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What Is a Milk Run?

May 27, 2022 Kevin Baxter

Milk Run

The term 'milk run' has a number of meanings. In World War II, pilots used a milk run to describe a routine mission with a low chance of danger. More literally, a milk run described a train that made frequent stops to pick up farmers' milk cans for shipment to local dairies for processing and bottling, and later, a milk man's route delivering milk bottles to customers. Today, a milk run is a term commonly associated with logistics, tracing closest to that train with multiple stops origin. A milk run in logistics describes the idea of one truck making an often circular route to pickup loads from multiple suppliers and bring them to a company's warehouse, distribution center or manufacturing facility. This concept saves time, equipment, labor, money and energy over the alternative of each supplier sending their own individual trucks separately.

What is an example of a milk run in logistics?

An automobile manufacturer can offer an example of a milk run in logistics as cars require several suppliers to provide individual components. The manufacturer could send one truck to do a milk run on a scheduled basis. That truck could do a circuit of pickups to gather needed supplies, like steel, rubber, plastics, aluminum, and finished parts to bring to the factory for car assembly. The most optimal way for this to occur is with suppliers well-located geographically in reasonable proximity to both each other, and the manufacturing facility. In addition to this consolidated pickup/delivery advantage, the milk run concept in logistics is also associated with just-in-time delivery needs, so that the runs are timed at intervals to avoid downtime while also avoiding overstocking materials at the manufacturing facility.

This process likely needs honing over time to maximize efficacy. It also requires buy-in from all associated suppliers, with cost-sharing and scheduling arrangements formalized in an agreement. An optimized milk run in logistics then becomes routine, with loaders at each supplier preparing loads for pickup on schedule, the travel time mapped out for the driver and receiving staff at the manufacturing or other facility ready for delivery at the agreed upon time. For loaders and receivers, this means more time certainty and - especially for receiving - the ability to dedicate resources at specific times rather than on an ongoing basis. All these factors combined dovetail nicely with a lean manufacturing philosophy, eliminating waste in a number of ways. Milk runs can also be within a facility, with one person/vehicle going to make pickups from different stations, rather than each station sending items individually.

A milk run is just one creative approach to optimizing both internal and external supply chains. We can help you with plenty more creativity to optimize your supply chain. Tell us what you need and we'll reach out to discuss solutions that are right for your business. 

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