Comprehensive management, routing, scheduling and ePOD solution is rolled out, improving visibility, tightening control and enhancing efficiency
A wide-ranging transport resource management project mounted jointly by VSc Solutions and MapMechanics for Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water is producing major savings and efficiency gains in the planning and scheduling of sludge movements between processing plants across Wales.
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 has to be collected regularly from these sites by specialised bulk tanker vehicles and transported to a number of larger sites.
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 that reflected the typical collection pattern required by each treatment plant. Routes 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.
In the event of urgent reactive work, a driver might be pulled off a scheduled round to deal with it; but there was no comprehensive system for identifying available drivers, or for recording the scheduled work left unfinished. Often an external contractor would be hired in to do the reactive work at extra cost, even though there might have been scope for an in-house driver to handle it.
“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.”
After evaluating various possible ways to streamline the operation, Welsh Water appointed VSc Solutions to implement a comprehensive mobile job management and data capture system, and MapMechanics was brought in to provide an integral routing and scheduling element.
As far as possible, existing vehicles and drivers were kept on the same work as before, but TruckStops was able to optimise the routes and call sequences, creating a much improved “base plan” for the revised operation.
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”
“The project has involved a culture change for drivers,” admits Steve Farley, the organisation’
Initially the system was rolled out across south Wales, and now it is being extended to north Wales. 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,”
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’
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.”
Mary Short, founder and chairman of MapMechanics, says: “In choosing TruckStops and TranSend, Welsh Water has pioneered a system that harnesses the combined power of two proven complementary technologies, and will have wide-ranging appeal across the industry. Other water companies are already expressing interest in it.”
She adds: “It provides a particularly good demonstration of TruckStops’ effectiveness in ‘tramping’