The trucking and transportation industry have started to move into Lean and Six Sigma in larger numbers. Success in continuous process improvement by companies around the country have shown the reason why.

Much like manufacturing and supply chain, the trucking and transportation industries have turned to Lean and Six Sigma methodology to support their goal of making operations more efficient and effective. This has especially been the case in trucking shops.

Greg Schuttenhelm, CEO of Portland, Oregon-based TEC Equipment, a truck and trailer dealership, told Transport Topics that process improvement provides a way to prioritize operations, find new opportunities and bring the opinions of “real experts” to the table – by which he means employees, vendors and customers.

Some organizations use Lean to find areas of waste. Some use Six Sigma methods to reduce variation in production operations. Others use a combination of the two methodologies.

The Pareto Principle

Brandon Uzarek, a field engineer for truck component manufacturer Accuride Corp., told Transport Topics that an excellent place for truck companies to start with process improvement is the Pareto Principle.

This principle is named after the Italian economist, Vilfredo Pareto. He found that 80% of the wealth in Italy was controlled by 20% of the people. He then theorized that this could be the case with many other areas – 80% of the results come from 20% of the causes.

That could mean:

  • You use about 20% of the tools available to get 80% of your business results
  • About 20% of your staff is responsible for 80% of the company’s results
  • About 80% of your cost savings can come from resolving 20% of your chief concerns or challenges

One way to determine this is to use a Pareto Chart. Using the 80/20 rule, the Pareto Chart helps find the 20% of issues that are causing 80% of your unfavorable results.

That’s exactly what Accuride Corp. did, as they used the Pareto Principle to identify the worst areas of waste. Uzarek said that every area of the company had a different issue costing them money, and the Pareto principle helped them “work through that to achieve the best return.”

Making Use of PCDA

PacLease, a truck rental and leasing company that operates around the world, also put Six Sigma to use. Sally Rosamond, a Six Sigma Black Belt who works for PACCAR Leasing, posted a blog post about the use of Plan, Do, Check, Act (PDCA).

One of the beauties of this approach is its simplicity. Rosamond wrote that PDCA is “a guiding pattern for teams that allows focus on each piece of the process improvement that is being attempted.” Developed by Dr. W. Edwards Deming, PDCA is a four-step process that creates a cycle for process improvement.

The basic steps of PDCA are as follows.

  • Plan – Define the process that will be improved and understand how it is currently working using a tool such as a process map which helps find the root cause of an issue and supports assumption fact-checking.
  • Do – Develop and implement a plan that addresses the core issue causing the problem.
  • Check – Measure results and assess whether the changes have led to the desired results. Develop whatever changes are needed to deal with any issues that have kept the new plan from meeting the goal.
  • Act – Implement the amended plan.

The process then starts all over again with other challenges within the operation. However, you now have a much-improved process.

Other Successes in the Trucking Industry

Southeastern Freight Lines started using Lean when requests for more technicians started coming in 2016 without justification for why. Lean tools were used to do a full review of preventive maintenance schedules with a team that included regional managers, shop managers and technicians. They now have a refined preventative maintenance schedule.

Randy Obermeyer, terminal manager for Batesville Logistics Inc., said while the principles of Lean are solid, the lingo around the process can turn off workers. He tends to use techniques such as The Five Whys, which involves stating a problem and then asking a series of “why” questions – five typically gets the job done – that leads to discovering the cause of the issue.

In her blog, Rosamond, the Six Sigma Black Belt at PACCAR Leasing, wrote that there are plenty of excuses for why companies do not implement continuous process improvement. They include lack of time and money or a lack of enthusiasm from employees.

However, she challenged companies in the trucking industry to try continuous process improvement, because “for pennies, you can turn those everyday struggles into your quality program and your employees into your quality professionals.”