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MapMechanics mobility solution customised glass loading system supports scheduling and mobile management suite for Solaglas

Solaglas, one of Britain’s largest processors, distributors and installers of glass and glass systems, says it is on course to make significant savings through introducing an advanced vehicle loading, routing, scheduling and mobility management solution from MapMechanics.

The solution includes a new custom-built software application, Automated Loading System (ALS), specially written by MapMechanics to optimise the way vehicle loading is planned for the wide variety of glass sizes, shapes and methods of packing and loading in use across Solaglas’s operations.

This application has proved a key component in a programme by Solaglas to streamline delivery scheduling across a range of transport operations and product types, with the aim of improving efficiency, reducing costs and enhancing customer service.

TruckStops, the routing and scheduling system from MapMechanics, is used to plan the movements of vehicles from day to day. The new system also includes MapMechanics Mobile, a suite of applications that deliver schedules automatically to each driver, as well as monitoring vehicle movements through the day and directing drivers to each call point, using Garmin satellite navigation software.

Drivers are equipped with Intermec CN3 handheld computers, which are supplied under a full service and maintenance agreement arranged by MapMechanics with Ryzex, a leading mobile integration specialist.

Solaglas, a member of the Saint-Gobain Group, operates from a national network of approximately 30 sites in the UK. The initial objective of the change programme, says transport manager Derek Crowley, was to find ways to reduce the UK organisation’s 125-strong glass distribution truck and van fleet, introducing economies and enhancing customer service at the same time.

IT manager Sarah Strang explains: "Orders are captured and processed at each branch using the central sales order processing IT system. Deliveries are also planned locally and allocated to vehicles using the product and address information printed on the delivery notes. The results were variable and frequently not optimal. We wanted to standardise and speed up the delivery and load planning process."

She adds: "Our product mix can vary widely, ranging from double-glazing units and jumbo glass sheets measuring 6 by 3.5 metres to items as small as 100 millimetres square. In addition, some products are packed on A-frame stillages whilst others are loaded loose."

The company realised it needed a supplier that could combine expertise at automated routing and scheduling with the ability to understand and optimise the vehicle loading for this complex product mix.

MapMechanics’ ALS breaks all the different product types and packing methods into logical units of measure that can be interpreted and processed by TruckStops. Orders can now be passed to TruckStops in a standardised form, allowing the application to optimise vehicle movements in spite of the disparities in product size and shape.

Schedules from TruckStops are then passed back to ALS, which splits the orders into components to help staff load product on to the vehicles in the correct delivery sequence.

At the same time, delivery details are loaded automatically on to the CN3 handheld computers, which drivers take with them to guide them through their day’s deliveries. The system also produces drop reports and loading lists.

The MapMechanics Mobile suite works in conjunction with the CN3 units, linking delivery drivers to their base. On arrival at each call point the unit relays details of the time, location and activity back to base via GPRS. On departure the satnav system is activated, helping the driver to navigate to the next call point.

The first site to introduce the system is Dudley – seen as an ideal trial location, since it handles a wide product mix, including standard stock sheets, toughened glass and double glazing units. The system is now being implemented at a second site, Hayes.

"In the Dudley trial we found we could reduce the fleet size from eleven vehicles to seven, saving 1,000 km a week and 100 litres of fuel," reports Derek Crowley. "We were also able to handle the vehicle planning task with one less operator." The planning time has also been reduced from several hours to about half an hour in total. At a saving of £60,000 per vehicle, the total savings are seen as extremely promising.

"We are now moving towards extending the system to more sites," Sarah Strang says. Currently the company believes it can see potential benefits for several sites in the network.

Derek Crowley adds: "One of the attractions of the TruckStops system is that there’s no emotion attached to it. It prevents people holding back delivery capacity in reserve, ‘just in case’. It will only schedule deliveries of products that we have in stock."

Sarah Strang acknowledges the role played by MapMechanics in the project. "They worked very effectively as a collaborative partner," she says. "We have been very pleased with their proactive and supportive approach to the project.

She also mentions the important contribution of Ryzex, which supplied and configured the Intermec CN3 handheld computers and provides ongoing consultancy, service and support for them.

Mary Short, managing director of MapMechanics, says: "This project is a perfect example of our ability to integrate a range of logistics and mobility products and systems, and customise them for a very specific application."

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