That venerable rallying cry for business, "Time is money" has special significance to the trucking industry, where a shipment that arrives too late or too early can affect the business of every customer and each of their successive customers on the delivery route.
Though trucking operations managers may face myriad challenges on a daily basis, they are expected to maintain a smooth, cost-efficient, delivery system to sustain the flow of goods from manufacturer, to distributor, and on to the consumer.
While the conventional image of the traditional truck driver may be that of a road warrior-independent and self-reliant as he navigates his rig using instinct and adrenaline, the reality of today's trucking industry champion may well be the diametric opposite. To insure prompt delivery of his cargo, a trucker must remain in close communication with his dispatcher so that interruptions to his schedule can be quickly relayed to those on his delivery stops and remedial actions undertaken, if necessary.
Haulage companies are aware that consciously maintaining this necessary communication with the dispatcher can be a distraction to the driver and have begun to implement software systems that continually monitor the location and condition of their fleet of trucks and drivers without impacting on the driver's concentration.
When ICOM transport a.s., one of the largest transportation companies in the Czech Republic, was awarded a major contract late last year for the delivery of snack food items supplied by international companies Nestlé's, Opavia-LU, and Danone, it decided that the inherent complexity of developing unique routes to more than 400 supermarkets throughout the Czech Republic on a daily basis required a unique solution. ICOM turned to VARS BRNO a.s., a GIS applications developer, who created for them an information system for vehicle routing optimization and management based on ESRI's ArcLogistics Route (ALR) software and a number of related custom applications.
Comments Tomás Cafourek, Sales Director for ICOM, "A major challenge for us in winning the new contract was the requirement to provide the companies whose products we are delivering a copy of our daily routes within one hour of finalizing the day's stops." The routes then had to be submitted to the dispatchers, who, in turn, monitored the vehicles and issued warnings to the drivers and the customers on their routes if a vehicle was off schedule for any reason.
By using ArcLogistics Route, ICOM dispatchers can automatically map the day's deliveries, assign vehicles to make those deliveries, and determine the optimal stopping sequences to minimize costs and honor time windows. The software also generates route summary reports, street-level directions, and driver manifests, as well as exporting routes and schedules back to the customer databases.(see Figures 1 - 6 below).
Orders arriving in Microsoft Excel format are imported into the central data storage, where a duplicity check is carried out and the information required for the order processing in ALR is completed (name, address, delivery time, etc.) Orders are then divided into groups according to the delivery time. The system also performs invoicing from the central database. On the basis of the survey of covered orders and tariffs for individual vehicles, it processes basic invoicing documents according to orders, customers, and vehicles.
A strategic part of ICOM's information system is an intelligent mobile communications unit that is fitted into each vehicle. The unit consists of a GPS receiver, a programmable microcomputer that records the behavior of the vehicle, such as its location, stops, fuel levels, etc., and a communicator, either GSM- or GPRS-based, for communication with the control software application. A custom application manages the communication between the mobile unit and the central database. It provides the link between the vehicle and the ALR software and communicates vehicle and delivery locations, delivery announcements, and permitted tolerances, such as bridge clearance heights and road weight limits for the proposed routes, vehicle capabilities, driver details, such as his working hours and abilities, as well as other information. It also enables the transfer and storage of data from the mobile unit to the central database for vehicle dispatching and financial analysis.
To effectively generate quick, accurate routes, the vehicle dispatching system requires regularly updated, error free mapping data. The hybrid dataset used by ICOM has been developed and maintained by VARS BRNO.The base map contains the complete road network for the country and was derived from a navigation map created by the Central European Data Agency, CEDA a.s., which also provides navigation data for Skoda-Auto and Tele Atlas. The road network map data is regularly updated and contains all descriptive information necessary for an easy understanding of the map attributes, as well as any changes in the road network. In the future, it will be used for dynamic segmentation, including selectable restrictions.
Also included is street network data from CEDA a.s., which contains all major and minor cities in the Czech Republic. The street network is classified by street names and postal codes and is connected to the road network data.
In addition, political boundaries and both natural and manmade features, such as lakes, parks, streams, etc.are included in the map for better visual orientation.VARS calibrated the compiled mapping dataset for real time travel, the most important procedure for correct route planning. For the calibration, engineering measurements from the Road and Motorway Directorate of the Czech Republic were used. VARS' calibrations also take into consideration special conditions such as the type of vehicle and its task.
Regarding the future of GIS at ICOM, Cafourek concludes, "We would like to develop a strong logistics department that will allow us to optimize all of the routes and services of our entire fleet of vehicles. ArcLogistics Route's ability to perform detailed travel time analysis can help us reduce our costs. For example, by analyzing the travel times when our vehicles aren't carrying goods, such as on a return trip, or when they aren't being used at all can help us increase our ratio of loaded vehicles per kilometer and minimize the time when the vehicle is unused. With the software's ability to optimize routes and perform real time tracking functions, we hope to eventually expand the use of this solution to our international transport division."