Logistics: Favoring Face Time

As products become more complex and service more important, transportation customers might become less impressed by technology.

It's easy to slide down the slippery slope of IT overuse and automation. In the area of Transportation Management Software (TMS) and logistics providers, vendors have emphasized visibility, cost reduction, speed and market access. However, as new-product development and niche servicing become more important, transportation is one area that could see a de-emphasis of technology.

Knowing when it is appropriate to drop at the dock and run and when it is necessary to stick around and make sure things are working properly will become more important. And in some instances, a little technology can go a long way. According to results from the 2005 IW/MPI Census of Manufacturers, only 10.5% of the nearly 600 respondents said they were using TMS.

For Anthro Corp., a Tualatin, Ore.-based manufacturer of modular furniture for high-tech equipment for the medical, engineering and home-use markets, finding a transportation system that incorporated a lot of face time along with technology was critical.

"We're a very direct company," says David Jones, CIO at Anthro. "We have the capability to run SAP and to be very automated and leverage those types of tools. But on a program like this that requires so much interplay, we decided to keep it on a very direct level. The last thing we are going to do is take a hands-off approach and think we can automate this thing and think it's going to work out OK. It's too complex, too many issues."

The program Jones refers to is a new product for radiologists that has completely different requirements from both a transportation and a field-assembly perspective. "This wasn't something that anybody was going to be able to open the box, put it together and make it work. We went about finding a partner that we could work with on a field-assembly basis, and develop a program that would include turnkey transportation, field assembly, site cleanup and ensuring the product was fully functional and delivered to the customer site and left in working order."

The partner Anthro chose was Technical Transportation Inc. (TechTrans), a Southlake, Texas-based transportation provider that moves products from A to B but then offers a C element.

"There are a lot of other things that need to go on," says Phil Burnette, national accounts rep for TechTrans. "If it needs to get to the sixth-floor lab in a hospital and put into an exact footprint, we can do that. We get it to the site, unpack it and then assist in any way possible."

As a former Abbott Laboratories employee, Len Batcha, president of TechTrans, understands the need for knowledge when it comes to delivering expensive, sensitive materials.

"We tack on value-added services to the shippers and end customers," Batcha says. "We can get the product where it needs to be, and we can assemble it, configure it and run diagnostics. The product is ready to use for the end customer."

From Anthro's perspective, the company needs consistency.

"If we leave this in the customer's hands, we are putting ourselves at the mercy of what every individual customer is going to do with it," Jones says. "If we take control of it and build a program with a partner to ensure that we get the units installed the way we specify every single time, we put ourselves in a much better position to be successful."

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