How tow trains can boost efficiency and just-in-time goods supply

Picture of Per Franzén

Per Franzén

6 minutes to read


Do you want to increase the productivity of your core processes while using the same resources? Or would you like to optimise your work processes in production supply and reduce your material inventories in production-related areas? And all this with lower fleet costs and greater safety for the employees?

Then you should consider implementing a towing solution with tow tractors and customised load carrier trains in your operation. Tow trains can make a strong contribution in just-in-time production, but also in e-commerce and order picking. We will talk you through the importance of lean, the benefits of tow tractors and how to implement, providing you key information to consider a tow train solution for your business.

Foundation and importance of lean thinking

Thanks to our own experience with production according to lean principles, we know the high demands of material transport from both the manufacturer and the customer's point of view. Already at the end of the 1940s, when the classic assembly line production, shaped by Henry Ford, was no longer sufficient for an increasingly individualised production, the Japanese production manager Taiichi Ohno and his colleague Shigeo Shingo designed the Toyota Production System characterised by "just-in-time" and "kanban". In the following decades, more and more companies have adopted each of the principal’s goal: to distinguish between value-adding and non-value-adding activities and thus avoid any waste. Today, the entire value-added chain is increasingly being considered as part of supply chain management (SCM). This allows optimisations to be made that reduce costs and thus enable a competitive advantage.

Toyota towing tractors


A fitting example: the automotive industry

Forkless movement of required materials with the help of load carriers on wheels that are pulled by a tractor has long been standard in the automobile industry. If parts are needed along the production line, tow trains collect the necessary components and deliver it just-in-time or just-in-sequence at the production site. An efficient process that increases the production flow as well as it decreases both inventories and costs. The positive effects of the tugger train logistics are making it increasingly important even in other branches of industry and logistical sectors and not only large companies benefit from perfectly coordinated intralogistics. A changeover to a towing solution can also be worthwhile for small and medium-sized companies that mainly use forklifts to transport materials and goods.

Tow trains: On time and cost-efficient

Toyota tow tractor in productionTugger trains are considered the safest and most economical solution for internal horizontal material flow. They can achieve high increases in productivity with plannable, standardised logistical processes. Towing solutions are very efficient both in terms of staff, time and cost. Tractors with optimally equipped trailers can transport a large number of load carriers at the same time. The handling capacity and the transport volume are significantly higher than other logistic solutions and the material transportation is much more efficient.

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Thanks to precisely timed tow train coordination, production delays and production downtimes can also be avoided. Tow trains also help to reduce internal traffic volumes and with an optimised logistical solution additional equipment is no longer required for handling between the logistic train and the unloading area. Since the material can be supplied and removed with one and the same tow truck, the usual empty runs are also reduced. A tugger train system is particularly effective when bridging longer distances indoors and outdoors, between production and storage areas and for the safe transport of goods from station to station.

All tow tractor benefits in a nutshell:  
  • Higher reliability, punctuality and transparency in the material flow  
  • More standardised and efficient work processes  
  • Combined transport of different load carrier formats  
  • High-frequency supply and disposal  
  • High material throughput  
  • Improved land use  
  • Less number of industrial trucks required  
  • Reduction of acquisition and maintenance costs  
  • Fewer security risks  
  • Minimisation of production-related inventories  
  • Minimisation of downtimes and empty runs

Successful implementation asks for good planning

For the successful implementation of an efficient tow tractor train solution, holistic planning is essential. An economically positive result can only be achieved if all processes, technical equipment and process control are included. It always starts with an analysis of which towing system best meets the requirements in order to ultimately increase efficiency. Swapping load carriers should happen as fast and ergonomically as possible for the system to lead to an overall success. Therefore, you should strive for the ideal combination of trailers and the best fitting deployment technology.

Through standardisation and the introduction of low-waste supply processes, transparent and highly cyclic material flows can be realised and thus the total operating costs - the total cost of ownership (TCO) - can be reduced.

Taking it a step further: automated tow trains

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Automated tow tractors are a further step in increasing the logistical productivity of repetitive processes. In the future, the degree of automation in tugger trains will increase significantly due to the new possibilities of Industry 4.0. There is, in particular, enormous potential for pure driving and the loading and unloading process. For example, a recurring material transport over long distances through interconnected production halls is ideal for automated operations. The employees can be used for more productive tasks in the meantime.

So particularly in production supply, there is considerable potential of increasing efficiency for many companies thanks to tow tractors. They pay off wherever loads must be brought to the right place for further just-in-time processing, i.e. at the right time and in the right quantity, or just-in-sequence, i.e. additionally in the right order. Think about how they can help you.


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