A Last Mile Solution


Consumer and Supply Chain Trends

Modern consumers, with ready access not only to each other but also with direct lines to the companies whom they want to deal with, are increasingly able to exert influence on suppliers and by implication the supply chain itself. They are tech-savvy, price conscious and demand convenience. The rise of online shopping and the increased burden upon suppliers to deliver to their market in ways that are convenient and suitable, while making logistical sense and also being cost-effective, has required some fresh thinking and innovative solutions to meet these seemingly contrasting needs.On the supply side, Supply Chains need to more than ever, enable onshelf availability of products often in retail-ready packaging. Consolidated warehousing is emerging as a solution to try accommodate the changing needs of consumers, as has the need for more sustainable transport solutions, both from an efficiency and environmental perspective.The combination of all these are ultimately to increase product availability, to assist in improving the shopper experience, reduce waste and to improve the speed and efficiency of replenishment.

Going the Last Mile

Research suggests that international e-commerce sales will increase 20% in 2015 to reach $1.5 trillion. Fuelling retail’s expansion into untapped markets, the rise in e-commerce is putting immense pressure on retailers to seamlessly meet customers’ expectations across devices, platforms and locations on a global scale. Adding greater urgency is a growing need to offer expanded delivery capabilities, while at the same time increasing convenience without passing along any obvious price increases to the end customer. Consumers’ expectations are growing as they increasingly research, evaluate or purchase products online or in a store. 

It is clear that their expectations about product availability, delivery charges and flexibility, return policies, and payment options are growing. In addition, these preferences can vary by region, demographics and a number of other factors that will continue evolving. 

Behind this e-commerce engine lies a mass of fulfilment, stock deployment, supply chain network design and omni-channel distribution challenges. Even large high-profile e-tailers ( while having succeeded in offering customers inexpensive and same-day delivery options ) are still struggling to maintain efficient last-mile solutions in a cost-effective and profitable manner.


Facing the Challenges

As retailers continue to aim for the best possible shopping experiences for their customers, leveraging the right data and information across numerous channels becomes essential as dependence on their network’s last-mile capabilities and efficiencies is amplified.Though often not recognised as such, last-mile logistics requires the most overhead expenses and involves the most care in the entire supply chain. Statistics released by the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals suggest that the relative cost of last-mile solutions could reach as high as 28% of all transportation costs. Beyond the financial implications, the time sensitivity of the last mile is also significant. Doug Brown of Kuehne & Nagel, defines last-mile as “…the time-sensitive delivery of parts to the ultimate end user in a way that’s time-specific as opposed to, you get there when you get there on the route or when the parcel delivers. It’s a custom time delivery.”Focusing the lens just on those two aspects, cost and time sensitivity, this paper will further investigate the role of dollies as a solution for last mile transport in materials handling and also how dollies offer a relatively simple solution to achieve both cost and time savings on the retail side.

Materials Handling

Materials handling is the movement, protection, storage and control of materials and products throughout manufacturing, warehousing, distribution, consumption and disposal. Companies put material handling systems in place to improve customer service, reduce stockholding, decrease delivery times and lower overall handling costs in manufacturing, distribution and transportation.  Though often said to only add to the cost of a product and not to its value, material handling creates time and place utility through the handling, storage, and control of material, as distinct from manufacturing, which creates form utility by changing the shape, form, and makeup of material. 

Nonetheless, although materials handling does not provide a product with form utility, the time and place utility it provides can add real value to a product. Two ways in which the value of a product can increase after materials handling has taken place are at point of delivery and at point of manufacture: 

1. The value added by having parts available instantly at point of manufacture minus the cost of storing parts somewhere else, as is evidence in Lean Manufacturing.

2. The value ( to the customer) added by the timeous delivery of a package is greater than or equal to the additional cost of the service as compared to delayed delivery.

In the face of growing consumer influence in the supply chain, increased pressure on resources and a wider acknowledgement of the need to implement last mile solutions that are financially and time efficient. Two ways in which this can be achieved is through Lean Manufacturing and at Point of Delivery.

Lean Manufacturing

With global competition and falling profit margins pushing producers to cut costs, lean manufacturing programmes are on the rise. For companies pursuing lean production, forklift-free materials handling may be an option worth considering. The idea behind going forklift-free is replenishing material as it is used, rather than keeping excess material on the production floor. The dolly operators bring parts to the floor only when needed. 

