse directly to the final destination.

The only type of freight where trains rule is coal. And with coal, a long train loads all cars up at one location and takes all of it’s payload to one or very few destinations. So it is in essence a very large small batch operation.

Not surprisingly, working in Shorter Cycles and Smaller Batches is clearly preferred for transportation. How can your work be accomplished in smaller batches to provide results more quickly?