In the construction hauling industry, every minute of downtime is money lost. The desire to keep trucks moving combined with a nationwide driver shortage has demanded that trucking companies develop creative solutions to make efficient use of their fleets.
Companies that haul material have to do more with less, making it more challenging to meet demand while keeping costs in check. Northern California’s Reliable Trucking is finding innovative ways to keep its vehicles on the road and its customers stocked.
One of the Conco Companies, Reliable Trucking transports cement, fly ash, slag, and aggregates to ready-mix producers in California and southern Oregon. The plants rely on Reliable Trucking to deliver the material in a timely fashion to keep ready-mix production on schedule. Reliable Trucking has made great strides, including keeping a safe, well-maintained fleet that can move hundreds of loads a day, building strategic relationships with the material suppliers, and operating its own bulk trans-loading terminal. While Reliable Trucking serves its customer’s supply needs, the business has always found itself reactive to customer orders and production schedules that can change quicker than the weather.
Like most cementitious-material haulers, Reliable Trucking agrees to a dispatch schedule specified by the ready-mix plants to mirror their production schedules. Production typically begins at 5 a.m., ramping up between 6 and 10 a.m., and tailing off in the late afternoon.
Unfortunately, this places Reliable’s trucks and its drivers in the heart of rush hour traffic, turning what should be a 90-minute loop into a brutal three-to-four-hour slog. This lost time equals lost money. Inclement weather and other unforeseen issues also can change plant production without warning. These unplanned stoppages tend to create other costly situations including stock-out or over-stock events.
Reliable Trucking recognized that real-time inventory information was generally unavailable when dispatching. However, the company realized that if inventory could be measured reliably, viewed remotely, and properly leveraged in the decision making process, the effects on process efficiency and delivery schedules would be profound. Reliable Trucking found a solution in the VEGA Inventory System, a product of VEGA Americas, a manufacturer of process instrumentation.
The VEGA Inventory System is a web-based software platform for remote inventory monitoring that pairs with VEGA measurement devices to deliver real-time information about inventory, consumption patterns, and free-space in storage silos. Reliable Trucking partnered with several customers to buy VEGAPULS 69 radar sensors and provide connectivity and access to the VEGA Inventory System (V.I.S.) platform.
The VEGAPULS 69 is the ideal measuring device to use with aggregates and cementitious materials because the sensor operates without contacting the material, has no moving parts, and resists dust and buildup. Once installed at the top of a silo, the VEGAPULS 69 emits a microwave signal to the material below. The signal reflects off the material and returns to the sensor, which uses the signal’s time of flight to calculate level.
Combining the VEGAPULS 69 and the V.I.S enables Reliable Trucking dispatcher Betsy Radovich to quickly and accurately assess the inventory at monitored plants. “Since I see what’s in the silos, I’ve become a resource for our customers. I can help them manage inventory so they can stay focused on their production and operation,” she says.
More importantly, the visibility into the on-hand inventory at the ready-mix plants provides a more accurate understanding of the actual inventory needs relative to the production schedule, and allows Radovich to route the fleet accordingly.
“[Seeing customer inventory] helps me assess the true delivery window and provides me the flexibility to route our trucks more efficiently," says Radovich. “If a silo is nearly empty and can hold five truck loads, I can send five trucks first thing in the morning instead of looping trucks for the next several hours through the heart of peak traffic.”
Hitting the Right Colors
Some of that improvement is due to automated email alerts the system sends when material drops below certain levels, and some is attributable to the user-friendly color-coded display. V.I.S. represents level in a silo as a bar. When he bar is green, there is no need for a shipment. When it’s yellow, the silo can take one load. And, to quote When the bar is red, “it’s time to get moving,” Radovich says. This information is of great value to both customer and supplier.
The greatest gain for the construction hauling industry may still be on the horizon. If ready-mix plants completely buy into this new paradigm, companies like Reliable Trucking can optimize their delivery networks based on the flow of traffic and the location of trucks, raw materials, and plants.
The ultimate goal is a scenario where trucks are not designated to a particular loop but rather where the truck fleet moves in an orchestrated and efficient fashion from depots to plants, ensuring customers are sufficiently stocked. To that end, Reliable has signed an agreement to offer the VEGA Inventory System to all of its customers. In turn, the plants and companies that use the system can also leverage the real-time inventory information to optimize their internal operations.
The future of the construction hauling industry belongs to the companies that can get the most bang from their trucks and drivers. That means making more deliveries with fewer drivers and planning smarter routes. Efficiency is the name of the game. By offering the VEGA Inventory System to remotely monitor its customer’s stock, Reliable Trucking is maximizing its fleet, strengthening its customer relationships, and controlling its costs.