ABF Freight System Inc.
Ft. Smith, AR
National LTL carrier
With some 3,000 city drivers operating out of 309 terminals, ABF Freight System knew there were cost and productivity gains to be had with a wireless data system. By capturing even basic shipment data and sending it back to a terminal long before P&D drivers completed their routes, yard and dock movements could be streamlined and paperwork minimized.
“We inherited a dock management system in Chicago when we bought Carolina Freight,” says Kemp. Although old, the Chicago system clearly showed productivity potential, especially if it could be rolled out across the company's largest terminals and nine distribution centers.
“The problem was cost,” says Kemp. Just updating the system in Chicago would have cost over $500,000. “Put a $2,000 computer terminal at every door, and it begins to add up,” he says.
“We won't add new technology unless we can calculate an ROI and see customer value.” says Kemp. In the case of wireless data communications for its P&D fleet, that strategy delivered an immense payoff.
Late last year, the carrier began issuing Nextel i700 Plus handheld phones to approximately 40% of its P&D drivers working out of its 52 largest terminals. The Internet-ready phones not only provide digital two-way radio and cellular telephone communications, but they also include “microbrowsers” running under Wireless Application Protocol (WAP), an easy to use standard for wireless data communications over the Internet.
Using WAP fill-in-the-blank screens on their handhelds, P&D drivers enter cargo and destination information as they pick up freight. That data is used to get an early start on outbound load planning, allowing more efficient dock and terminal operations, says Kemp.
In the distribution centers, dockworkers carry the Nextel phones, allowing them to pull up pro numbers for any piece of freight and move it for most efficient reloading. Yard movements are also improved with yard jockeys using the Nextel phones to receive their next assignment only after they drop their current trailer.
With base phone prices under $100 and ABF able to develop its own WAP applications, adopting the Nextel wireless data system “was a no-brainer,” says Kemp. “We get 80% of the benefit for a fraction of the cost (of other systems). We were able to replace the Chicago system for only $16,000.” And as an added benefit, the fleet has push-to-talk two-way voice communications with its P&D drivers for no additional cost.
With the outbound planning portion in place, ABF will now expand the WAP system to billing and delivery, integrating the real-time field information with its accounting and customer-service tracking systems. “We'll turn on the delivery side for our street operations later this year,” says Kemp.