Operating a transportation fleet has always been an information-intensive endeavor, with managers requiring data on routes, loads, fuel usage, maintenance and a host of other variables in order to operate efficiently.
Retailers who have kept their fleet management in-house are expanding their use of automated systems to bring more data home, and to make the information useful for decision making.
The most recently adopted data-gathering tools are on-board computers. "We installed on-board computers less than a year ago to track miles and driver productivity," said Darwin Dewsnup, transportation manager for Associated Food Stores, Salt Lake City. "It tracks each load by stop, weight and cube, so we have a history of everything that happened on that run.
"The computers automatically track how many miles are traveled, the speed, idle time, and at stops they ask the driver for input," Dewsnup added. "For example, when a driver crosses a state line, the unit asks the driver which state he's entering for tax purposes.
"The goal is to know where every driver is, where every piece of equipment is and what my cost is, all in real time," said Dewsnup. Tracking this data on a quarterly or even monthly basis "lets things get too big. Working on a day-by-day basis allows for minor adjustments."
John Pfister, director of transportation for the Columbus, Ohio-based Big Bear Stores division of Penn Traffic Co., Syracuse, N.Y., noted that an on-board computer "can monitor a driver through an entire trip."
The computer, by contrast, requests driver input for any stops, mapping the truck's movements. "Every time the driver stops he has a function key," said Pfister. "If he stops at the store he inputs the store number. If he stops for a break, he records that. It notes unnecessary delays, accidents and crossing of state lines."
Gathering data is also crucial to cost-effective shop and maintenance operations. Price Chopper Supermarkets, Schenectady, N.Y., recently installed a paperless tracking system in its shop that uses handheld scanners to read item bar codes.
"Every part and activity in the shop has a bar code, and everything is scanned," said Renato Cellupica, vice president of distribution and transportation for the chain. "It tracks the equipment, parts, their usage, labor, warranties and productivity.
"We were motivated to put it in because we wanted more control, and the opportunity to better manage the shop -- and hopefully reduce expenses," said Cellupica.
The system allows Price Chopper to make more scientific decisions about maintenance. "In the old days, when we'd make a decision to replace equipment, it was based on the shop manager's gut feeling on whether it was a lemon. And the paper-based information was not as current or accurate" as the automated information, said Cellupica.
"Now, we know exactly what each piece of equipment has cost us over the past 12 months, so we make decisions to replace it based on actual cost information," he added. "We also have a history of replacement parts' performance, so if a particular brand is giving us problems, we know to switch to another manufacturer."
Wegmans Food Markets, Rochester, N.Y., is also using tracking systems with handheld components to monitor not only products, but people as well.
"The system uses a handheld wand, which collects bar-code data on everything a mechanic is doing," said Ron Seeley, transportation systems coordinator for Wegmans. "When a mechanic takes a repair order, he wands onto it, which starts the job. The wand times and keeps track of what he's working on."
The same handheld unit also reads bar codes for repair parts used, said Seeley. "The system tracks work orders, what system is being worked on and the parts used," he said.