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Sapa speeds delivery planning, enhances service with Truckstops-Truckcom integration

Sapa Building Systems, a leading developer and supplier of aluminium products and accessories for windows, doors and facades, has streamlined and speeded up its UK delivery planning process, enhanced customer service and improved the flexibility of its operational planning by moving to the latest versions of the Truckstops VRS (vehicle routing and scheduling system) and the Truckcom vehicle tracking and transport management system, and by taking advantage of a development that sees much tighter integration between the two solutions.

Sapa Building Systems’ fleet is based at its Tewkesbury factory and warehouse, and consists of mainly of 18-tonne rigid trucks and demountable-body wagon-and-drawbar outfits. From here the company delivers throughout south and central Britain (as for north as Manchester), while more distance deliveries are contracted out.

Truckstops, one of the world’s most widely used routing and scheduling systems, is developed and supplied by Mapmechanics. Following its original introduction by Sapa many years ago, the company was able to reduce its UK delivery fleet from 15 vehicles to 11 through much more efficient country-wide daily scheduling.

Since then Sapa has benefited from numerous upgrades to Truckstops, and is now using version 20, which has been completely rewritten in the C# language to provide the agility to meet the needs of 21st century operations. During that time Sapa’s fleet has been further reduced to six vehicles, even though the company now delivers more product than in those early days.

Sapa also uses Truckstops periodically for overall strategic re-optimisation of its delivery operation – especially when its leased truck fleet is in line for renewal.

Truckcom, one of the longest-established systems for tracking and managing drivers’ activities via mobile phones or handsets, is developed and supplied by Truckcom Systems, and Sapa has been a keen user since introducing the system four years ago.

Truckcom uses drivers’ ordinary Android- or iPhone-based smartphones to provide journey information to them; to capture electronic proof of delivery; to track the vehicles’ progress in real time via GPS location and GPRS or 3G communications; and to enable drivers to run through a simple and intuitive vehicle check list every day – helping the operator to ensure safety compliance.

Truckcom’s user-friendly map-based management application allows office staff to track vehicles on screen and monitor all the other information gathered by the system, taking appropriate action when necessary.

Until recently Truckstops and Truckcom were run by Sapa as separate systems. However, as transport planner Marek Domagalski explains: “In order to give the drivers details of their delivery schedules, I had to take the routes and call points output by Truckstops and put them into the Truckcom system manually, so that the system could send the data wirelessly to the drivers’ phones. This took up to an hour a day, and we wanted to reduce that time.”

Sapa was also keen to make better use of the Truckcom vehicle tracking data in its customer services department, giving agents more information about what was happening to deliveries over the course of the day, so that they could advise customers accordingly.

Following a meeting between Mapmechanics and Truckcom, the two companies developed a solution that met Sapa’s requirements in full. This solution, now available to any user of the two systems, was facilitated by the latest upgrade to Truckstops, which is now designed to interact readily with other applications. Mapmechanics has taken advantage of this feature to create a dedicated “Export to Truckcom” button that outputs the planned routes directly to Truckcom.

Technically, this link is provided by web services – something made more straightforward because the latest version of Truckcom is web-based; office staff simply interact with the system via a web browser rather than through a local desktop application program.

Marek Domagalski reports: “As a result of this change, the job of sending Truckstops routes to Truckcom has been cut from an hour to just a few minutes.”

The move by Truckcom to cloud-based web technology also saves the need for users to install the software locally, and ensures that they always have the latest version available. In addition, management can now consult the system from any web-connected computer, not just a designated computer in the office.

Truckcom has also added another feature specifically requested by Sapa – the ability to recalculate the likely time of arrival of each vehicle at its next stop repeatedly through the day, using the real-time data about its current location. “This means if there are delays, we can take appropriate action,” Marek Domagalski says.

As well as streamlining the process in the office, the new system helps drivers. One driver, Mike Wigfield, comments: “The new system proved a good idea from day one. For instance, we can refresh our schedule on our phone at any time so that it takes account of any changes made at the office in the course of the day.”

The customer services department has also benefited from the Truckcom upgrade. A large 40in monitor installed on the wall of the department not only provides details of the current location of each vehicle, but also gives a constantly-updated estimated time of its arrival at its next destination.

“Knowing the likely time of arrival allows agents to inform customers of any issues, and reassure them that the delivery is on the way,” Marek Domagalski says.

As well as interacting closely with Truckcom, Truckstops now also has closer links with Sapa’s Movex enterprise resource planning system. Orders are imported directly from Movex to Truckstops, and then completed schedules are output back to Movex, so that it can generate warehouse picking lists in which product is automatically selected for loading on vehicles in reverse order of deliveries.

Commenting on Sapa roll-out, Truckcom Systems’ managing director Hugh Wightwick says: “Integration like this is the natural way to do things. Truckstops plans, while Truckcom communicates. The Mapmechanics approach is definitely the right way to go.”

Mapmechanics’ director and founder Mary Short adds: “This application is a great example of the way we are always ready to reach out and help users who want to get the benefits of joining up the technologies in which they have invested. We are committed to integrating Truckstops with complementary systems such as Truckcom, and have ensured that the latest version of Truckstops makes this as seamless as possible.”

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