With the units Deere & Co. ships getting larger and weightier, David A. Panjwani, the heavy equipment company’s director of worldwide logistics, is up to the task of seeing to it that nothing runs like a Deere supply chain.

In his 17th year with John Deere, Panjwani is applying his extensive global experience to consistently meeting roll-on/roll-off transportation challenges faced by the Moline, Ill.-based company, which ranks as the world’s No. 1 maker of agricultural machinery.

Panjwani shares his thoughts on ro-ro shipping and his personal priorities in an interview with the American Journal of Transportation.

David A. Panjwani, Deere & Co.’s director of worldwide logistics, poses with a big green unit of heavy equipment outside the company’s factory in Mannheim, Germany.
David A. Panjwani, Deere & Co.’s director of worldwide logistics, poses with a big green unit of heavy equipment outside the company’s factory in Mannheim, Germany.

How are you working to ensure that nothing runs like a Deere supply chain? Or, again with apologies for adapting a company slogan, should I ask: Is it a matter of it’s not how fast you ship, it’s how well you ship fast? I like your developing that quote, because it does fit logistics quite well.

One of the thoughts that comes to mind when you think of “it’s not how well you ship, it’s how you ship fast” is that one of the things we’re trying to do in our supply chain is not only to make things a bit faster but to make them much more consistent.

We’re doing some things in our inbound supply chain and our outbound supply chain – which is moving our machines to dealers whether domestically or internationally, as well as service parts – where we’re really focusing on taking that variation out.

We’ve got our teams really focused on designing and executing an integrated supply chain that actually works and supports the unique needs of our factories and our dealer customers.

We work with our colleagues. For example, on the inbound side, with our colleagues who plan the order, we’re doing things ahead of time, like ensuring the lot size, the frequency, the type of returnable containers that are used, to allow us to be as efficient as possible.

Then we focus on actually executing the transportation order, working our 3PL [third-party logistics] and carrier partners doing things like building milk runs and dynamic consolidations and really providing useful metrics on the back end, so we can measure our success and continue to identify where the waste is.

What are some of the unique challenges of roll-on/roll-off transportation of high and heavy units, particularly as manufacturing and users are increasingly global, and how are you addressing them at John Deere?

On the trucking side, it’s clear that our combines, our cotton pickers, our sprayers and our tractors are not getting smaller, they’re getting larger, they’re getting heavier. So it really requires very, very good planning on our end to make sure we have the right type of capacity and equipment to move our machines.

Whether we’re moving from a U.S. factory to a U.S. dealer or from a U.S. factory to a dealer in Europe or Australia or Asia, or from a factory in Europe to elsewhere, we have kind of all the similar challenges, where we really want to be planning better on the front end.

We’re aware of the impending driver shortage, so, while the economy and the capacity right now is reasonable, we are doing our best to plan for when things improve that we become what we call the shipper of choice for our trucking company partners.

So we invest in those relationships. We do our best to provide them a forecast and information about our machines and spend a fair amount of time with them now to ensure that, when the supply-demand shifts and it’s not in our favor, we still have these carriers working for us and wanting to work for us.

On the rail side, this is a more challenging one, as the machines get larger and more out-of-gauge. But we still believe longer-term and medium-term that this is still an important part of our supply chain, whether we’re moving units to port, like we do in the U.S., or to longer-destination dealers, perhaps on the West Coast.

As these units often require unit trains, again we work closely with the Class I partners to plan properly and to ensure that that’s a lever we can pull when truck capacity gets to be more scarce.

On the ocean piece, we have always approached it much differently, because we may view a container as more of a commodity, but, when it comes to ro-ro, because there are so few players, we approach this in a much different way.

We work with a few carriers, in a much more collaborative manner. We try to share as much information as we can on the dimensions of our equipment and our destinations and share with them the requirements we have as far in advance as possible to ensure we have the space and the quality movement taken care of.

With some of our newer destinations, such as places in Southeast Asia, ro-ro really doesn’t have a great option for us, so we also invest in working with partners that can provide flat-rack service on more of the container liner services.

Always, in all of this, we’re trying to balance the cost considerations with the best possible transit.

So, yes, ro-ro is a huge challenge, especially with machines getting larger and destinations getting more varied. What we’ve always done is have several of our team members completely focused on the different modes and working with our providers and our factories so that we have as few surprises as possible.

How have your multiple overseas assignments for John Deere – including more than three years each in Singapore and Germany – plus eight years early in your career with Schneider National enhanced your global logistics capabilities?

I’ve had the privilege in what’s now a greater-than-20-year career all in logistics to have a lot of really good experiences.

The one at Schneider was very good because it was grounding me in the industry and the basics of transportation and logistics, really beginning to understand the different modes of transportation and different types of customers and the requirements they have.

At John Deere, for my 16-year career here, I’ve really gotten to be involved in almost every leadership role that we have, from domestic logistics to leading inbound to leading our international transportation and logistics teams.

And I’ve had the opportunity to start up our European logistics group and to really build our team there and our connections with our factories and our dealer customers.

By the same token, I got to do exactly the same thing in Asia while based in Singapore, with building our Asia and our Africa logistics organization and again really understanding how we could focus on those unique customer segments.

Especially in Europe and Asia, it really allowed me to better understand that taking a U.S.-only-centric view of logistics is not always going to be effective in all markets.

I learned a great deal about emerging markets and really the importance of balancing cost with service. And I really learned what it means to be successful in leading global teams that are not made up just of U.S. colleagues.

The theme for me in those experiences was that we can take a lot of what we’re doing at the corporate logistics level and a lot of common processes, and there’s great value to sharing those with our colleagues in different parts of the world, and they can leverage off of those. But we have to adjust to the unique requirements of each market.

If we find that balance – and I think that I did – you can be quite successful.

After the time abroad, was it nice to come back to Moline last year? And have you now got some John Deere equipment of your own?

For myself and my family, we very much appreciated the time abroad, and I’m grateful that my children had a large piece of their childhood abroad. So that experience was very positive and did a lot to shape our world views.

But, yes, we’re pleased to be back in Moline and to be part of a smaller community and also to be back as part of the corporate logistics team.

I would love to own a piece of John Deere equipment, but my yard is just not big enough and has too many hills for a riding lawnmower. I do hope in the future, if I ever have a larger piece of property, that I can buy one, because I certainly look at them all the time.

What nonwork activities are you passionate about?

We are definitely very active in our local church here, and we enjoy going on short-term mission trips with various Christian organizations.

I enjoy running and really anything outdoor-related and enjoy traveling internationally with my family.