GPS-, Internet- and wireless communications-enabled devices for vehicle tracking and routing have spurred abundant productivity gains in ready mixed delivery and fleet management. To multi-site producers wondering what information technology tool will sustain the momentum in driver, dispatcher and plant efficiencies, Command Alkon has responded by powering a new engine.
From a dedicated server, the Commandoptimize program operates atop dispatch to monitor all cost structures Û drivers, mixer trucks, raw materials, transit or central mixed plants Û and continuously match equipment and staffing with customer demand. It applies to concrete production and delivery work-assignment function models adopted by schedule-intensive businesses like package freight, beverage distribution, commercial airlines, and car rental.
If the ready mixed concrete industry is going to take the next step up in productivity, it needs a different tool set. We have to do things strategically to achieve equipment and staff utilization gains, says Command Alkon's Andrew Dyment, Optimize product manager. Commandoptimize treats a concrete order as belonging to a company and its network of plants, instead of an individual plant. It provides dispatchers the lowest cost delivery plan by optimizing the use of a company's resources, and balancing costs and service minute by minute.
Taking data from order entry, truck status and Map Page (delivery zones), CMDoptimize factors parameters like batch plant capacity and peak output periods, plant operating hour restrictions, driver schedules (i.e., straight time or overtime), and fuel prices to determine the most cost-effective assignment. The program automatically moves work around to where capacity is available. A real-time system, it modifies a current dispatch plan or generates a new one, as vehicle and driver status changes occur and orders are added, cancelled or modified.
CMDoptimize provides dispatchers four main recommendations: call-in time the day before orders; loading time for each order at what location, load time and in which truck; location, whether initial or different plant, to which drivers should proceed upon completing jobsite washout; and, keeping an inbound truck on or off the clock upon return to the plant toward day's end.
Optimize outputs to the Commandseries desktop a Real-Time Optimization Plan for the current day's orders. It is continually adjusted for each change that arises during the dispatch day; in the event of a plant shutdown, it figures within seconds a new Optimization Plan. The program also generates a next business day's Capacity Plan, including a Plant Open/Close and Driver Call-In recommendations.
Early users of CMDoptimize are northern California-based Shamrock Materials Inc. and Boral Construction Materials, running the program at its Ready Mixed Concrete and Schwarz Ready Mix businesses in Colorado and Oklahoma. Ocean Construction Supply is preparing an early-summer launch at its Vancouver, B.C., headquarters. Command Alkon staff has seen installations typically span six weeks from first office visit to program launch, and projects system payback periods of 10-15 months.
Optimization entails more than a server installation, turning on some flags, and telling users to it take from there. Command Alkon tunes the program according to how a producer wants to operate in a market, documenting how dispatch and plants currently run and how management wants equipment and staff operating with CMDoptimize.
Andrew Dyment notes that the skepticism he and colleagues have encountered when discussing the program with prospective users mirrors past debates on the move to automated batching from manual methods. There is a general concern the art of dispatching will get lost and we will be fostering ineffective dispatchers, he says. In dispatching, CMDoptimize projects into the future, indicating when to load, but that doesn't take the dispatcher out of the game. It allows he or she to be in a more proactive, rather than reactive role.
Dispatchers manage the amount and quality of information Optimize receives. The program takes into account more things than a dispatcher can absorb, especially factors like plant operating capacity and trucks' potential idling time when a plant is at peak output. We equate optimized staff and equipment utilization to solving the Rubik's cube, but the cube colors keep changing.
Some recommendations and plans COMMANDoptimize generates are not always what a dispatcher has in his or her mind, he adds, but do become more obvious when weighed in end-of-month financials or [Command Alkon-standardized] key performance indicators. We suggest dispatchers avoid spending a lot of time trying to figure out what the program is going to output.
Another point of skepticism Dyment encounters: the dispatcher becomes powerless. Using the example of a car's GPS device, he responds, If you turn instead of going through an intersection, the device reconfigures. If a user overrides CMDoptimize, the program accounts for that instruction and draws up a new plan.
Command Alkon cites the following as distinguishing Commandoptimize features:
- Automatically allocates loads/trucks within plant network to enhance service level and lower overall delivery and raw material costs
- Provides a detailed Driver Call-In recommendation that minimizes plant arrival-to-first load idle time
- Identifies trucks that are no longer required at the end of the day in order to minimize last load-to-washout idle times
- Plant Down functionality provides dispatcher a one-stop entry point to implement an immediate correction plan
- Lock in/Exclude truck attributes enable specialty truck scheduling
- Intelligent load scheduling minimizes costly jobsite wait times
- Raw material cost allowances leverage plant locations with cost-effective raw material sources