Routing & Scheduling Software: more powerful and more available than ever

By Joost Bekker, Business Development Director, Asia Pacific, for the logistics software solutions division of PTV Group.

For companies operating their own fleets, vehicle routing and scheduling software can significantly reduce their operational cost and improve the resource utilisation while at the same time ensuring compliance with loading and driving time regulations. Companies that outsource their transport to a carrier with a dedicated fleet also stand to benefit by staying in control and being able to monitor their carrier's performance.

A solution for any situation

The argument that a company's distribution process is so unique with such specific requirements that's it's impossible to introduce vehicle planning software is no longer valid.

Routing and scheduling systems have developed dramatically since the first introduction over 30 years ago. The availability of highly detailed digital road networks means more accurate and realistic driving time calculation and with the inclusion of truck attributes (bridge height, road width, max. tonnage etc.) route calculation can now be based on the specific dimensions of the vehicle type used.

Taking into account all dimensions of a delivery or collection order has become standard functionality and the more advanced systems can cope with any relevant restriction such as multiple opening time windows, vehicle access limitation, tail lift requirements etc.. Orders can be planned into optimised trips, respecting all restrictions that are relevant for you and your customers. With historical traffic data expected delays can be taken into account, while linking the system to an in-vehicle telematics solution offers the opportunity to follow-up on the execution live.

"Safe driving plan" or "optimised driving plan"? Why not both?

Compliance with driving time regulations is not just the responsibility of the driver, as an employer you have  to ensure you offer your drivers a safe driving plan. With increased restrictions such as tight customer time window requirements, maintaining good customer service levels while at the same time creating safe driving plans can become a very complex task.

The power of vehicle routing and scheduling software lies in its ability to take these restrictions into account while optimising the planning. The result will be an optimised driving plan where customer time windows are respected, while at the same time the defined load restrictions will not be exceeded and driving time regulations adhered to. 'Save driving' and 'optimised driving' are not mutually exclusive, with advanced  vehicle routing and scheduling systems they go hand in hand.

Fleet size and configuration

Optimised distribution planning is a combination of efficient allocation of orders to trips and sequence optimisation of these individual trips. In an operational environment this process will be based on the fleet that is available, but routing & scheduling software can also be used as a strategic tool to evaluate the size and configuration of your fleet. It enables you to run scenarios to determine the best fleet configuration so you can make the right decision when you are looking at resizing your fleet.

The carbon footprint

Although the trucking industry has been exempted from carbon tax until 1 July 2014, the pressure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions continues. Vehicle and fuel technology has helped the industry to reduce the impact of tonne kilometres driven, but the most efficient way is to reduce emissions is to not produce them in the first place. Transport planning software can typically reduce the mileage of your distribution plan by 8-20%, which directly results in lower fuel consumption and ultimately fewer emissions.

New systems have been developed with technology for detailed emission calculation as part of the routing and optimisation solution to help the industry to calculate the carbon impact on trip and drop level during the planning stage. Information on customer and order level can be visualised and will show the company's commitment to managing the carbon footprint. The early adopters will be well positioned to remain competitive when new carbon tax rules come into effect.

Planning process optimisation

Vehicle routing and scheduling software not only improves the distribution plan; it also enables you to improve your planning process. The system will help your planner to reduce the time needed to make a distribution plan, which in turn will give him more time to focus on the exceptions and ensure high customer service levels. Successful implementations focus on how the software can support rather than replace the planner. The real power is the combination of the speed of the technology to create a plan with the flexibility of the planner to manage exceptions. This means these systems need to be very user friendly, an important aspect when selecting your solution.

The Benefits

  • Compliance with loading and driving time regulations
  • Optimised fleet utilisation
  • Improved customer service levels
  • Reduced fuel consumption and emission
  • Live monitoring via link to telematics
  • Reduce planning time

Interface or integrate

Every planning environment has its own specific requirements, which can be catered for. However, depending on the level of complexity, a range of solutions will need to be considered.  For example: perhaps your preference is to integrate geographical and logistics functions into your existing system environment. There are now components on the market that allow you to seamlessly extend your applications with logistic functions.  These solutions range from visualising customer locations to complete vehicle routing  and scheduling optimisation. The modular set up means you can be flexible in developing  your own customised functionality, scaled to your specific requirements.
Another option is to interface your order management system (e.g. TMS, ERP) with and end-tot-end solution. The more advanced solutions can be fully parameterised to comply with your specific requirements without the need of customer specific development. When you can use a standard solution you have the benefit that you can upgrade to new versions the moment they are released. As developments in vehicle routing and scheduling are never ending, standard software can be a great advantage. With a well-developed interface you can create a solution with the user experience of an integrated system.

Good return on investment (ROI)

The ROI of vehicle routing and scheduling solutions can come in many forms: reduced mileage and related fuel consumption, less driving hours, better customer service and fleet utilisation. It can also take the form of reduced time required to create the planning, an improved planning process with less dependency on skilled planners to produce a good solution (an average planner will still be able to create a good plan). In many situations the ROI of these solutions is counted in months rather than years.

Key benefits of components

No need for your own extensive development
Use the specialist know-how of a niche supplier

Modular structures enable you to extend your solution with more functions at any time

With cluster technology you can expand your solutions so they always meet your performance requirements.

Customise to individual requirements
Customise the solution to your specific needs.

Stop talking start doing

There's a lot of talk in the industry about the potential of this technology to deliver efficiency improvements and higher service levels. Routing and scheduling solutions offer great ROI's and as a side effect improved planning solutions mean doing more in less kilometres, thus not only reducing cost but also carbon emissions. It's now the challenge for the logistics industry to stop talking and to start doing.

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