Improving the movement of products to cut costs and reduce inventories is the goal when using dollies. They can be pushed or pulled to the assembly line by hand, or with the help of an electric motor. "Dollies can be a visual trigger for replenishment and primarily lean manufacturing," says Robert Liptrot, president of Boston Industrial Consulting, Danvers, Mass. "With lean manufacturing, you're not bringing a lot of material out to the production floor, so as a rule, the trucks are not going to be as effective. Forklift trucks work better with full cases or pallets, which go against the lean mentality."

Lean Manufacturing Case StudyFORD – Going Forklift Free

Forklift trucks are the tried and tested solution chosen by many materials handling operations. However, with the emergence of dollies, there is increasingly a move to consider forklift-free applications. Steve Orr, Material Planning and Logistics Superintendent at Ford Motor Company, says “No one thought it would work, when I informed our workers that the plant was going forklift free and that we were going to rely completely on dollies.” The sentiment was generally that the time it would take to get parts to the production line would increase.Now, having fully implemented a fork-free approach at Ford’s Cleveland Engine Plant One, the sentiment has changed. "With the forklifts, we had to drive slowly," notes Orr. "But with the dollies, it's a fast exchange. It's a lot faster than I thought it was going to be."The system Orr implemented at the Ford Cleveland plant uses specially designed dollies designed to carry loads of more than a 1000kgs while still meeting the ergonomic requirements for pushing loads onto the production line.

Before Ford changed over to the forklift-free system, operators were using forklift trucks to put loads on a tilt table. Now, the operators tug the loads in without forklifts, and use only two drivers to unload all the dollies.

A recent CSIR study revealed that only 3.3% of South Africa's urban population regularly recycled household waste in 2010. This finding is undescorred by another study, also conducted by the CSIR, which shows that, of the estimated 19 million tons of municipal waste generated in South Africa in 2011, about 25% were mainline recyclables such as glass, paper, tins and plastics.

Safety, another reason to go fork-lift free

While the cost, efficiency, and versatility of forklift trucks and fork-lift free applications varies, depending on a company's needs, worker safety is another reason that drives manufacturers to go forklift free. Nearly 100 workers are killed and another 20,000 are seriously injured each year in the United States in forklift-related incidents, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health ( NIOSH ). About 25 percent of these deaths are due to forklift overturns. 

Improving the movement of products to cut costs and reduce inventories is the goal when using dollies. They can be pushed or pulled to the assembly line by hand, or with the help of an electric motor. "Dollies can be a visual trigger for replenishment and primarily lean manufacturing," says Robert Liptrot, president of Boston Industrial Consulting, Danvers, Mass. "With lean manufacturing, you're not bringing a lot of material out to the production floor, so as a rule, the trucks are not going to be as effective. Forklift trucks work better with full cases or pallets, which go against the lean mentality."

In a forklift-free operation, the tugs are small, allowing operators to sit in unobstructed positions without visibility restrictions from roll cages or masts. The operators tug dollies behind them and only move forward, as opposed to lift trucks, where it is often necessary to back up, thus limiting visibility.The move to a forklift-free plant provides an opportunity for companies to reduce injury potential, cut costs and improve customer response. But realising this potential means considering everything that forkliftfree production impacts. A significant amount of time must be spent clarifying plant targets and goals, as well as identifying waste, ergonomic and safety threats.

Point of Delivery

Whether business-to-business or retail, customer service perceptions depend on two points of contact. The first is at ordering time. Smart companies use websites, call-centres and interactive ordering systems to provide immediate feedback on stocking levels, shipment dates and delivery windows. The second touch-point is delivery. Unlike ordering, delivery is most often contracted to third parties who may or may not care about service perceptions. The good news is that efficient delivery equates to good service.

Point of Delivery Case Study

Tesco: Dollies in Retail

Tesco’s has long been regarded as one of the World’s leading Retail Ready Packaging (RRP) innovators and continues to work closely on these projects not only with the suppliers, whose products occupy Tesco's shelves, but also with other stakeholders in the supply chain like the manufacturers of pallets and bread trays. 

