July 5, 2017

Reducing Delivery Times and Emissions with Better Logistics Planning

Kevin Mills, Director of Supply Chain Operations

People, Planet, Prosperity

Transportation is the center of our world! It is the glue of our daily lives. When it goes well, we don’t see it. When it goes wrong, the impact is immediate and consequential.

The primary mission of the Sustainable Mobility (SM) team is to advance ideas that improve our effectiveness in executing efficient and reliable transportation to fulfill customer demand safely, accurately, and on time. This is performed by managing the utilization of railcars, trucks, and barges across the FMSA distribution network. Maximizing the capacity of each railcar/truck/barge/container reduces excess transportation, which reduces GHG and other harmful emissions released from transportation vehicles that negatively impact our environment.  

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Over the last few years the team’s attention was focused on optimizing railcar utilization across the FMSA network through max car loading efforts. These efforts resulted in a significant improvement in railcar load utilization, helping reduce our total annual rail freight spend.

Understanding the diminishing returns for further improvement in load utilization, the SM team set out to expand their reach in 2017, adding two additional goals to their mission. Listed below are the new 2017 Bold Goals for the Sustainable Mobility team:

  • Sustain high railcar load utilization
  • Increase unit train utilization
  • Improve truck loadout cycle times

The first goal is intended to sustain the great work achieved over the last two years in maximizing our railcar loads. The second and third goals are new ideas but equally important and effectively align with the SM team’s mission and purpose.

Unit trains are usually fixed in size with a total of 100-125 cars, are considered the most efficient mode of rail transportation, and yield tangible cost and transit time benefits. Think of it like flying nonstop between cities compared to flying with multiple connections. By design, the unit train is a nonstop trip between origin and destination, arriving in half the time (or less) compared to a typical manifest rail trip. And because unit trains provide a more efficient flow of cars on the railroad’s track network, they usually offer a discount on the unit train freight rate. The benefits for FMSA include lower freight cost-per-ton and less inventory in-transit, along with a more reliable supply of sand to meet our customer needs. To increase the utilization of unit trains, the SM team hosted an ideation workshop in May to discuss opportunities to improve and expand current unit train planning and execution processes. We are excited to see how and where these ideas will lead to increasing weekly unit train shipments.

Nearly all sand supplied by our Voca mine ships via truck direct to the West Texas region. For this reason the SM team agreed this could provide an opportunity to optimize the truck loading process, and improve our service level to the customer. As additional mine capacity was realized at Voca it was important to ensure the truck loadout process did not become a bottleneck in the supply chain. Another benefit for more efficient loading was to minimize truck wait times which could result in costly detention charges. The SM team hosted an ideation workshop in February with the Voca production and logistics teams with over 15 ideas generated. As of this writing, almost half of those ideas have been implemented by the team! The result is already being felt – with more reliable truck cycle times, improvement in the truck scheduling process, and better communication between operations and logistics. These actions have enabled us to increase the efficiency of product shipments from our Voca facility.

It is exciting to see the new SM goals begin to take shape and make a positive impact on our business. The Sustainable Mobility team is eager to make a difference and improve upon our past success!

“It’s not enough to just do your best. You must continue to improve your best.” ― Kenneth Wayne Wood

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