BASF uses real-time visibility to improve their service capabilities. They implemented a solution from MacroPoint, a Descartes company, to improve their delivery reliability as well as improve the productivity of the transportation providers they use to service the North American market. But implementing great technology is not enough. Getting the most out of software also requires dealing with both internal and partner cultural issues and improving processes. According to Bill Wehrle, the Director of Supply Chain for isocyanates and inorganics in BASF’s Monomers strategic business unit, the journey that BASF has been on to improve their supply chain’s reliability started eight years ago.
Mr. Wehrle spoke at Descartes’ user conference Evolution in March. BASF Corporation, a chemical company headquartered in Florham Park, New Jersey, is the North American affiliate of BASF SE, of Germany. BASF has more than 17,500 employees in North America and has sales of over $16 billion.
Eight years ago, Mr. Wehrle was talking to one of his colleagues, David Bazzetta, about the problems they faced surrounding their bulk trucking shipments. He admitted that the problems they were facing with late deliveries and unhappy customers were mirrored by the frustrations their truck carriers were having surrounding route optimization and poor asset utilization. He further recognized that these large carriers were serving multiple chemical companies. Mr. Wehrle and Mr. Bazzetta decided to create a “Bulk Trucking Symposium” and invited some of their largest bulk trucking partners to the inaugural event.
The goal was to get to the root of shipper behaviors causing problems for carriers, as well as carrier processes causing problems for the shippers. The first symposium brainstorming meeting took place in April 2010, and participants used Post It notes to identify carrier/shipper win/win scenarios. They then posted the notes on a board to create various optimization projects.
But identifying problems is not enough. You must execute on those ideas. BASF’s “Symposium Methodology” for bulk trucking optimization is a year-long cycle which begins every year in April with a large Symposium attended by BASF’s bulk trucking partners, and multiple departments within BASF. At the annual Symposium, current issues are discussed, opportunities are identified and prioritized, and project teams are created to tackle the opportunities in the ensuing year. Quarterly face-to-face review meetings are held with key project team leaders in to chart the progress through the year. This regular review process has been the key to making the Symposium Methodology a sustainable process. Additional, “carrier collaboration meetings” are held periodically throughout the year with key Terminal Managers so that that day-to-day challenges can be identified and remedied at the grassroots level.
BASF recently conducted its 9th Annual Bulk Trucking Symposium in early April. The first Symposium in 2010 included 4 of BASF’s trucking partners; it has now grown to 22 companies participating at Symposium. One of the key outcomes of the Symposium is the comradery that has developed among the trucking companies, and their joint willingness to optimize processes to serve BASF’s customers. As an example, Mr. Wehrle related the example of a large storm in the Gulf Coast about six years ago which caused widespread power outages near their plant operations in Geismar, Louisiana. One of BASF’s trucking partners completely lost power to their terminal. Because of the “community” that has been developed among the Symposium participants, and in the spirit of servicing BASF’s customers, another trucking company immediately offered a large generator to their competitor that lost power! This cooperation is totally attributed to the Symposium and the common goal of optimizing service to BASF’s customers.
At a symposium that occurred four years ago, the problem of proactively notifying customers of impending late deliveries was discussed, as many customers experienced late deliveries and BASF was unable to advise them in advance. The idea of GPS tracking was raised; It was pointed out that if Amazon can provide shipment visibility to their customers, BASF should be able to do the same. A BASF project team searched for a company that could provide a web-based solution that could provide visibility to truck locations, ETAs, as well as a graphical interface with green/yellow/red mapping for easy visibility to quickly identify issues with shipments. The key design feature BASF was looking for was automated email alerts to identify late shipments IN ADVANCE of the expected arrival time such that customers could be proactively notified.
The search eventually led to MacroPoint; Their system had every feature the project team was looking for. Initially the BASF project team faced internal challenges with connecting BASF’s shipping tender information to MacroPoint. But once those issues were resolved, the solution was quickly implemented! BASF calls their MacroPoint solution “BASF DataTRACK”, as is provides insight into shipment data as well as GPS tracking information. This solution is operated by BASF’s Bulk Command Center which is run by Transplace, a provider of managed transportation services with a strong presence in the Chemical industry.
Today, over 300 employees in BASF and over 30 customers at 45 ship-to locations utilize DataTRACK. The MacroPoint technology automatically generates off-schedule email alerts when it detects a truck is behind schedule, and these email alerts are sent directly to multiple BASF employees, and several customer employees, including the unloading department.
The DataTRACK solution can overlay weather as well as traffic maps on top of the GPS tracking, and “this gives us the ability to see the bigger picture,” Mr. Wehrle said. “During last year’s hurricane season we were able to see closed roads ahead of a truck’s intended route and proactively notify customers. MacroPoint’s geo-fencing technology has also been utilized to resolve carrier demurrage and detention issues due to the time stamped arrival and departure times.
“Just knowing that a load is going to be late isn’t good enough,” Mr. Wehrle explained. BASF has layered a reporting tool on top of the real-time data to produce delivery reliability reports. These analytics separate “controllable” delays from “uncontrollable” delays that carriers cannot be held accountable for. Next steps may include developing analytics for hours of service, equipment breakdowns, and event monitoring.
The Bulk Trucking Symposium is utilized to generate continuous improvement projects between BASF and their carriers. Now the data from MacroPoint allows them to identify challenges at their loading and customer unloading operations, and work on joint optimized solutions. “From a continuous improvement perspective,” Mr. Wehrle stated, “we are at the tip of the iceberg.”
Since the inception of this project with MacroPoint, the DataTRACK solution has expanded to include BASF’s largest bulk trucking providers. It is also now utilized by the BASF Bulk Command Center to track shipments for eight additional SBUs in BASF. Expansion of the solution to monitor dry bulk and full truckload shipments is being explored.