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Empowering Our Truckers

John Ratzenberger Says Trucking is Vital to the Supply Chain

Photos: Courtesy of Courtesy of Dean Dixon, ©2017 Disney•Pixar. All Right

The actor and chief advisor of industrialization to Elite Aviation Products discusses advances in trucking, from new apps to more fuel-efficient trucks.

In your experience, what are some universal traits to a successful factory floor?

Of course a successful factory floor needs to be efficient and effective.  But beyond using state-of-the-art equipment or streamlining your processes, I’ve found the most successful factory floors put the emphasis on the people.

No matter how robotic our factories get, there will always be a need for human beings and they are the most valuable resource a company has.  Don’t restrict your employees to just one workstation. Shifting your staff through the manufacturing process lets them see the bigger picture and increases employee morale.  Tap into your workers’ opinions and suggestions.  They’re the best focus group you have on what works and what doesn’t.

Out of the hundreds of manufacturing facilities I have visited, the most successful factories have a feeling of camaraderie throughout the plant.  People have pride in what they do and want to be acknowledged. It seems simple, but means a lot.  If the big boss knows your name and the teams your kids play on…that can be a big deal.

How does a successful manufacturing facility relate to an equally successful supply chain operation?

One can’t exist without the other. The larger the manufacturing operation is, the more links there are in the supply chain. On-time shipping and delivery is vital to any company that relies on vendors for its products’ parts.

Telling a customer that their order hasn’t shipped because a vendor sent the wrong-sized spring or bushing is like telling your fifth grade teacher that the dog ate your homework…might be true but it ain’t gonna fly.  It’s another reason why it’s so important to value every person on the supply chain and not just the manufacturing.

The “factory of the future” is a common buzzword used by many in the manufacturing and supply chain industry.  From your own experience in the field, what do you think the factory of the future will look like?

On the one hand, future facilities will be as clean as a hospital hallway. In fact with the advent of CNC technology, many factories already resemble what was once thought impossible: an oil-free floor that doesn’t require protective footwear or other safety gear.

On the other hand, if we don’t reinstate the simple shop classes that once taught our kids how to use tools, the factory of the future will be filled with machines without any educated hands to operate them. Luckily, more and more young people are starting to realize that there are high salaries out there for people who know how to use tools. Now we have to convince the parents to let them.

Along with being the voice of Mack, you have also been a tremendous advocate for American truckers.  Where did this affiliation originate from?

If I am it’s because my dad was a trucker. He was, and is, my hero. I’m also an owner in several companies that rely on truckers to succeed.  Take for instance: we depend on the products to make it to our fulfillment center and for the gift boxes to make it to the customer – all via trucks.

Same need with transporting our products from Elite Aerospace Group. Whether they’re shipping large-scale assemble items for their orbital rocket customers or counting on couriers to hand-deliver contracts, Elite’s lifeline are the trucking companies they work with.  It’s the same for any successful business.

What can businesses do to empower their truckers on the road?

First the government has to pull back on restrictions made by politicians who’ve never driven a truck.  Second, companies have to make sure that new truckers are properly trained by seasoned drivers. Right now new truckers are being trained by people who’ve only been on the road for six months themselves in some cases. There is a desperate need for truck drivers but they need to be given quality training for all our sakes.  And of course, pay them what they’re worth. Every item we use has been transported on a truck.  Truckers need to know they’re a respected and valued part of the supply chain.

How has technology been used to help provide the modern trucker with the tools they need to be successful? 

Trucking companies finally understand that creating a safe, efficient work space for their truckers is a win for everyone. Updating vehicle software remotely, digital transmitters and automated scheduling are ways for the home base to help the truckers on the road, but it’s the advancements in the trucks themselves that have really helped.  360-degree cameras and sensors, collision avoidance systems, stability control and lighter, more fuel-efficient vehicles all help the truckers drive with added confidence and save time. 

Then there are the apps. My friends at TravelCenters of America know truckers. Hundreds of thousands of truckers come through their doors every year and they’ve been named the best truck stop chain in America.

They have an app called TruckSmart for all smartphones that lets drivers reserve maintenance appointments, showers, parking, generate fuel pricing and dial in for emergency roadside assistance.  The trucking GPS is a huge technology tool too. Anything that can help drivers maneuver the road safely, avoid restricted roads and find a great cup of coffee is a godsend. 

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