Within the logistics industry, regional part-load distribution is unique in many ways: Contrary to Full Truck-Load (FTL) operations, this segment specialises in hauling unit loads (Less Than Truck-Load, or LTL), in some cases just one individual pallet, from ramp to ramp within a limited, regional operating radius on single-day, multi-drop routes. This operating model comes with a number of challenges.
First of all, the route planning challenge: Orders are placed on short notice, often for the next workday. There is little advance warning, if any. Second, quantities are usually rather small, and cargo is often odd-shaped. And third, cargo is collected and delivered within a tight timeframe. The total distance to be covered on a daily delivery route in this segment is typically less than 150 kilometres and includes 15 delivery stops on average. On most days a carrier has more freight to deliver than its fleet can handle in a single day – yet another challenge because timely delivery is of the essence, and the amount of cargo left at the depot at the end of the day should be kept as small as possible.
Operating profitably and efficiently in this environment is almost an art form. And the artists who accomplish it are the dispatchers who spend the small hours of the day allocating cargo to vehicles and drivers in record time, making sure as much cargo as possible will be collected and delivered while keeping driving distances short. Their route planning aims to not only save time but also fuel and thereby, costs – and minimise CO2 emissions. It is all about efficiency in multiple dimensions.
Allocating cargo to vehicles means knowing the unit load dimensions and weights and the available space on board, apart from the planned route. To make the best of the available capacity on a vehicle, the dispatcher must account for the pallet sizes, the delivery sequence, weight distribution and maximum permissible weight rating. Then there is hazardous cargo, express cargo and oversized or heavy cargo. Some consignees can only have smaller trucks access their sites, and frequently there are collection or delivery time windows. Plus, drivers should avoid working costly overtime.
To complicate matters, customers’ unit load specifications are often incomplete, roughly estimated or inaccurate. An experienced dispatcher knows which customers to keep an eye on. Still, he or she can never be sure there won’t be any surprises since data quality cannot be relied on.
All dispatchers use logistics software for some of their basic tasks and for data access, typically a transport management system (TMS). Planning routes based on postal codes is as wide-spread as it is inefficient because the resulting itineraries can be awkward.
What is commonly underestimated, however, is the power of advanced algorithms and Artificial Intelligence. Plus, busy professionals are often sceptical about spending weeks learning new software that may not end up fulfilling everything that was promised. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
One of the key objectives of modern business software is to avoid duplicated effort. Nobody should have to enter the same information more than once. Repetitive routines in general lend themselves to automation. Wherever a certain sequence of steps is carried out regularly, software can help – even if the routine includes some deviations from time to time. Even better: Artificial Intelligence (AI) running in the background can track processes and learn to recognise typical procedures and workflows as well as deviations, exceptions and patterns including the conditions in which they occur – and eventually perform all these steps automatically. AI gets smarter and more powerful as time progresses.
Smartlane Transport Intelligence is a software solution that picks up where conventional TMS systems reach their limits. Smartlane can integrate with practically any TMS system and provide additional, high-performance functionality. Smartlane works in the background, simply delivering the power of its features – whether the full range or selected processes – to the dispatcher’s familiar user interface. The solution optimises the available resources, puts more cargo from the depot onto the road, minimises operational costs and speeds up the entire dispatch process dramatically. It can handle less-than-perfect data quality and is highly flexible and adaptable without causing confusion. It can optimise cargo allocation and routes based on a variety of criteria and apply several criteria simultaneously. Smartlane “thinks” like a dispatcher, learns from the dispatcher and gets better and better as it continues to analyse operational data.