Sustainability and environmental stewardship are high-profile initiatives at many companies, especially those that operate in the B2C space, whether as a retailer, a distributor, service provider or a manufacturer.
Environmental awareness has matured to embrace the smarter use of resources through technological means as well as behavioral changes. “Going green” in fleet operations now includes eliminating waste and inefficiency through the planning process to help reduce overall fuel consumption and increase asset utilization.
Doing more with the vehicles and fuel already in use in your fleets gives you a head start on sustainability.
Of course, specifying and maintaining efficient engines or coaching drivers to reduce the time spent idling are key contributors to reducing fuel consumption. Surprisingly, improving your operating methods can be just as effective.
Working with the vehicles currently in your fleet today, it’s possible to optimize your delivery operations and consume far less fuel in the process.
It’s not easy defining “green,” to paraphrase the song title, but we know the definition covers far more than just switching to vehicles that run on CNG or used French-fry cooking oil.
- “Green” means a well-tuned engine and properly inflated tires.
- Green also means less driver “windshield time”; drivers should ideally spend more time servicing customers and less time behind the wheel.
- It means sending trucks out fully loaded, with as little empty cargo space as possible.
- It means ensuring your drivers are not waiting in long lines at customer locations to make their deliveries.
- It means avoiding the need for drivers parking long distances from the customer or hand unloading because the wrong truck size was sent to the stop.
- It means not having two of your vehicles delivering across the street from each other.
To gain that level of control, fleet operations need to take full advantage of tools available that can provide visibility. That visibility then needs to be incorporated into the planning process.
Most commonly, fleet operations gain that insight by implementing route management and load management tools, in addition to vehicle tracking systems. Route management software can take information about customers, orders, products and geography and plan optimal routing and scheduling solutions to achieve your service goals, operating within your unique business and time constraints.
Additionally, the software should also be able to discriminate between different vehicle types in your fleet — with appropriate operating costs — and driver qualifications, to provide the right equipment and personnel for the customer’s needs.
To gain visibility and to benefit fully from it, you need more than vehicle tracking devices. It’s not enough to know where your vehicles are. Your operations team should know instantly if that’s where they are supposed to be.
Your routing software should support plan “tuning” for different traffic conditions at different times of day, seasonal transport patterns, or unusual access roads for certain customer facilities.
Make certain that drivers can provide feedback to the route plan design early in your software implementation to adjust for real-world conditions. A supposedly “optimized” route plan that can’t be realistically followed by a driver in a particular vehicle is worse than useless. It undermines staff acceptance for the entire process improvement and fuel conservation initiative. For fleets of more than 10 or 15 vehicles, it will become virtually impossible to run truly “green” without the use of software tools.
Why? As an example, let’s say you are managing 15 trucks that will make 15 stops each day to deliver 2 different products at each location. That simple combination generates over 1125 discrete information elements to manage and to monitor for successful execution and customer satisfaction.
If your planners have nothing better than spreadsheets to build complex schedules and routes each day, then habit and gut instinct will overcome the best intentions for analytical decision-making. Route and load management software reduce the drudgery and the time to plan routes and they never tire of squeezing a few more wasted miles out at every opportunity.
To run a “greener” fleet, be aware of the many institutional and personnel factors that can bloat transportation planning efforts when they are manually administered. Make use of automated tools that can help identify savings opportunities and present alternatives for greater efficiency. Even simple changes, when consistently addressed, can reduce road mileage 10 – 25%.
Failing to adapt or optimize routes regularly — as customers change, as business grows, as different vehicles join the fleet or traffic patterns are altered by development — locks wasted miles into your operations. Having drivers plan their own routes will cause you to miss countless opportunities for more efficient shipment consolidation or stop schedule realignment that can cut total mileage and driving times.
Greener fleet operations cannot be achieved if their purposes run counter to the primary mission of your business — to serve your customers better than the competitors can. Driving out waste and inefficiency in fleet operations cuts right to the heart of that mission, helping you deliver the responsive and cost-effective service that sustains a competitive edge.
Since reducing fuel consumption and removing unnecessary vehicles from the road naturally follows the adoption of route optimization technology, many businesses find that it really can be easy being green.
James Stevenson is Vice President of Sales and Operations for the Appian software business unit of TMW Systems, a leading provider of logistics software solutions for the transportation industry. He has over 23 years of experience in the transportation industry and the application of logistics planning, routing and scheduling technologies. A native of Oklahoma City, James attended the University of Oklahoma, where he received a BS in Industrial Engineering with a concentration in Operations Research.