Advanced transport planning

Dorking, UK: For food manufacturers and distributors, good service is no longer just about the quality of the product. Competitive leverage is gained or lost based on how efficiently you get that food to market, says William Salter, managing director, Paragon Software Systems.

“The relationship between food and the consumer has changed dramatically in the last 10 years. Largely, weekly shops are being replaced with smaller, more regular shops and the focus is on fresh, even when the food is frozen. These changing habits are having a huge knock-on effect for the food distribution industry, complicating already complex transport planning requirements.

The challenge is further compounded by issues such as the driver shortage, increased congestion and urban transport restrictions. The only way of overcoming these difficulties is to use advanced routing and scheduling software.

This technology solution can quickly consider hundreds of different delivery parameters, automatically factoring in exact store locations, preferred delivery times and any vehicle restrictions to cut the transport planning process from hours to minutes.

Deliveries are typically in urban areas, which creates an issue for planners in terms of commercial vehicle restrictions and no-go zones. In addition, drivers need to be able to access suitable parking at a time when a store is open, and staff are available to take deliveries. The ability to handle the restrictions associated with dense urban areas is critical to quickly and efficiently creating accurate and practical routes on a daily basis.

Individual driver availability, arguably the most critical component for any transport operation, is not factored in by many routing and scheduling tools. Having a software solution that feeds in driver availability at the planning stage – based on Working Time Directive restrictions, annual leave data, shift patterns and driver skills – ensures plans are achievable and do not unravel in the transport office before the vehicle has even left the depot.

However, reliable transport plans are not enough if you cannot communicate ETAs with customers. As retailers are forced to reduce staff in each store, providing accurate arrival times is more than just good service, it is vital for a fast driver turnaround and to minimise disruption to the store.

Automated route planning can also help transport operators respond quicker to unexpected demands from individual stores, allowing food manufacturers and distributors to offer later cut-off times that allow customer orders to better reflect exactly what has been sold that day. Having the ability to work closely with customers and share up-to-date information is now key and a clear point of differentiation.

Once you have your transport plan in place, there is one thing you can be certain of. Your delivery requirements will change. The ability to model what-if scenarios – using the same routing and scheduling software used for day-to-day planning – ensures that food manufacturers and distributors can understanding the impact of, for example, offering earlier delivery times, using electric vehicles in urban areas or winning a new contract.

The ability to do this makes it possible to offer service enhancements to customers confident of what it will cost, or make sure a new contract is profitable by checking out the cost to serve in advance.”

William Salter, managing director, Paragon Software Systems: “Getting food to the point of sale as quickly as possible at the minimum cost has always been important, but the barriers to success are now greater than ever.”


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