Route Optimization: Modern Route Planning

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Throwing away the paper can mean significant savings.

With fuel and maintenance costs top of mind for most fleet managers, it’s important to keep drivers on the road and running as efficiently as possible—and that means careful route planning. As every fleet manager knows, that can be much more complicated than it seems on the surface.

James Wee, VP of Sales for Descartes Systems Group, points to the rapidly escalating complexity of routing multiple drivers on diverse routes, citing the “Travelling Salesman Problem” as an example. One driver who needs to make seven stops is simple enough, although it does add up to over 300 different paths.

“When you get into a situation where you have 14 stops, you now have more than three million options. At 21 stops, there are more than a quintillion permutations,” he says (a quintillion, it bears noting, is a 1 followed by 18 zeroes.) “And that’s just putting together a route on which all stops are equal. In reality, certain customers need certain time windows, or certain deliveries require a certain truck that may need special equipment. It goes on and on.” Now imagine you’re managing 500 drivers in as many vehicles.

Ditch the log books

Gone are the days of log books and frantic phone calls when things go off-track. Optimized route planning is now a job best left to technology, with myriad software solutions and telematics programs available. “Route optimization software is used to compute the most efficient routes, but at the same time customer parameters or attributes are also considered,” Wee says.

A good route optimization package addresses not only the planning stage but execution as well. “After you create an efficient plan, you have to make sure your drivers are accountable to it,” he says. A good package will have a comprehensive “plan versus actual” capability that measures how far off drivers are from meeting the plan.

For drivers, the good news is that such solutions don’t necessarily come with a huge learning curve. “Instead of going to the break room for a stack of delivery tickets, they go to their mobile, use a password, and the same information is downloaded electronically onto their device,” Wee says. “At each stop, the information they’re collecting is similar to what they were collecting before. There is a change but, overall, the process is fairly similar to what they’re used to.”

Back at the office, Wee says use of the software is quick to pick up because they are just automating an existing process to make the creation of efficient routes “a lot faster with a lot less errors. It’s like solving a math problem manually versus having a sophisticated calculator that will help you get answers fast.”

Substantial fuel savings

Wee says his clients see from eight percent up to 35 percent reductions in mileage over the course of a year as they transition from Excel or simple map planning, which translates into enormous fuel savings.

While a comprehensive software suite may be the best way to offset potentially crippling fuel costs for medium and large-size fleets, there are always some low-tech solutions small-fleet managers can embrace. Maintaining optimal tire pressure is one of the simplest, along with staying up to date on required engine maintenance throughout your fleet.

The UPS delivery service actually has a “no left-turn” policy in its route planning because idling while waiting to turn wastes fuel. But with increasingly scalable solutions available, it may be time to think about putting away the paper and embracing the future of route optimization.

Categories : Fleet


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