The package of measures includes VSc Solutions’ TranSend electronic proof of delivery (ePOD) system; a bespoke management and reporting suite developed by VSc; and the TruckStops vehicle routing and scheduling optimisation solution from MapMechanics.
Welsh Water provides water and sewerage services in north and south Wales and parts of England, and operates wastewater treatment works at no fewer than 880 sites of varying sizes. Sludge (partly-treated waste) has to be collected regularly from these sites by specialised bulk tanker vehicles and transported to a number of larger sites, where further processing is undertaken.
The company runs a core fleet of 33 articulated and rigid tanker vehicles to handle this work. They are based at 23 strategic locations within the large operating area, and historically they ran on pre-determined routes known as “milk rounds” that reflected the typical collection pattern required by each treatment plant. Rounds were planned in advance for a whole year’s operations, with visits ranging in frequency from twice a day to once every few months.
However, these fixed journeys did not always reflect actual operating requirements. For instance, even if there was not enough sludge at a site to make up a full load, the driver would still make the collection, running partly-loaded and compromising efficiency. Additionally, during a visit the driver might be asked by on-site staff to do unscheduled work such as hosing down the yard, potentially disrupting other visits later in the day.
“One of the biggest problems was that the drivers held a lot of the routing information in their heads,” says project manager Owain Jones. “They planned their movements themselves, and there was no easy way to tap into that information or alter their journeys – for instance, to reflect changing requirements or to brief temporary drivers covering for holidays or sickness.”
He adds: “Because it was a paper-based system, there was also a lack of central coordination. Although we logged some information meticulously, such as the amount of material loaded on to vehicles at the bigger sites, this data wasn’t necessarily correlated with vehicle operations. We didn’t have a full overview.”
At the heart of the new system is a centralised planning and diary system developed specially for Welsh Water by VSc. This holds details of all sites and their requirements in terms of sludge volumes and visit frequency.
Alongside this, the organisation used TruckStops to build a new “template” schedule of vehicle journeys to serve each site. This was based on carefully assembled historic data and driver feedback, and also took account of any restrictions on vehicle size or weight and any timing constraints at each location.
However, a major change from past practice is that the actual transport plan for the fleet is now varied week by week, and scheduled by TruckStops accordingly. A key to this change has been the introduction of TranSend ePOD, VSc’s comprehensive sign-on-screen electronic data capture and proof of delivery system. Drivers have been equipped with Motorola MC75 handheld computers, which are linked wirelessly to the operating centre by GPRS, and they use these to report back details of their activities in real time.
Details captured by drivers include not only arrival and departure times on site, but also load volumes and even the water content of the sludge they have loaded. Using this kind of up-to-date information, TruckStops is able to schedule intelligently for real-world demand in the week ahead.
Routing instructions are now transmitted wirelessly to the drivers’ terminals. Only one day’s schedule is sent at a time, so if unplanned or urgent tasks arise, suitable drivers can be identified, schedules for subsequent days can be amended very quickly, and less urgent jobs can be “cascaded” according to priority.
“The project has involved a culture change for drivers,” admits Steve Farley, the organisation’s logistics manager,“but they have realised there are advantages for them.” One improvement is a new requirement for drivers to obtain authorisation from their scheduler before agreeing to do ad hoc work on site. “They are much happier now that they don’t have that responsibility, and we are able to monitor the cost of any unscheduled work and cross-charge it to the site in question.”
According to Steve Farley, there are already indications that it is bringing the expected savings and efficiency improvements. “We have been able to reduce the cost of bought-in services significantly by using our own drivers more productively,” says Steve. “We have also reduced unnecessary collections from sites that need not be visited so frequently, and improved our vehicle fill rate significantly.”
By avoiding unnecessary repeat visits to sites, the organisation has also improved its service to the sites, since the operation is now more reliable. There have been many other benefits, too. For instance, the organisation can identify delays at sites, and can calculate the cost to serve each site more accurately than ever before.
Moreover, because it is now possible to correlate vehicle movements with information about each load, the organisation can detect instances where the water content of the sludge it is collecting is too high – a change that has helped impose a tighter discipline on the treatment operation itself, saving further costs.
VSc Solutions’ TranSend is a hosted web-based system, accessed with standard web browser software. The bespoke job management system developed by VSc is also hosted. Welsh Water is running MapMechanics’ TruckStops as a PC-based desktop application, and the two systems work seamlessly together.
Welsh Water’s Dave Lewis sums up: “The system is doing exactly what we wanted it to. We are reducing the cost of bought-in services, monitoring our internal costs much more closely, improving our efficiency and productivity, enhancing the service we provide to our sites, and keeping a much closer check on the treatment process.
“For the first time we have full visibility of the operation, and because we are capturing so much data in real time, we can run reports and analysis in finer detail than ever before – which allows us to manage the operation more proactively.”
David Cook, managing director of VSc Solutions, comments: “By putting together the various components of this system, we have created something new for the water industry that didn’t exist before. This has been our first collaboration with MapMechanics, and it has worked well.”