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TNT streamlines network planning with MapMechanics

Optimisation system helps evaluate alternative scenarios more quickly, company says

Planning and fine-tuning the parcel delivery network operated by TNT Express in the UK has been made quicker and easier with the use of OptiSite, the network optimisation system from MapMechanics.

Already, says the company, OptiSite has helped it to adjust the boundaries of some of the areas covered by 14 depots in the Midlands and Northern regions, balancing the demand placed on individual depots more evenly over the area. In the future the system is likely to be used in similar exercises in other parts of the United Kingdom.

The TNT Express depot network is constantly reviewed to ensure that it is providing the right capacity for present and predicted traffic volumes. Usually the options are either to adjust the boundaries of existing depot areas or to add new depots.

Prior to introducing OptiSite this year, the company was using GeoConcept, the geographic information system from MapMechanics, to evaluate alternative scenarios. “Whilst GeoConcept is a good interactive tool and we will continue to use it, there was an additional requirement for a first-stage high-level strategic tool,” says David Baines, the general manager in charge of network strategy. “We wanted a system that could evaluate different scenarios more quickly to assist the high-level decision making process.”

OptiSite works in tandem with GeoConcept, supplementing the analytical abilities of GeoConcept with its inbuilt optimisation engine. It enables users to examine the implications of selected “what-if” network scenarios, ranging from adding a set number of depots to reallocating the work load automatically among existing depots.

Once a satisfactory “first cut” solution has been achieved, and meets the company's basic financial and operational requirements, a GeoConcept feature called “redistricting” can be used to fine-tune the end result, transferring depots on the fringe of depot areas to reflect the geography, road conditions, traffic density or other local factors.

In the words of Owen Carvalho, the project manager on the exercise: “OptiSite has made it much easier for us to examine the implications of adding, say, an extra depot, and comparing that with the cost of changing existing depot boundaries.”

So far it has not proved necessary to add more depots, but as Owen Carvalho points out: “OptiSite can show us what the implications would be if we did want to do that, and it can also suggest the best location. Then we can research the availability of land and premises.” In the north, for instance, it revealed that if another depot were required, the East Yorkshire area might be suitable.

GeoConcept has also proved useful to TNT Express in other ways. A particularly helpful feature, says Owen Carvalho, is its ability to provide a graphical map-based representation of the effect of changing the service offer.

“We're constantly upgrading service levels, and often we need to undertake presentations to explain the implications. By using GeoConcept's ability to output maps as PDF files, it's possible to print out maps with shaded polygons highlighting the areas where the service level has changed. A map-based image is much easier to understand than charts or written descriptions of the changes.”

David Baines sums up: “OptiSite has proved a very capable high-level strategic tool for us. There will always be a need to review the detailed implications of any operational changes, but OptiSite gets us to that position a lot faster than previous processes.”

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