Many fuel oil companies have moved into automated dispatching, but some think that they are too small in size to switch to the new technologies available today. Not true, said Saul Cohen manager of the energy division for Cargas.
‘Anyone who’s hesitant to make the investment should consider the value of fewer miles, better productivity, and less wear-and-tear on the vehicles themselves,” he said.
Take a joint case study by Cargas Systems and Roadnet Technologies with their collaboration in helping Wilson Oil of Wallingford, Penn., a small heating oil and HVAC company. Wilson Oil wanted to update the company’s manual method of routing their delivery trucks. Not unlike many other small heating oil companies, Wilson began each day printing out tickets, bursting them, filing them and letting drivers sequence their stop tickets themselves. Wilson reached out to Cargas, based in Lancaster, Penn, who referred them to Roadnet, headquartered in Townson, MD.
‘We wanted software that was user-friendly, scalable, and most of all, seamless, with close integration between deliver, truck level, routing, mapping, tracking, all the way to billing,” said David O’Connell, president of Wilson Oil.
Roadnet Technologies provided ‘Roadnet,” which has cut out the ticket pull, printing, bursting, filing, sorting and routing. Now all that is needed is one sheet of step-by-step directions for the entire day’s routes. Additionally, the company’s MobileCast allows Wilson to see their drivers’ routes and progress in real time all day long.
Cargas’ Solution Bulider allows the data to move between the technologies into a seamless platform. Cargas uses a Web-based application for office users and a mobile application for the fuel delivery drivers. Built-in connections and interfaces to the trucks’ digital meter registers ensure each truck can accurately capture fuel delivery, real time price changes and prevent over filling. An on-truck billing feature eliminates the time and cost of sending delivery invoices through the mail.
‘When you’re looking at automation, you’re looking at integrating four platforms: wireless delivery, electronics, routing and logistics, and back office,” said Gary Sippin, owner of Sippin Energy, a fuel oil company based in Monroe, Conn.
‘This orchestra of technology is amazing,” he said. ‘Putting these together, or connecting the orchestra, has good consequences with a windfall of benefits.”
Sippin said they used a combination of systems, routing from Roadnet Technologies and wireless delivery from Automated Wireless, to implement a driver incentive program.
‘We used wireless delivery along with routing metrics to start a compensation-based efficiency program,” he said, which was an unintended outcome of that pairing of technologies that worked out very well for his company.
‘Our customer service representatives have everything at their fingertips when a customer calls,” said Wilson’s O’Connell. ‘We can now give them a very accurate time window of when their delivery will arrive. At this point, we could double our business without the need for more administrative personnel.”
Another company seeing these back office benefits is Kauffman Gas, a six-truck, propane-only distributor, headquartered in Atglen, Penn. and led by father and son team Ken and Chris Kauffman.
‘We made a quick decision to go paperless,” said Chris, then went on to describe the manual process they used to employ, which involved using postcards as tickets, sorting them out by hand and then running ADD Systems’ Energy E3. Chris saw that the system was tedious and needed an upgrade.
‘So I said to my dad, let’s skip that (manual) step,” he said. They did a test run using the paperless Raven delivery and dispatch system. When they saw that Raven made the operations run ten times quicker, Dad was immediately on board.
‘Now we are completely paperless except for a print out of one piece of paper, which is the manifest,” said Chris, (see ‘Paperless Steps”) a system that benefits the drivers, but has an even bigger impact in the administrative department.
‘The back office has change more than anything.” They used to have a driver come in two to three hours early in the morning to do the routing. ‘Now, it takes my dad a half hour to an hour in the afternoons.”
The driver previously responsible for that can now get out on the road earlier, roughly translating to 15 more stops a day. But the back office benefits don’t stop there.
‘Posting used to be such a huge thing!” Chris said it was a job that needed to be performed by one employee over the course of the entire winter. Now, it takes that employee just a couple of minutes because Raven updates the posting as soon as the end-of-shift files are uploaded to the E3 office computer. The technology has eliminated an entire administrative role and has freed that employee to take care of other parts of the business.
‘We handled changes in the past,” he said, ‘but this (technology) makes it easier for everyone.” In a matter of seconds they can pull up a screen that shows the drivers’ locations and give them a change in deliveries.
However, they did have some drivers that were hesitant to adapt to the new technology. ‘But it’s an easy product to learn, anybody could pick it up.” Now, the general consensus of the drivers is that they love it.
‘They get to do less,” Chris said, without all the manual paperwork that needs to be done. Another thing that surprised him was that some of the drivers actually complain when their GPS isn’t working. This switch to depending on technology to help them find the best route has been an unexpected outcome, with some guys, some of them driving in their territories for a very long time, having found different, faster ways of getting to places.
‘A map and a computer look at it (routes) so objectively,” Chris said. ‘So it gives the most efficient route.”
At first, some of the drivers tried messing with the order of the deliveries, but most now follow, without question, what the computer spits out.
‘The technology knows all,” he said. ‘It runs the whole process in the most efficient way.”
Paperless Steps ‘ the Raven way
ADD Systems’ Raven goes through the delivery process in the following steps:
1. Deliveries due are pulled, sorted and assigned for each driver.
2. Optimized map-based routes are generated and dispatchers might tweak the path based on their knowledge of the area.
3. Virtual ‘tickets” are downloaded automated to Raven overnight, or immediately, as needed.
4. A ‘cheat sheet” manifest can be printed for the office and driver.
5. Drivers take their handhelds and run through their route, printing an extended ticket upon completion.
6. Delivery information is wirelessly uploaded in real-time.
7. End-of-shift files are uploaded to the office computer at the end of the shift.
8. Posting can be updated as soon as the shifts are uploaded.
9. Invoices can be sent to customers the same day as posting, generating quick cash flow.