Since upgrading to the latest version of the TRUCKSTOPS VRS (vehicle routing and scheduling system) from MAPMECHANICS, Kurt Weiss Greenhouses, Inc., one of the US East Coast’s biggest growers and distributors of annual and perennial plants, has been able to take advantage of new functionality that makes the system easier and more efficient to use, and therefore saves cost.
Now the company is in the process of expanding its use of TRUCKSTOPS from one of its key customers, Home Depot, to all its large retail accounts. Assistant IT director Bill Brennan says this will allow it to load its vehicles even more efficiently in future, bringing further cost savings.
Kurt Weiss operates from 10 locations throughout the eastern United States, employing 600 people and supplying its products to retailers, wholesalers, and growers. It has 11 million square feet under cultivation, and markets its products under various brands. Among its dozens of specialties are azaleas, chrysanthemums, gardenias, hydrangeas, and poinsettias.
Kurt Weiss had been using an older version of TRUCKSTOPS for some years to streamline the daily scheduling of its temperature-controlled distribution fleet, which is made up of company-owned vehicles, long-term contracted vehicles, and some ad hoc vehicles provided by transportation brokers. “In peak season we can be running more than a hundred trips a day, and it would be virtually impossible to schedule all that work manually.”
After support for the system was suspended by its original developer, Kurt Weiss was contacted by MAPMECHANICS, which now has worldwide ownership of TRUCKSTOPS development, sales, and support. The company upgraded to the current version, gaining a much more modern interface, greater configurability, and full backup from the MAPMECHANICS team.
Kurt Weiss delivers across the entire East Coast of America, and serves Home Depot outlets throughout the Greater New York metropolitan area. Much of the distribution work is done using the vendor managed inventory (VMI) system, in which the supplier is paid only when goods are actually sold to end customers and scanned at the retail checkout.
Bill Brennan explains: “This puts extra pressure on us to monitor demand precisely and distribute exactly what is required, and that means the scheduling task can vary significantly from one day to the next.”
Orders are extracted daily from the Microsoft Great Plains enterprise resource management system used by Kurt Weiss and imported into TRUCKSTOPS in spreadsheet form for automated scheduling.
Mostly the plants are carried on wheeled steel carts. Because typically vehicles can make up to twelve calls per trip, it is important to load the consignments in appropriate order. “So we now pull the list of scheduled drops from Truckstops back into the GP management system so that it can convert the orders into practical loading lists.”
TRUCKSTOPS can be configured to differentiate between longer journeys and more local trips, and will schedule them achieve optimum overall efficiency, taking account of issues such as nights away from home. “Suppose a truck has a group of deliveries to make five hundred miles from base,” Bill Brennan explains. “We can set up Truckstops to ignore calls that fall part-way along the outward run, ensuring that the driver in question has the maximum time available in the remote delivery area.”
MAPMECHANICS has also been able to help with more unusual requirements. “Truckstops is programmed to take advantage of ferry crossings,” says Bill Brennan, “but this might not always be appropriate.” He singles out the ferry crossing between the north-eastern tip of Long Island, where the company’s headquarters are located, and New London on the mainland. “The ferry has very limited capacity, and is not appropriate to our operations.”
MAPMECHANICS has therefore set up a configuration file that creates a “no-ferry” version of the system. “To their credit, the Mapmechanics people came up with a solution quickly as soon as we raised the issue,” Bill Brennan says. Similarly the solution prevents TRUCKSTOPS from using the ferry that crosses Delaware Bay between Cape May, New Jersey and Lewes, Delaware.
Having made TRUCKSTOPS an integral feature of its Home Depot operation, Kurt Weiss is steadily introducing it on operations for other major retailers. “For the time being we are scheduling our work for each individual customer separately,” says Bill Brennan, “but our longer-term plan is to take a bigger snapshot of our whole business, and schedule deliveries for more than one customer on the same vehicles where it there is spare capacity and it makes economic sense.”
He adds: “So long as we continue to differentiate carefully between the requirements of each customer, the economies will bring benefits all round.”
Mary Short, MAPMECHANICS’ founder and director, comments: “Growers are finding the flexibility of Truckstops especially useful in their industy. It can schedule rapidly changing deliveries quickly and economically.”