Lift truck tips: Read the data, then act

Fleet management reveals sometimes startling realities in companies of all sizes.
By Josh Bond, Associate Editor
June 01, 2011 - MMH Editorial

It’s easy to think of fleet management as something that should only concern companies with dozens of lift trucks at DCs across the country. But according to Jim Gaskell, director of Global Insite Products for Crown, that’s just not true.

“Even if you have one truck, everybody benefits from fleet management,” says Gaskell. “The guy with a few trucks has a small problem, and the guy with a lot of trucks has a bigger problem.”

At a basic level, fleet management involves using data to modify operational and purchasing practices with an eye toward flexibility and efficiency. However, there’s a difference between reading data and acting on the data, says Gaskell.

“It’s two different skill sets,” he says. “You either read data or you use it to change the architecture of an operation accordingly.”

But for companies without detailed fleet management practices in place, simply reading the data can be enough to inspire significant changes. Even the most general utilization analysis can reveal stark differences between gut feelings and reality.

“I tell my customers, ‘Don’t be shocked if you find you are only using your trucks about 30% to 40% of the time,’” says Gaskell. “And they say, ‘What do you mean? We don’t have enough trucks!’ Before they had the knowledge, they didn’t know they had the problem.”

With data in hand, what decisions come next? Fleet reductions or expansions? Is it possible to make labor more efficient? Are three shifts really necessary? Some simple changes can yield returns in utilization figures, says Gaskell, from 40% to 50%, for instance.

“The design of the warehouse or the user’s business dynamics might create a ceiling that limits the customer from reaching a work cycle beyond 50%,” he says. “And, that’s okay as long as you’ve optimized the utilization of your fleet given these circumstances.”

Some of the most difficult changes have nothing to do with numbers. “People say, ‘That’s the way we’ve always done it,’ or ‘Our goal is this or that,’” says Gaskell. “I tell them to make a list of all these examples of traditional thinking and then title it ‘Stinking Thinking.’ Then ask yourself, after reviewing the data, whether you really want to keep thinking this way.”

No piece of technology can help a company cross that bridge, says Gaskell, but the first step is to create an environment where constant change is expected.

“That’s when you start the raindrop that starts the wave that changes the organization,” he adds.



About the Author

image
Josh Bond
Associate Editor

Josh Bond is an associate editor to Modern. Josh was formerly Modern’s lift truck columnist and contributing editor, has a degree in Journalism from Keene State College and has studied business management at Franklin Pierce.


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