Earlier this week I got into an email discussion on the subject of pallets and containers (as one does) and it struck me that it has been some time since I wrote anything new about the subject. The conversation started with questions about transferring pallets from DROPS racks to smaller vehicles at forward locations, the availability of mechanical handling equipment and what DROPS/EPLS vehicles bring to the party.
During the course of the conversation we came to the conclusion that there exists an issue with the gap between the 40/20ft container and the pallet. Do we break down container sized loads into pallet loads too high up the supply chain? I think there is a possibility that this is actually the case but what are the options and equipment possibilities?
So, this is a detailed look at boxes, pallets and containers, their current status, equipment in use and potential future options.
The series comprises multiple parts;
Introduction and General Principles
The logistics support chain is an incredibly complex construct that defies simple explanation in a blog post, if you really want to wade in, the seven volumes of JSP 886 will provide many hours of reading, click here including the 69 page glossary!
In general terms, the forward and reverse logistics chain operates through a number of nodes as shown in the diagram below
The actual laydown of units and sub units will vary depending on the nature and duration of the operation, it will also likely to change throughout an operation in response to changing needs. The diagram below shows a typical Combat Service Support (CSS) laydown for a non enduring medium scale operation, the number of nodes and locations will be minimised in order to reduce force protection overheads but operational resilience may dictate an increase. Between the Joint Support Area and Forward Support Area is typically a land only environment.
Moving forward, the general structure is as the two diagrams below.
The RLC is a very diverse organisation but for the logistics aspects of supplying bullets, rations and the millions of other things needed by combat units they are organised into Force Support and Logistic Support Regiments with a mixture of Close Support Squadrons and General Support Squadrons. As usual within the British Army the operational organisation of these units is flexible with commanders adapting to need and creating task specific groups as required.
The Forward Support Area will be used by the RLC Logistic Support Regiment to support a manoeuvre brigade. From there, Close Support Logistics Regiments and specialist units such as fuel and tank transport.
From the Convoy Marshalling Area (CMA) a typical Combat Logistic Patrol will weave its way along an agreed route to multiple destinations, dropping off and picking up as required over a period of several days. Time spent loading and unloading is always minimised, a truck standing still is not earning its keep although the need for drivers and top cover to rest is an essential factor in planning. Immediate Replenishment Groups (IRG’s) are used for short distance replenishment tasks for battlegroups.
The JSP’s detailed above really do have some really very good definitions and descriptions.
The first one states that materials handling requires manpower, space and equipment, all of which are expensive commodities. It is probably a reasonable observation that the ‘cost’ of each of these commodities will vary in time and space but in general, the trend is fewer personnel because they are expensive. Simply look at the manning for ships to see the consequence of personnel costs. How this will influence future logistics is not clear but the general goal of using fewer people to deliver a measurable output would seem to indicate a greater use of mechanical handling equipment and unmanned logistics.
The second states that materials handling is an imprecise science, a very important factor to consider for those that think military logistics is the same as civilian logistics like Tesco or Stobarts.
Finally, materials should be moved from point to point using the shortest route possible whilst minimising expensive double handling and in general, economy is proportional to the size of the load.
Putting bulk materials like fuel, water and building materials like sand to one side for a moment (although many of the same principle apply) it is preferred to handle stores as ‘unit loads’ in the most appropriate box or container on a sliding scale, for example;
Ammunition box >> Multiple ammunition boxes on a pallet >> Multiple ammunition boxes on multiple pallets inside an ISO container
Bigger boxes are more efficient.
One person can drive a container handler
Or one person can drive a telehandler
Or one person can handle a box
So it makes perfect sense to use mechanical handling equipment and bigger boxes wherever and whenever it is practical to do so.
What actually makes it practical to do so is two of the simplest but most influential inventions of the modern age, the pallet and the container.
The rest of the series…
Part 10 – More Thoughts on Trucks and Trailers