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ASCM Insights

Right Turns for Efficiency

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Today when I write about left and right, I’m not talking about politics. Instead, I’m talking about UPS drivers who are instructed not to turn left into oncoming traffic—or turn right in countries where people drive on the left side of the road. Last week, Quartz published an article highlighting how this approach helps UPS save 10 million gallons of gas a year.

“It seems strange, but UPS delivery vans don’t always take the shortest route between stops,” Graham Kendall writes. “The company gives each driver a specific route to follow and that includes a policy that drivers should never turn through oncoming traffic … unless absolutely necessary.”

Kendall explains the concept of “vehicle routing problems,” which are mathematical problems that seek to find the best route through a specified set of points. Although the best route usually is associated with the shortest route, advanced technology enables companies to examine other criteria to optimize paths.

By designing their vehicle routing software to eliminate as many left turns as possible, UPS leaders seek to reduce the chances of accidents and decrease delays caused by waiting for openings in oncoming traffic.

According to UPS, it now uses 10 million less gallons of gas, emits 22,000 less tons of carbon dioxide, and delivers 350,000 more packages every year. “The efficiency of planning routes with its navigation software this way has even helped the firm cut the number of trucks it uses by 1,100, bringing down the company’s total distance travelled by 28.5 million miles—despite the longer routes,” Kendall writes.

Still don’t believe it? The stars of the Discovery Channel’s “Mythbusters”—those nerdy special-effects gurus—tested the theory that making only right turns limits fuel consumption. Their conclusion: “Confirmed.” This seemingly counterintuitive approach does save gas.

In his Quartz piece, Kendall speculates about the consequences if everyone limited left turns—or right turns in countries where people drive on the left. “As with anything related to reducing climate change, if everybody else did it then things would be better and you wouldn’t have to change your lifestyle at all to benefit. But it only needs a few people to not cooperate and the whole system breaks down.” Kendall suggests that the method might work best if governments encourage or enforce the strategy. 

Better for business

Let’s get back to basics for a moment. Consider the following definition from the APICS Operations Management Body of Knowledge Framework: “Vehicle routing is the subset of the logistics network optimization process. The goal of the routing process is to reach optimal efficiency of all vehicle assets within the network. Vehicle routing uses computer models that contain all customer and supplier nodes within the network and output routes and assignments that minimize the total distanced traveled. The routing model may produce vehicle scheduling to optimize vehicle use and provide service continuity to customers.”

Is your organization maximizing its vehicle routing using the latest technology available? In the UPS example, not only does its vehicle routing strategy cut miles traveled and the overall number of trucks used, it decreases carbon dioxide emissions—which is good for the company and the environment. What else could your company do that would positively influence the triple bottom line of people, planet, and profit?

Now is your opportunity to learn more about this and other logistics challenges with the APICS Certified in Logistics, Transportation and Distribution program. Achieving this designation will demonstrate to you and your employer your in-depth knowledge of a broad range of topics that set you apart from your colleagues. Visit apics.org/cltd for more information.

About the Author

Abe Eshkenazi, CSCP, CPA, CAE CEO, ASCM

Abe Eshkenazi is chief executive officer at ASCM, the largest nonprofit association for supply chain and the global leader in supply chain organizational transformation and innovation. Prior to this, he was the managing director for the Operations Consulting Group of American Express Tax and Business Services. His leadership roles have included project management, business process redesign, and individual and organizational alignment. Eshkenazi may be contacted through editorial@ascm.org.

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