Inland Ports and the Lean Initiative

posted on: Thursday August 15, 2013

Just-in-time operations have transformed not only the warehouse and manufacturing, but also how goods flow through US ports. While inland ports have existed for about 20 years, new ones are being designed and built to keep up with changes. The congestion that was building in seaports prompted the need to expand, but land cost and availability created a problem that was best solved by building ports away from shore. They have solved a number of issues and continue to prove instrumental in the global supply chain.

The continued development of world trade is resulting in several things that are constraining seaports. Fleets are expanding, and ships look to increase container capacity and lower costs.  All of this means more containers arriving that need to be processed, inspected, sorted, and then transferred to the end means of delivery to the customer. By shifting some of these responsibilities to inland ports, many of which are former military bases, bottlenecks are avoided at the seaports. The process results in fewer errors and swift delivery, allowing the just-in-time initiatives to run smoothly.

All this would not be possible without a lean initiative within the inland ports themselves. Technology solutions keep the entire process as seamless as possible. For example, the ports are able to streamline loading workflow while reducing delays and wait times for carriers. This scheduling application, allowing shippers and carriers to book time slots, also reduced the amount of scheduling resources previously needed. By simply using technology to improve the scheduling process, inland port operations became more efficient and less costly.

The slot booking application also provides visibility to shippers and carriers that allows them to be the most productive. They not only have access to the schedule, but they also are alerted when changes are made. The immediate access to information also allows inland port shippers and carriers to find capacity, container availability, and comparative shipping rates.

Additionally, container space is better utilized. The inland ports house empty containers used during shipping. Exporters can fill the containers to be brought back to seaports. What once was an empty leg is now an efficient utilization of resources.

According to Chris Cameron’s “Move: How Inland Ports Cut Transportation Costs” in Material Handling and Logistics, other benefits of inland ports include:

  • “Reduce inefficiencies by the combination of transportation modes;
  • Location advantages—located near large metropolitan areas, which supply workers and a market for the companies operating in the inland port;
  • Time-sensitive goods spend less time waiting at seaports, therefore improving throughput and fulfillment rates;
  • Helps lower energy consumption with less waiting and idling time;
  • Speeds distribution to end-customer;
  • Slot booking applications exist for scheduling of labor for loading and unloading, while carriers have minimal wait times;
  • Using technology, shippers gain a comprehensive view of trading partners’ availability, rates and performance data;
  • Provide space for necessary warehousing and distribution facilities.”

The emergence of streamlined operations that reduce waste and improve productivity have demanded a change in the global supply chain, and the inland ports have answered the call. By following the model of the manufacturers, lean port protocol has provided swift and efficient execution of container management.

As manual material handlers in warehouses know, technology is not the only tool that supports productivity and lean initiatives. Equipment like Load Mover power tugs are used to transport more product in fewer trips. Designed to ergonomically and safely allow one person to do the work of many, electric tuggers have become a part of many successful transformations in manufacturing. From big companies like Toyota to small meat packing plants, tugs have taken out the strain of pushing and pulling only to catapult productivity and morale.

Load Mover Inc. builds state-of-the-art walk-behind power tugs. They are happy to assist with any questions pertaining to the practicality and applications of their tuggers. For more information, email or call 952-767-1720.