Vice President of Technology
In one of Henry Ford’s early iterations of the assembly line he moved workers from station to station, each performing a specific operation upon arrival at each station. He soon saw that faster workers moved to their next station before slower workers were finished for which they were responsible. In that context, Ford’s plant had traffic jams of people, surrounded by cars…rather than traffic jams of cars surrounding people! And that led to the invention of the supply belt, whereupon materials and assemblies moved and the workers stayed put, each still concentrating on doing one operation extremely well, but without someone breathing down his neck. “Supply belt?” Yes… the original Model T Ford assembly line was actually a long moving belt to which assemblies were attached. To see the Ford assembly line in action, check out the vintage footage found on YouTube in the video below.
Today’s supply chain, so far removed from Ford’s day, is still all about efficiencies. Logistics providers and their clients now rely heavily on Transportation Management Systems (TMS) to coordinate information flows that drive decisions and reduce costs, much as Ford coordinated the arrival of parts at assembly stations “just in time.”
Not all Transportation Management Systems have the same components. Inefficiencies can creep into the supply chain when separate systems don’t talk to each other well, or if a TMS doesn’t have the capability to adapt to customer needs as the needs change. Basic functions of a TMS should include freight estimation, payments, route optimization, shipment consolidation and similar operations.
The offerings of a better TMS include customization, the ability to build operational models based on a company’s historical data, as well as the capability to interface with a variety of supported departments. Compare systems to determine which have the functions you require. In particular, ask if training is supplied, and if it is, are there limits? Is there a substantial tool set available from your logistics provider as part of their service? Are there optional feature sets used to adapt to your particular needs?
The best TMS will have the right combination of features for the customer, all designed to operate together. It should be available as a stand-alone system or integrate with ERP systems. Web-based solutions will ultimately provide more flexibility and significant savings over installed systems, especially considering the lack of installation and maintenance issues. Be certain a TMS is adaptable to changing requirements, avoiding a need to change to a new system as your business grows. Can your logistics provider answer all your questions and support your use of the TMS, or are they simply resellers? Finally, ask if the TMS can generate proper documentation from Bill of Lading through to invoicing and reporting.
Henry Ford ushered in a new world of efficiency in manufacturing. The concepts used to build more than 15 million “Tin Lizzies” in just a few years drive global commerce today. Can you imagine what he would think of a Transportation Management System and the global supply chain?