How many angels can dance on the point of a needle?

Posted on September 21st, 2015 by

Hmmm. Not feeling philosophical this particular morning? No? OK, how about geometry: how many sides does a circle have?

Hah! (You may be thinking). None. Stupid question.

But is it “one” if you establish a start and an end point?

Or is it an infinite number of equal small sides? (For this one, look at a regular hexagon drawn inside a circle, then a dodecahedron, and then imagine a polygon with n = 100 sides then n = 200 sides and then take n to infinity and lo, you have a circle with an infinite number of equally small sides….)

These are just two of the points that I vaguely remember arguing earnestly about with my like-minded classmates somewhere between A-levels and finishing our Degrees. But a much more pertinent question today, and one which quite frankly could give rise to an equally long and arguably pointless discussion, is this:

How many pallets can you fit on a standard curtain sider trailer?

Again – Hah! (you may be thinking). That’s easy – 24-26 standard UK pallets or 32-34 euro pallets. Next article please….

But wait a second. That works beautifully for standardised items which fit neatly and regularly onto their pallet footprint, and weigh between half to a tonne per pallet.  What about the super dense materials, though? Like ingots of lead, or less creatively, reams of paper. You are more likely to run out of gross weight long before you fill up the trailer floor.

Loaded Truck

What if your items are incredibly light – say, you are transporting clouds of cotton wool, which lose their quality if squashed, so have to travel on non-standard pallets and can’t be double-stacked?

What if they are incredibly light but robust and CAN be double stacked? Or triple stacked? What if they are light and robust but flatter than a flat thing? Flat enough to octuple-stack them and still fit them on!!!!

What if you have irregular shaped items, but you have a footprint, and it is so big you can only fit one of them on? But it weighs very little. An analyst could accidentally model that as groupage if they weren’t paying attention.

Oh, the scheming and devious qualities of palletised data!

Undaunted, we try and switch to a standard unit of “loading metres”. But loading metres can be derived from the actual footprint of the item OR the cubic metres of the items OR the actual weight of the items OR the chargeable weight of the items… and again we are faced with the uncertainty of so many variables.

How do YOU calculate your loading metres? We like to ask. Just in case you do it in a particularly unique and creative way using unicorns or something.

Unicorns cartoon

Do you begin to see how there are so many traps an analyst/modeller can fall into? We endeavour to accurately represent the true shape of the distribution network, and our goal is always to be able to state confidently: “Last year/month/week your business shipped x thousand pallets, across these destinations, this many times a week/day, using this many trucks…”

Then, once we have that “base line” established, we can move to the creative thinking of: “What if you went not quite so often using bigger trucks and gained greater load efficiency…?” And then we get into in the realms of big savings.

If the data just tells us that you are sending fifty trucks out with one pallet on the back, we are going to suspect a severe case of under-utilisation. If we are then told, “but each pallet weighs 25T” – we humbly back track, tweak: and the landscape of your base line changes dramatically.

So the next time you happen to be giving distribution data out to a team of analysts – consider all of the above, and give us as much information as possible, please.  Ideally:

  • Number of pallets?
  • Can they be double stacked? Yes/No?
  • If multiple stacking is a Yes, how many layers max?
  • Average dimension of the shipped item(s), Width x Length x Height?
  • Finally: Weight?

With all of the above information, we can model with total clarity and confidence. With less detailed data, we can still do it; but we may need a little more help from you in framing our assumptions.

…also: if anyone does know of a creative way to identify loading metres using unicorns, do let us know – we’re always up for a challenge!

Botticelli’s portrait of Thomas Aquinas