Fleets On-Line

COMPANY: American Freightways; Harrison, ArkansasOPERATION: LTL carrier providing next-day delivery to points in 28 states. Fields fleet of over 4,000 tractors and 11,000 trailersFrank White, director of systems and operations planningPROBLEM: How can a scheduled LTL fleet gain real-time communications between its far-flung drivers and dispatchers working at 221 customer-service centers?That was an

COMPANY: American Freightways; Harrison, Arkansas

OPERATION: LTL carrier providing next-day delivery to points in 28 states. Fields fleet of over 4,000 tractors and 11,000 trailers

Frank White, director of systems and operations planning

PROBLEM: How can a scheduled LTL fleet gain real-time communications between its far-flung drivers and dispatchers working at 221 customer-service centers?

That was an important issue for American Freightways, which offers next-day service to over 150-million zip code combinations in a service area running from the mid-Atlantic to the southwest.

"The challenge of any LTL trucking company is in providing a responsive P&D service coupled with a timely linehaul network at a competitive rate," says Frank White, director of systems and operations planning for the Harrison, Ark.-based carrier.

"Effectively managing time is a key factor to profitability in our industry," he points out. "Trailers must leave on schedule to reach their destinations on time. Once there, they must be unloaded, reloaded, and dispatched to the next location."

By seeking a real-time communications system, American Freightways also hoped to free its drivers of the tyranny of on-the-road phone calls to dispatchers and make the fleet more responsive to customer requests.

SOLUTION: American Freightways determined an integrated wireless data-communications system, consisting of hardware and software from several suppliers, would fit the bill.

"We chose Synergistic Systems (Neptune Beach, Fla.) to develop our application because of their expertise with trucking and wireless systems," White says.

The customized system uses dispatch and P&D software developed by Synergistic, as well as InstantRF "middleware" from Nettech Systems of Princeton, N.J., which provides compatibility with ground- and satellite-based wireless networks.

American Freightways has tied 1,000 of its vehicles into the software system by outfitting them with PPT 4600 hand-held portable "pen" computers supplied by Symbol Technologies.

The Synergistic software package brings Fremont, Calif.-based PenRight! Corp.'s graphical-user interface and handwriting-recognition technology to bear on the pen computers. "We chose a pen-based system over character-based functioning because our P&D application is very robust," White points out. "The pens minimize the keystrokes required by our drivers while capturing all relevant stop and shipment information needed for customer service and performance-related items.

"The new system allows us to gather all of the outbound shipment information for each destination," White continues. "We can be sure all freight is loaded before the trailer is scheduled to depart."

When drivers log onto the computer, they key in the trailer number, and delivery and pickup information is transmitted. Drivers then view all stops, shipment information, and any special requirements. At each stop, deliveries and pickups are confirmed by using the computer's bar-code reader to scan a freight-bill number.

According to White, pickup confirmations help plan outbound linehaul operations. And he says driver locations can be viewed from their last entries to make better dispatch decisions.

"The system has given us real-time, two-way communications with our drivers," White sums up, "allowing us to respond more quickly to changing schedules."

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