Bread Winner
Tesco’s efforts towards supply chain harmonization is clearly evident in its bread product category where, for years, every bread supplier had its own reusable trays, mostly of different sizes and dimensions. Bags of sliced bread were placed on trays at the bakery, wheeled onto a truck, wheeled into Tesco stores, removed from trays one loaf at a time and placed on store shelves. This was not only disorganised, inefficient and labour-intensive it also involved too much handling which inevitably resulted in damaged or shop-worn product.

A Cut Above

"This has been a huge success for us," says Liz Hulbert – Head of replenishment at Tesco - "If you can work collaboratively with multiple suppliers to come up with the best equipment for stores, and then work it back through the supply chain, you end up with fresher product for the customer because now we don't have to handle every loaf of bread.” Hulbert points out the important role that innovation plays when it comes to Retail Ready Packaging, saying that a classic example of that innovative spirit at work is the wheeled pallet. "It goes through the complete supply chain efficiently, from one end to another." she continues, "As long as we continue working with suppliers to get the right packaging solution, one that moves the product through distribution optimally and makes it easier for in-store staff to recognize, open, and deliver to the shelf, we're delivering a better shopping experience for our customers."

Dollies as a Last Mile Solution

It seems clear that Dollies not only have a place in the last mile, these mobile platforms have a key role to play both as a solution in a lean manufacturing environment and at point of delivery.

Although only a short distance, the Last Mile accounts in some instances for more than 60% of the total supply chain expenses. Addressing shortcomings in this area of the supply chain seems to not simply be prudent but actually essential.

Research conducted by CHEP, a logistics and supply chain solutions company, on the supply chains of 41 retailers in seven European countries found that 24 different packaging formats and 55 different packaging product platforms are in use in this crucial last mile of the supply chain. It clearly exposed that last mile logistics are at different stages of development across Europe. This complexity puts added pressure on manufacturers, as several retail customers may be taking the same product but require them on different pallet formats, resulting in multiple SKUs for what is essentially the same product.

Addressing this issue of non-standardisation is a necessary step towards a more streamlined supply chain and requires collaboration across suppliers and even industries. However, addressing this non-conformity will not only enable the greater use of dollies but actually unlock opportunities for these mobile platforms to add significant time utility.

Another challenge to simplifying the last mile is posed by the continued growth in urban convenience stores. These stores have limited storage and display space and smaller aisles so they require regular replenishment with products ready to go directly on the shelf.Dollies seem to be an obvious solution to helping retailers replenish fast-selling goods in-store during peak periods as they can wheel goods from the storeroom to the aisle without the need for palletmoving equipment which can interfere with their customers' shopping experience and add substantial place utility. The dolly could provide global manufacturers with a solution that is viable across different regions, delivering significant efficiencies to their overall supply chain.


✔Relatively quiet compared to noisy pallet jacks & non-electric forklifts
✔Great for manoeuvring crates, trays and boxes safely and efficiently
✔Able to accommodate two 600mm x 400mm crates side by side
✔Compatible with most tracking systems like barcode or RFID
✔Strong enough to use with mechanical handling equipment
✔Castors, fixed & swivel, one can be fitted with brakes
✔Designed for every stage of the supply chain
✔Options for securing trays and containers
✔Allow for flexibility and small lot sizes
✔Robust structure improves safety
✔Provide a universal solution
✔More durable than forklifts
✔Environmentally friendly
✔Less product handling
✔Ergonomic design
✔Impact resistant


Mpact Materials Handling strives to provide the perfect solution to the materials handling and storage needs of our customers. We can usually achieve this with our ‘off the shelf’ products, but in instances where our standard products and services do not provide the right fit, we have the expertise and resources to create the ideal customised solution.

Dollies are highly manoeuvrable low mobile platforms used for the transport of bulky loads. Equipped with heavy duty castors, they are suitable for use at every stage of the supply chain and are an integral part of an efficient industrial operation. Able to accommodate two 600mm x 400mm crates side by side.

Supanest Dolly

The Supanest Dolly is ideal for every supply chain stage from supplier to point-of-sale. Its ergonomic design with wide entry allows for handling mechanical equipment. Trays and containers can easily be secured with ten spring-loaded pop-ups. A strong and durable, environmentally friendly solution that is traceable with barcodes and RFID tags.

View dollies