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Just-in-Time Manufacturing? Not With Rickety U.S. Infrastructure

Tortured logistics at one factory in Pennsylvania reveal the economic toll of strained highways and ports. 

Backed-up traffic on Interstate 81, just before the southbound exit for West Hazleton, Pa.

Backed-up traffic on Interstate 81, just before the southbound exit for West Hazleton, Pa.

Photographer: Warren Ruda/Hazleton Standard-Speaker/AP Photo
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Every vehicle that comes off the assembly line at Volvo Construction Equipment Corp. in central Pennsylvania is a test of America’s highways, rail lines, and ports. And too often they let the company down—slowing the influx of global supplies that feed its main U.S. production facility, which builds wheel loaders, soil compactors, and other industrial vehicles.

During a stretch in April and May, bad traffic on nearby Interstate 81 delayed the arrival of steel plates from Georgia on three occasions. Such incidents send senior production controller Mike Middaugh to his computer to test alternative assembly schedules, given what parts the factory has on hand and what other deliveries might be accelerated.