Delivering the goods

Real-time transmission of information can provide a safer workplace. Tony Repaci* writes.

Real-time transmission of information can provide a safer workplace. Tony Repaci* writes.

AUSTRALIAN transport group Cootes recently required improved delivery management and maximum levels of safety through a paperless environment and real-time transmission of information.

The transport company is part of the International Energy Services Group and is Australia’s largest transporter of oil, gas, bitumen and other hazardous chemicals as well as the largest supplier of equipment and distribution services to the dangerous goods industry.

It also works with some of the biggest chemical and resource companies in Australia including BP, Caltex, Elgas, ExxonMobil, Origin Energy, Shell, and Vitalgas to transport potentially dangerous goods, safely.

Until recently, the company was relying solely upon a paper-based delivery system for both drivers and back office staff to manage deliveries for these customers.

This system often resulted in lengthy delays as drivers had been required to pick up their manifest (driver worksheets) from the contract manager at the depot, complete each of their assigned deliveries and then hand write all relevant information.

As pick up and delivery points can often be several hours drive from the depot, the existing system relied on the driver to personally bring back the day’s paperwork and place it on the appropriate office staff member’s desk.

As well as the obvious risks such as paperwork being lost or misplaced and delays in data entry into the system, this paper-based method often meant that invoices could take days to go out and staff would often have to spend equally as long completing any number of outstanding manifests.

Due to the highly dangerous nature of the material the transport group specialises in, this additional paperwork also added unnecessary stress to drivers.

The solution

In order to streamline the company’s existing delivery management system, and enhance customer service levels, enterprise integration and software application developer, InterDev, was commissioned to design and construct a handheld solution to enable paperless operations.

After researching the hardware available to the Australian market, Interdev produced a custom version of the Xmotion Transporta system for the transport company and coupled this with what is said to be the world’s smallest, most advanced rugged handheld computer, the Intermec CN3 hand-held computer, to allow real-time status reporting and improved delivery management.

Using the operations module, the company’s delivery bookings are created and allocated to a manifest. The bookings can be manually entered or derived from an electronic import sent to Cootes by some of their larger customers. The manifest has a Prime Mover, Trailer and Driver allocated to it when created, before the scheduling of it is completed. The custom written Business Rule Layer polls this table every 60 seconds to check for manifests. This area is updated nightly automatically with any new rules that have been defined throughout the day such as new drop points and are made available to drivers through Intermec’s CN3 in the truck cabins.

Using Transporta, a web based system, the manifest interfaces directly with a Business Rules Layer to route the manifest onto a handheld for the driver. This routing is carried out by some rules that have been predefined matching a Prime Mover to an Intermec CN3 handheld.

These relationships are editable, enabling Intermec’s rugged CN3 hand-held computer’s to be allocated to alternative Prime Movers if the need arises. The driver and contract manager are then thoroughly trained in completing a manifest on the Intermec CN3 handheld and coping with any eventualities that may occur.

The CN3 also provides the driver with the updates at each point of their journey, with a log being visible on the CN3 via the software used by the contract managers.

One of the biggest obstacles, in Australia, to real-time data transmission is the vast distance that drivers may have to travel in order to make their deliveries on time. To combat this, without using an expensive nationwide network, Cootes is employing the CN3 hardware coupled with the Transporta system over a standard GSM/GPRS mobile phone network which allows data to be stored on the hand-held and automatically uploaded as soon as the truck is back within range.

Into the future

Through using the CN3 hand-held computer coupled with the Transporta system, the transport company’s invoicing can be done within hours instead of days, and staff that were once completing manifests all day, can now carry out other tasks within the business.

In fact, the CN3 and Xmotion Transporta systems are driven by these forms of input. The CN3 hand-held computer provides drivers with the ability to receive directions, view site maps (which instruct drivers on their delivery points), receive instructions on site hazards (via Text to Speech capabilities) and the ability for drivers and contract managers to send notes to each other (whilst the vehicle is not in operation as there are zero phone tolerance rules in place whilst driving.)

Importantly, this vital information is then made available to all drivers in the fleet via the in-cabin range of CN3’s, to assist them in planning the most effective route to their delivery point.

In line with IES standards and the transport company’s commitment to safety, the CN3 hand-held computers also interface to MinorPlanet’s vehicle tracking system.

Additional software from Smart Car Technologies called SpeedAlert warns drivers when they are exceeding the speed limit, even sending an alert via the truck’s in-cabin speakers that overrides any music or radio interference to get the point across without confusing the driver.

Additionally, this software is coupled with GPS and intelligent enough to activate during limited speed time zones – such as those found during the beginning and end of school operating hours.

By streamlining its existing delivery management system, Cootes can expect its safety record and customer satisfaction levels to continually improve into the future.

*Tony Repaci is the Managing Director of Australia and New Zealand for Intermec Technologies. For more information about Intermec phone 1300 30 44 68 or visit the website at www.intermec.com.au.