Logistics group Wincanton is saving up to two shifts a day in its long-distance bulk milk delivery fleet with a system called Truckstops Loads from MapMechanics for scheduling trunking, tramping and other bulk movements. It is also able to plan vehicle trips more efficiently by handling more movements as back loads when it is economically viable to do so. The overall savings add up to many thousands of pounds a year.
Truckstops Loads is designed to meet the needs of primary scheduling of long-haul loads, often between ports and manufacturers' consolidation centres or between depots and regional distribution centres or large-volume delivery points. It is ideal for transporting containers, tankers, full pallet-loads or products such as aggregates.
From the outset, feature requests and user feedback from Wincanton played a significant role in the development of Truckstops Loads. In the words of Steve Prestidge, Wincanton's national contracts manager: "We identified a requirement for a product of this kind in our long-distance operations, and found that Mapmechanics was developing the system now known as Truckstops Loads. Since then we have contributed extensively to the way it has evolved." Wincanton operates a fleet of around 50 vehicles and 120 trailers on contract to Dairy Crest, collecting milk from 600 farms throughout the southern half of England and delivering it to dairies or manufacturing plants over a wide area of the country.
Raw milk is collected from farms by a number of different-sized tankers carrying between 14,500 and 26,000 litres each, then much of it is consolidated into larger consignments at "reload points" (local depots or other strategic locations), where it is loaded into bigger articulated tanker semi-trailers carrying up to 29,000 litres. These are trunked direct to their final destination point, usually as full loads.
Steve Prestidge explains: "We had always planned these movements manually at local level, but we run 75 to 100 direct movements a day, so it was almost impossible for our planners to consider all the possible routing permutations, or to work out which vehicles could be used economically to pick up loads on their return journeys."
Wincanton was already using Truckstops VRS (vehicle routing and scheduling system) as a strategic planning tool for modelling the collection of milk from farms and for new operations and tender submissions, and was keen to use something similar in an operational role to achieve efficiencies in its full-load movements. But it was aware that scheduling this work would require a specialised system suited to full-load operations.
The company explained its requirements to MapMechanics and then helped to test and evaluate the new system in the field, providing valuable feedback and further suggestions for fine-tuning its features.
The outcome, Truckstops Loads, is now establishing itself as an industry standard product for scheduling full-load movements across the world. Among its many features, it can schedule centrally across multiple depots, taking account of the availability of individual vehicles for successive tasks, and will respect delivery time windows and other constraints. It has the inherent ability to schedule pickups and deliveries that are interspersed on the same route.
It can be programmed to distinguish between short visits required for a straightforward trailer swap, and longer visits involving more lengthy queuing and unloading. It can even take account of loading bay restrictions at specific delivery locations.
"Truckstops Loads is particularly clever at working out which vehicles can be used for back loads," Steve Prestidge says. "It can take account of whether the vehicle would have to deviate too far from its route, whether it could respect the collection time window, and ultimately whether collecting the consignment in this way would be more or less expensive than treating it as a standard outgoing load."
He says Truckstops Loads has fully lived up to expectations. "For instance, it's very easy to get new data into the system if a dairy changes its requirements at the last minute. It allows us to change part of the plan when that happens, without throwing out the whole schedule." He adds that it has also been possible to move from local to central planning, improving the efficiency of the whole process significantly.
The fleet is double-shifted, operating almost 24 hours a day, so the system produces optimised runs several times a day. This means the saving of one or two runs a day equates to many thousands of pounds over a year.
The Truckstops family of products has achieved a strong presence in bulk milk logistics, and is now used by many leading names in this field. Various features help make it particularly well suited to this industry and others involving A to B bulk movements (for instance, grain, aggregates and other liquid products) – including its ability to schedule journeys that extend over more than one day, and to schedule collections and deliveries on the same journey.
According to MapMechanics' founder and director Mary Short: "Truckstops is inherently flexible and configurable, and we've gone out of our way over the years to help the milk industry to get the maximum benefit from its capabilities.
"Users have provided us with immensely helpful suggestions, and we developed Truckstops Loads to meet a need that emerged from their input. Wincanton has played a particularly important role here, and has continued to provide feedback, benefiting from enhancements and upgrades that we've introduced since the system was first conceived. The result is a product that delivers exactly what the industry requires."