Solving The Transportation Puzzle

Software solutions coupled with onboard computers improve routing efficiency.


Any grocery or foodservice distributor can tell you that delivering an order from one side of town to the other can be more difficult than it looks. Today it requires far more sophistication than simply loading the trailer with goods and handing the driver a map and a list of stops.

To help distributors manage their transportation operations, software developers provide today’s carriers with a host of programs to devise the most efficient routes, track whether the driver stays on that route, improves customer satisfaction (e.g. on-time deliveries) and helps reduce fuel costs.

Software solutions coupled with onboard computer devices, which transmit information from the home office to the driver in the cab, help turn what could once be described as orchestrating a circus into a smooth operation.

Navigation: The Backbone

Getting food from point A to point B is, at heart, the main objective of grocery distributors. But exactly how to get the food from point A to point B is a part of the solution that requires a lot of background information. Unexpected changes, such as road closures and bridge failures can completely alter a route. Dispatchers and drivers unarmed with this information run the risk of delivering late and creating dissatisfied customers. Route building systems rely on roadway and highway data, or digital maps, to feed them the information they need to devise the best route.

One such provider is ALK Technologies, Princeton, NJ. Since its inception in 1979, ALK has amassed 7 million miles of highway data throughout North America. The company has a team of a dozen employees completely dedicated to analyzing Department of Transportation reports, which announce road closures and structural failures, be it temporary or permanent, across all counties in the United States. All of the changes are coded into their database and are updated online immediately so routes can be adjusted accordingly.

ALK not only integrates their roadway and highway database with dispatch and routing software providers, but offers it directly to customers in the form of GPS units or mobile phone devices. The main advantage to ALK’s GPS, the PC*Miler Navigator 440, is that it optimizes routes for 18-wheel semi-trailers, not regular vehicles.

“The vast number of personal navigation devices used in the marketplace today are consumer-centric, such as Garmin or TomTom,” says Roy Schijns, vice president sales for PC*MILER solutions, ALK. “We have developed a truck-specific PND. For example, it routes around sensitive areas if you’re hauling hazmat, optimizes for avoiding toll roads and ensures you stay on the 48 or 53-foot highway network in the United States and Canada.”

ALK can also deliver its navigation content through drivers’ mobile phone devices through a service called CoPilot. CoPilot can run through nearly all carriers and cellular devices, including Apple iPhone, HTC Android, Windows Mobile and others.

Armed with accurate, up-to-date highway information, distributors can achieve higher efficiency by optimizing their routes.

The Next Step: Routing, Tracking

For some grocery and foodservice distributors, their needs require more than just getting accurate directions. In addition to optimizing routes, they need to track vehicles and problem solve on the fly to improve operations.

UPS Logistics Technologies, Baltimore, MD, provides a suite of applications that reduce time spent creating routes, improve productivity and decrease transportation costs. 

“The grocery and food distributors tend to run the same routes every day, called standard routes, and Territory Planner, a strategic route planning tool, helps to create very tight standard routes,” says Cyndi Brandt, director of marketing, UPS Logistics Technologies.

Tightening up routes or reducing the miles driven, can result in a reduction in fleet size, a significant cost savings.

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