Thursday, May 30, 2024

Trucking Goes High-Tech, Saving Money & Time

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Trucking has traditionally been a low-tech arena. The best you might

expect would be a CB radio, a cell phone and maybe a backend server for

orders and driver assignment.

But the slick image and real-time savvy of Fed Ex and UPS now is bleeding

into the more traditional world of trucking. As a result, wireless, GPS

and real-time updates now are being adopted by some companies as a means

of competitive advantage.

”We needed a faster, more reliable way to gather data on our pickups and

deliveries, and to improve our route optimization processes,” says

Gregory Confer, director of Process Analysis and Improvement at Ward

Trucking. ”By implementing wireless technology, we have reduced clerical

data entry by several hours a day at each of our facilities and increased

overall efficiency.”

The company adopted route optimization and dispatch technology by Cheetah

Software Systems Inc. of Westlake Village, Calif., as well as Nextel

cellular voice and text messaging. As a result, the company now can track

the movement of its fleet, and offer accurate ETA’s to customers, as well

as updates on the progress of shipments.

Less than a Truckload

Ward Trucking is headquartered in Altoona, Penn. and serves the

mid-Atlantic market. Formed in 1931, Ward’s fleet services a client list

that spans Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, North Carolina, New York,

Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Virginia. The company serves a

specific niche in the trucking world, known as Less than Truckload (LTL).

An LTL carrier does pickup and delivery (P&D) business for loads smaller

than one truckload. Customers place an order and share the trailer with

materials from other customers.

Similar to airport shuttles, you share the ride with several other

passengers rather than having your own dedicated taxi service. And the

similarities continue. Anyone who has ever ordered a shuttle knows that

the time of arrival can vary widely, and that occasionally you may even

miss your flight. Your trip from the airport might take one hour or

several, depending on how many other passengers are aboard and where they

have to be dropped off.

The average LTL carrier operates in a similar fashion. You call in an

order, clerks manually type these orders into the back-end system, and at

the end of the day, they type in the deliveries made by returning

drivers. Dispatchers take all this data and schedule the order of drop

offs for the coming day, then contact drivers by phone or two-way radio

to verify deliveries.

”Our old manual dispatching system required clerical data entry and

voice instructions for drivers over two-way radio,” says Confer. ”Radio

transmissions and phone calls were heavily utilized by managers,

dispatchers and drivers to cope with day-to-day traffic and delivery


He explains that manual tracking techniques rely heavily on dispatcher

experience. The dispatcher had to understand the pickup area and know

which driver to assign to which deliveries. Planning was only as good as

the know-how of the dispatchers, he says. Not surprisingly, dispatchers

struggled to provide customers with accurate ETAs.

”We had to call the drivers and ask them if they made a delivery or when

it would arrive,” says Confer. ”Otherwise, we had no visibility into

our fleet.”

Ward realized that automation was the key to greater profitability. IT

investigated the various products on the market but balked at the high

cost. Confer says the prices were typically in the range of hundreds of

thousands of dollars when you added up the bill for hardware and


On top of that, the company lacked the IT resources required to deploy

and run many of these systems. The IT shop consists of less than 20

people for a company of more than 1,000 employees. The workload generated

by its AS/400 and Windows XP/2000 environment left little time for

additional traffic.

At that point, Ward changed tactics and sought out the most

cost-effective and easy-to-implement ASP approach to automate P&D and

other workflow logistics.

”We researched about 20 vendors and Cheetah came out on top,” says

Confer. ”It provided us with the same basic functionality as other

systems that would have cost us 10 times as much.”

Cheetah hosts Ward’s P&D software, which is accessible over the Web. It

works in conjunction with Motorola mobile phones, using the Nextel

wireless network, which was just acquired by Sprint. These Java-enabled

GPS phones offer digital cellular voice, along with walkie-talkie and

text messaging. Drivers use them to view their itinerary for the day,

receive schedule changes, enter updates and confirm deliveries.

”Drivers’ deliveries for the day are downloaded to their telephones,”

says Confer. ”With a couple of key strokes, they make updates as they go

about their business and within a minute, we have delivery confirmation

available to customers.”

After each delivery, the driver enters the data, which is immediately

available to the dispatcher. The system adjusts ETAs continually and

customers are automatically informed of any shifts in the delivery time.

Further, dispatchers can accurately track the location of every truck in

the Ward Trucking fleet.

”We have eliminated an hour or two in data entry at the end of each day,

and up to an hour in drivers waiting for pickup assignments,” says

Confer. ”We also have virtually eliminated phone and radio traffic

between the dispatcher and drivers.”

Implementation wasn’t without its problems, however.

Memory issues with the phone delayed progress for about a month. The

original phone — Motorola I58 SR — didn’t have enough RAM to fully

support the Cheetah application. This caused memory errors and phone

lockups. But Motorola came out with its I325 model in September, which

has more than enough memory.

Despite that delay, the complete roll out for 18 trucking terminals and

425 trucks took less than six months. Confer reports that drivers,

dispatchers and customers are happy with the system so far.

”We have lowered the number of miles driven per stop and are on target

to achieve ROI within six months,” Confer says.

He also notes that Ward has not yet begun to use the full functionality

of the system. While immediate P&D efficiencies have been realized, Ward

has yet to completely utilize features, such as reporting, customer

service and, in particular, automated route optimization. According to

Confer, these will gradually be added once drivers and dispatchers become

fully familiar with the basic elements.

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