Reliable adopts web-based logistics management

Jan. 1, 2005
Choosing a descriptive corporate name, Reliable, for instance, makes a promise to clients that only daily commitment can keep. If a company calls itself

Choosing a descriptive corporate name, Reliable, for instance, makes a promise to clients that only daily commitment can keep. If a company calls itself Superior, it had better be just that. If a company claims to be Dependable, customers have a right to expect follow-through on the promise. For more than 50 years, restaurant operators in the Greater Toronto, Ontario, metropolitan area have been able to count on the promise to deliver made by Reliable Food Supplies Inc of Scarborough, Ontario.

Reliable was founded in 1953 by Jack Yudken and Leonard Salter, and for 25 years, the company operated as a basic foodservice distributor, selling dry groceries and kitchen supplies. In the beginning, the company operated from a basement warehouse in central Toronto, staffed by just five employees who handled all orders and accounting by hand.

In 1978, Reliable moved to Scar-borough, and in 1985, added refrigerated and frozen foods to the product mix. Expanding again in 1999, the company added to its refrigerated space so that today the inventory contains more than 4,500 line items including fresh and frozen meat, frozen foods and bakery products, and fresh dairy goods. The most recent expansion also included a new computer system for integrated inventory control and fleet routing.

Reliable has 80 employees and serves upscale restaurants, hotels, and healthcare facilities within a 100-mile radius of its location on the eastern side of the Toronto metro area. To accomplish that mission, the company relies on a fleet of 13 tandem drive refrigerated straight trucks and a single tractor-trailer combination.

On-demand logistics management

The recent addition of an on-demand logistics management system has added real-time capability to Reliable's delivery schedule management. Prior to this implementation, exceptions to standing procedures, changes in delivery patterns, or problems with the schedule did not become available until after the end of a route, sometimes not even until the following day, says Tony Priaulx, information technology manager at Reliable.

The new logistics management system is provided by Cube Route, a managed logistics service based in Toronto. Based on Java-enabled cell phones and Internet access, the system allows Reliable to check on delivery route progress in real-time at any point in a day. The Cube Route system complements Reliable's existing computer system rather than replacing it. For instance, the order system remains the same with the order desk open from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm daily. At order cut-off, dispatchers begin to route trucks using Reliable's own computer, usually finishing the bulk of routing by 6 pm, Priaulx says.

Order selection begins around 7 pm using a gummed label picking system that requires warehouse workers to place a label on every carton to ensure selection accuracy. Truck loading begins as soon as the first orders are selected, with the entire fleet loaded and ready to go by 3 am on the morning of delivery.

Of course, not every order is complete by 4:30 in the afternoon. “We will take special orders until midnight if we can get those orders on the truck,” Priaulx says. “There are times when we just can't take care of every extra order, because some of the trucks are already loaded by 10 pm, making it difficult to deal with orders that come in later.”

Five-day work week

Reliable operates five days a week, running its day shift from Monday to Friday and the night shift, which is responsible for order selection and loading, from Sunday night through Thursday night. The fleet picks up a lot of product for the warehouse on Mondays, while the work load on Tuesday is almost 99% deliveries. Typical delivery frequency is twice a week and is based on delivery profitability. “We want to generate a profit at every stop,” Priaulx says. “If sales volume is high enough to justify more than two deliveries per week, we certainly take care of our customers.”

Information is transferred from Reliable to the Cube Route system as soon as routing is complete. From that point, dispatchers and drivers have separate ways to interact with Cube Route. Dispatchers get information from Cube Route through a web site. Drivers communicate to the web site with cell phones. By entering data after every delivery stop, drivers keep the site updated with constant status reports. Dispatchers can follow route status throughout the day, using the web site to provide an accurate snapshot of driver activity and progress. The site is especially useful for detecting driver delays so that customers can be alerted to delivery schedule changes. Knowing where drivers are in real-time helps drive out inefficiency, cuts costs, and improves customer service. With cell phone communication, the dispatcher has the ability to change route sequence, add or delete stops, and watch route progress online to ensure changes are followed, Priaulx says.

Cube Route is a subscription-based system with no initial implementation costs. With no financial risks from upfront costs, users pay for the system based on usage. “Our dispatchers simply log in to the service at any time of day to see the status of deliveries in real-time, “Priaulx says.

Managing driver activity

The new system, installed in August 2004, is particularly useful for managing driver activity. Reliable makes 10 to 15 stops per truck per day and estimates that drivers use an average of five minutes per case delivered at each stop. Route duration averages eight hours; although, no two routes require the same amount of time or contain the same mileage, Priaulx says.

Reliable installed the Cube Route system and got it fully operational in less than two weeks. Installation began with three trucks and drivers followed by implementation in the rest of the fleet. Training time was negligible, because drivers were already accustomed to putting information into on-board recorders installed on the trucks as well as using cell phones for communication with dispatchers. “Our drivers were already equipped with Java-based walkie-talkie cell phones, so all we had to do was show them how to enter data into the Cube Route system,” Priaulx says. “Phones are preprogrammed, so drivers simply press one key to access the system, enter a password, and start putting in data using the phone keypad. It all takes about 10 seconds to get started.”

In the beginning, the driving time for each route was estimated from previous route history. After using the system for a while, actual route times have been developed. “System data is entirely based on driver input,” Priaulx says. “A given stop may be predicted for a certain time today, because the driver has reported spending 50 minutes on the stop on previous occasions.”

Cube Route provides ample flexibility for fleet management, Priaulx says. For instance, the system has GPS tracking capability, but, so far, Reliable has not found a need to use it. Being web-based is one of the big attractions to the system, because it does not cause major modifications to user computer systems. Instead of the extensive custom programming needed for some logistics management systems, users can simply input their data and log on to the Cube Route web site to utilize the capability. This eliminates the costs of system maintenance and reduces training time to a minimum. Both these factors are important to smaller users. Cube Route claims that its system can reduce delivery operating costs by up to 15% with an investment of less than 1.5% of total delivery cost.

The Reliable fleet is leased from Ryder for a six-year term. Oldest vehicles are six years old, and the youngest have been in the fleet for two years. The 13 straight trucks all are Freightliner FL80 tandem drive chassis with Caterpillar 3126 engines and Eaton Roadranger RT-8709B nine speed transmissions. Trucks mount 26-ft refrigerated bodies from Durabody in Bond Head, Ontario. Standard refrigeration units for the trucks are Thermo King RD-II Smart Reefers. As new trucks are cycled into the fleet, refrigeration units are being changed to the new TS-500 with scroll compressors. With added payload possible in the big bodies, tandem drive is necessary to handle the extra weight. For big deliveries, Reliable uses a Freightliner FLD 120 tandem drive tractor with a 48-ft Great Dane trailer cooled by a Thermo King SB-III refrigeration unit.

About the Author

Gary Macklin

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