COMPANY: Con-Way Transportation Services Inc.; Ann Arbor, Mich.
OPERATION: National network comprised of regional LTL carriers, as well as TL and expedited-freight services; Bob Schuler, manager of field computer services
How can a vast fleet operation provide customers with shipment information more rapidly and reliably?
"Under our paper-based system," says Bob Schuler, Con-Way's manager of field computer services, "our drivers had to find a telephone to talk to dispatch to get detailed information or instructions on shipments."
That, of course, meant drivers and shipments incurred delays finding and waiting on roadside phones.
And since the information called in from the road was not as detailed or accurate as an electronic system would make it, the carrier's load sorting was delayed.
Often, load planners had to wait until most of the freight came into a terminal in the afternoon before they could completely consolidate shipments on individual trailers.
"We didn't have the actual, accurate information on freight collected until the driver came back in off the street in the evening," Schuler points out.
On top of that, he states that for Con-Way to remain an industry leader, "we've got to stay one or two steps ahead of our competitors."
Determined to tighten up its method of collecting shipment information, this year Con-Way opted to implement an electronic solution.
The carrier is now using a combination of mobile computing and automated data collection to speed shipment data to its load planners and to its customers.
According to Schuler, by the end of this month Con-Way will have equipped 50 of its service centers with mobile computers -- covering about half the drivers who will ultimately use them.
The hand-held devices are Intermec Technologies Corp.'s Norand PEN*KEY 6100 computers. Drivers enter shipment information, including any corrections, on the unit's touchscreen with a plastic stylus to confirm pickups and deliveries.
Within a few minutes the confirmation and any corrections are transmitted directly from the Intermec device over American Mobile Satellite Corp.'s ARDIS wireless-data network to Con-Way's database operation in Portland, Ore.
The system also allows Con-Way dispatchers to communicate within seconds with the fleet's drivers anywhere in the U.S.
Besides being used internally, the information can be accessed via a Web site that customers can use to track freight movements.
Con-Way's investment in this solution makes it the largest application of the Norand 6100 system in the LTL industry. In addition, by year's end the carrier expects to have some 2,000 subscribers hooked up to the ARDIS wireless network.
"Now," says Schuler, "we have two-way, real-time messaging between dispatchers and drivers. Our drivers using the system get an alert from dispatch when pickup or delivery information changes. And they can send confirmations of pickups or deliveries in real time to dispatch and to our mainframe database.
"With this system," he continues, "we're in a proactive planning mode -- instead of reacting when the drivers get back.
"We have improved operating efficiency," Schuler adds. "And that, in turn, gives better service to our customers."