On their way

French fleet pioneers onboard computerization in EuropeThe French Technology Press Office in Chicago tells us the transportation of goods by road in France is rapidly evolving from "a cottage industry."That is to say, after decades of resisting change, fleet operators over there are adopting high technology to boost both productivity and customer service.A case in point is Multi Transports, a trucking

French fleet pioneers onboard computerization in Europe

The French Technology Press Office in Chicago tells us the transportation of goods by road in France is rapidly evolving from "a cottage industry."

That is to say, after decades of resisting change, fleet operators over there are adopting high technology to boost both productivity and customer service.

A case in point is Multi Transports, a trucking company based in central France that boasts annual revenues of some $300 million and employs 600 workers. The carrier, which specializes in domestic and international bulk transport, is considered a pioneer of onboard computerization.

"Since 1995, we have wanted to obtain as quickly as possible information on driving times and drivers' resting or waiting times," reports Jean Remy Dumunier, operations manager for Multi Transports. "Inaddition, we wanted our drivers to receive in real time our instructions for changes in routes and unexpected loads."

To accomplish all that, Dumunier says the carrier contacted Jean-Paul Michelon, an IT specialist with GIT (Groeneveld Information Technology), a Franco-Dutch concern, and France Telecom, the nation's principal telecommunications provider.

What they came up with is called the Agat System, a communications tool that makes use of the international GSM cellular data network.

In 1997, Multi Transports began its initial test of the system on ten trucks. The vehicles were equipped with an onboard computer and a GPS satellite system. These were linked to a central computer installed at the fleet's headquarters.

The system tracks the geographical location of the truck, allows the driver to signal when deliveries are completed, and indicates to HQ the volume of freight remaining on the truck.

As a result, according to Dumunier, the fleet can invoice its customers without delay and send drivers new instructions, with all routes optimized by computer.

"The assignment orders and any instructions for the driver are displayed on the onboard computer screen," he points out. "The information is unambiguous and cannot be mistaken by the driver."

Night shift Another feature of the Agat System is the nightly transmission of technical data on the vehicle's status and trip performance to the main computer. The onboard computer also sends back data on driving and rest hours.

"Thanks to information technology," says GIT's Michelon, "drivers are warned when they are tending to drive too fast and wasting fuel, causing unnecessary wear on their vehicles, and putting their lives and the lives of others in danger."

The system benefits drivers by ensuring their monthly wage sheets are drawn up at the right time with the right hours. It also helps drivers manage their schedules, telling them the rest time they are entitled to and "beeping" them when a statutory rest period is approaching.

Back at fleet headquarters, the system has lightened the clerical workload, speeding up invoicing and payroll processes.

Payoff As for how the Agat System has paid off, Dumunier says he couldn't be more pleased. "We were able to measure a reduction of up to 7% in our fuel consumption," he relates.

"This savings is due to the optimization of routes," he continues, "because we can indicate to our drivers ...the best route - while taking into account road hazards and changes in the planning of deliveries."

The fleet has also realized significant savings in transit times, since it is now aware in real time of each truck's current and future delivery schedule.

Just how happy is Multi Transports with its high-tech solution? Well, Dumunier reports it now has no less than 500 trucks equipped with the Agat System.

But Multi Transports isn't stopping there. The fleet is among the partners putting together the Sicadom Project, a system that will enable the full tracking of goods by customers over an Intranet by year's end.

"In a few months," says Dumunier, "a customer will be able to connect to a trucker's computer system to find out in real time the exact location of their merchandise."

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