Pak West Paper & Packaging, Santa Ana, Calif., used to have a major problem with the amount of overtime hours its delivery fleet drivers were racking up.
As parts distributors grow, so do their delivery fleets. there are technology solutions that can help make sure you're getting the most out of both trucks and drivers.
As parts distributors grow, so do their delivery fleets. there are technology solutions that can help make sure you're getting the most out of both trucks and drivers.
Among its 14 to 15 drivers, Pak West was averaging about 100 hours of overtime per week, something that really started hurting the company financially.

"There were weeks where we had 160 hours in overtime," says Gary Smith, operations manager for the company. "We had to reduce driver overtime and ensure that our drivers were not operating outside of their routes so that we could be more efficient when last-minute requests came in."

After the company's chief operating officer kept hammering Smith to get overtime down, he decided to install Networkfleet's GPS-based Automatic Vehicle Location technology and remote diagnostic monitoring capabilities. The solution provided Smith with increased visibility into what drivers were doing as well as the ability to keep drivers accountable. After implementing the tool, Pak West managed to cut overtime hours in half, averaging under 50 hours a week.

"On average we're saving the company more than $100,000 in overtime each year," Smith says. "This doesn't include savings from lower fuel usage and improved fuel efficiency from being able to monitor drivers' speeds."

Many distributors have found that being able to deliver parts customers need when they need them gives them a competitive advantage. But unless you can run your delivery trucks efficiently, the cost of running them could offset the revenue from that additional business. Today, you can use technology to help save money on your parts delivery operations.

Nowadays, it's less about the technology, as more and more people know how to use it, says Craig Whitney, vice president of marketing for Networkfleet. Today, it's about trying to reduce operational expenses.

Driver accountability

Using Networkfleet's black box that connects to the truck's engine, Pak West's Smith was able to see where his drivers were and make sure they were staying on route, all from the comfort of his office. "You don't know what your driver's doing out there until he shows up," he says. But with this technology, "I can watch them drive down the highway if I want to."

With Networkfleet, Pak West is able to see all the stops its drivers make and how long a driver stays at a stop. Using the geofencing tool, Smith can quickly pinpoint vehicles that venture into or out of unauthorized areas. Users simply enter the address of a location or landmark and radius parameters to create a circular geofence. When a vehicle enters or exits the area, Networkfleet records the date and time it crossed the geofence, and can alert the fleet manager to the deviation.

"Delivery operations must find ways to control driver behavior that may negatively impact their bottom line and overall customer satisfaction," says Craig Montgomery, senior vice president of marketing and business development at SkyBitz, which offers remote asset tracking and monitoring. "Specifically issues include: ensuring on-time delivery for customers by minimizing wasted time between stops, ensuring drivers stay on their delivery route and prohibiting drivers from risky behavior, such as speeding."

While drivers are out in the field, SkyBitz's satellite-based technology sends this type of information to the SkyBitz InSight user interface, a web-based application that can be accessed from the operations manager's desktop, Montgomery says. This web site provides standard and customizable reports, real-time information, maps and alerts, giving the manager a complete view of his drivers and their daily operations.

A company can also keep drivers accountable through two-way messaging, a feature available through Teletrac's proprietary navigation component. In addition to the navigation system, Garden Grove, Calif.-based Teletrac offers a black box with GPS receiver and cellular modem that hooks into the vehicle's computer. Using the Teletrac system, a delivery fleet can track and monitor its vehicles; run diagnostics; communicate with the driver; and receive reports and alerts, to name a few.

According to Drew Hamilton, executive vice president of Teletrac, delivery fleets can reduce their voice expense by up to 60 percent using the two-way messaging capability. Voice is not always required for a fleet to get a message to the driver. In addition, these messages have a GPS location and time stamp on them, so a fleet can have a record of the communication with the driver. These messages are archived and stored for three years, Hamilton says.

The system also runs variance reports through a report module, so a company can see whether drivers are meeting goals in terms of windows of departure and arrival, Hamilton adds. These reports can give a manager a look at what drivers are doing out on the road. Such reports can include information on going out of route, idling the vehicle, using the vehicle for personal use and speeding.

In a way, "we give managers the ability to drive shotgun with all of their drivers," he says. There's an inherent change in drivers' behavior after the system's implemented, he says.

Optimizing the route

In addition to providing visibility of drivers, delivery fleet technology also allows the company to plan the most efficient route for delivery. Tom Lemke, executive vice president of Houston-based Trackwell ADS, says most delivery fleets have established, static routes that typically go from the depot to several stops and back again.

Trackwell ADS, which provides GPS fleet management tracking systems, can track the status of each driver's planned route in real time via Trackwell Route. Using the tool, the fleet manager can gather historical information about routes for better future planning. You can see which routes cause problems, at which times and by what drivers.

For example, let's say a driver makes 10 stops on a particular route. A few customers, which happen to be on the way to another stop, have provided a later time window for the delivery. Therefore, the driver ends up passing these stops on the way to others and circling back to them at the end of the day, using more time, fuel and money. This tool visually brings problems like this to the attention of the fleet manager, allowing for better planning and execution of routes. Using the system, you can save between $1,000 to $2,000 per route, Lemke says. "There's tremendous opportunity for fleet utilization."

With Trackwell Route, fleets can optimize the route by viewing the actual point of delivery on the map versus the address that was punched in. Many times, the point of delivery is away from the actual address. The system makes that visible to the fleet, so the driver can be routed to the point of delivery next time, rather than wasting time driving around looking for it.

According to Networkfleet's Whitney, the routing tool can help fleets make better use of the route when a customer calls in a delivery, for example. Using the system, the fleet manager can look at the map and see which truck is closest to the customer requesting a delivery. This truck can then be rerouted to pick up the part, making the most efficient use of time.

Teletrac's navigation device has incorporated real-time traffic information, so if a driver hits traffic in the middle of a route, the system will reroute the vehicle to avoid the congestion.

Reducing fuel expenses

One significant expense for parts delivery trucks is fuel. Networkfleet sends fleet managers periodic reports that show how much fuel each vehicle is consuming, their fuel efficiency, and whether or not drivers have been speeding. A company can set customizable speed limits for its vehicles, and when a driver goes over that limit, the manager receives an alert via e-mail. Networkfleet also runs reports on idling, pinpointing which drivers idle excessively. A delive