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Home > Feature Articles > Logistics and Vehicle Fleet Management

Field Service Route Optimization For Energy and Cost Efficiency

Transportation costs increase with fuel costs as well as employee costs. Optimizing route management can save costs along the entire internal supply chain.

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Optimizing Route Management Saves Fuel, Time and Maintenance Costs

Transportation costs increase with fuel costs as well as employee costs. Optimizing route management can save costs along the entire internal supply chain of companies that deliver goods and/or services to their customers' locations.

Route optimization technologies have matured with a host of software, servers and handheld field computers or phones available to coordinate operations.

Field Service Force Automation

Field force automation that replaces a manual system changes your core business processes, in and out of the field, so abrupt changes aren’t usually successful. Companies typically move forward in phased deployments, often limiting the scope of the immediate deployment to what their business can handle.

Effective field service automation and optimization is really composed of two factors:

  • Routing the technicians and/or drivers in the most efficient way possible and
  • Creating an accurate, automated method for recording and billing completed work via mobile devices.

Company Goals

Targeting a specific efficiency area with a numerical goal helps focus the program and make decisions about complexity of the system, how people will interact, and the budget needed to accomplish the goal.

Consider for example, a "10% reduction in delivery transportation costs and planning more preventative maintenance service through a route optimization solution."

A route optimization plan includes:

Dispatch

Orders from customers arrive at a dispatch facility, where the delivery stops are assigned to drivers and products are picked for next-day delivery.

Delivery Stops

The fleet of #X vehicles and drivers, handles approximately #X delivery stops per day from its #X dispatch and warehouse locations.

Regulations

The routes and loads need to be assigned according to U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations on driver hours and truck weights, as well as with customer-specific requirements

Tracking

With the complexity of all delivery requirements – fuel, equipment, and driver usage, manual routing can be very time consuming and labor-intensive. Repetitive systems such as route management are well matched to computer-aided systems that help connect people along the "internal supply-chain."

Technology Systems

Routing and optimization software systems include the dispatch interface as well as the back-office optimization software...that together deliver specific results to the field team: the warehouse staff who picks and loads the delivery, and the driver.

Run Mock-ups

Typically, this route optimization system produces a route of stops that can be adjusted when a new customer is added, or a delivery is added or deleted on a daily basis. An optimization system can create a mock-up of that run, including how much more it will cost, so managers can make informed decisions on whether or not to change the route.

Pick and Load List

builds a pick and load list so the trucks can be loaded in reverse-stop order, making for more efficient stops.

Driver Route Manifests

Drivers receive printed route manifests and download the route information into onboard truck computer systems. This enables management to track a driver’s performance against the optimum route solution created by the optimization system. The on-board computer system that tracks performance can also be used to reward drivers for staying on their routes.

Driver Adoption

Since user adoption can be one of the biggest challenges in a field force automation deployment, recognizing drivers for their route efficiency and support of the optimized routes can make the transition to the new automation process a smoother.

Applications of Route Optimization for Deliveries

Route optimization is routinely achieved by small fleet teams with a manual, common sense approach. But as the number of deliveries and trucks increase, the human scale can become overloaded. Phasing in a computer system to handle information coordination can help save time, speed up deliveries, and of course, save fuel when optimized routes cut miles off the daily routes.
  • Some applications for route optimization include:
  • Companies who provide planned maintenance for customers.
  • Centralize field service dispatching systems
  • Integration of variable deliveries with back end legacy systems (e.g. billing, CRM),

Technology for Route Optimization

There are a plethora of devices available to accommodate route optimization, from handheld devices to tablet PCs, all with touch screens to capture signatures. Even voice recognition can be helpful in some applications.

People and Culture Changes to Implement Route Optimization

But route optimization still depends on people. The dispatchers, the warehouse team and the drivers. And don't forget the customer! Phasing in a route optimization and automation system needs to involve the human constraints and desire to achieve job satisfaction from feeling productive. When you share your goals and strategy and make the system manageable in bites -- you can improve morale, energy efficiency, even field service quality.

Strategic Planning for Successful Optimization Deployment

Phased it in gradually! Test and implement one system first, then the next. This gives you time to work out kinks and let people adapt to new routines that temporarily complicate their ability to keep their performance at acceptable levels.

Pilot deployment helps work out the bugs. For example: mobile device originally selected [rugged handhelds] for techs to receive call information on might be too complex, and it might be more successful to switch to smartphones for the field techs. Testing implementation can save hardward investments!

  • With all the additional computer processing, your computer system might require bigger servers.
  • An open system might be helpful if you have several vital backend systems that need to be connected in the new in-house supply chain.
  • Networking your team with backup by dispatchers in nearby locations can help fill gaps created by absences of key team members. A good optimization system makes this possible.
  • Setting your goal to maintain (and improve) your level of service is essential.

Best Practices Applications: Manufacturing, Transportation, Forestry, Agriculture, Waste Management, etc

Sectors who employ a "best practices" approach to route optimization to improve fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas reduction include Transportation, Forestry, Agriculture, Cement, Manure Management, Semiconductor, Petroleum Refining, Landfills, Natural Gas Systems
Suppliers:

NetRouter.com offers a Web-based optimization service for small and medium enterprises. Buddy Bradford emphasizes a "best practices approach that can reduce costs by 10 - 25%." NetRouter makes a white paper available to explain how route optimization improves transportation and service.

Additional Truck Route Optimization Software is listed at:

California Association for Local Economic Development's website



Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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