Timber transport – depending on the distance from plantation to mill – is one of the highest cost components of the forestry business. It’s also one of the riskiest aspects of the business as there are so many variables that come into play along the way.
It’s not surprising, then, that fleet, driver and supply chain management has become an area of major focus and innovation in the timber and other industries where bulk cargo has to be moved safely and efficiently from A to B.
The development of high tech equipment, such as in-cab cameras, load measuring equipment and on-board computers with intelligent software that integrates and makes sense of all this information, has provided fleet managers with the tools to manage in real-time via cell phone, desktop computer or tablet.
But to get the full benefit of these information systems requires much more than just measuring and monitoring everything.
“It’s almost as if there is too much information now,” says fleet management consultant Ken Bailey of Fleet Best Practice. “Logistics managers can get swamped by the sheer volume of information, the hours and hours of video footage to plough through, so we as specialist service providers need to help manage it and streamline it to provide the transport operator with actionable insights.”
Ken says the key is to identify focus areas where you want to make a difference, then target those areas, analyse the data, track the trends and come up with management interventions that will improve productivity and safety. Interventions can be made on the spot in response to real-time information, or built into sustained programmes designed to change driver behaviour and improve driver performance going forward.
The on-board telematics can monitor and pick up excessive idling, harsh braking, speeding or route deviation. Geo-fences can be created anywhere to monitor truck movement or turn around times – even within depots or wood yards. Activity timelines monitor exactly when the driver turned on the ignition, when the wheels started turning, when he took rest breaks and if integrated to on-board weighing, the weights of the load at the zone and mill.
“The system will give the driver a score at the end of every trip so you can rank your drivers and provide additional training and coaching,” explained Ken.
Ken has plenty of experience in fleet management. He founded Compass Fleet Management, which was subsequently bought out by MiX Telematics, a leading provider of fleet and mobile asset management solutions operating in 120 countries around the world. MiX Telematics dominates the Timber Transport sector working with fleets of all sizes in Southern Africa, monitoring both trucks and loaders.
Ken now operates as an independent consultant with his own clients, but continues to work closely with the MiX Telematics team to help clients improve driver performance and fleet productivity. Ken has a team that develops and supports bespoke software applications for MiX and transporters.
Improving driver performance
By focusing on the drivers, measuring their performance, coaching them and incentivizing them, fleet productivity starts to improve, says Ken.
To help fleets successfully implement telematics and change driver behaviour MiX Telematics has introduced some innovative value-added bureau services that help busy fleet owners get quick and sustainable results.
MiX Track and React is a 24/7 outsourced journey management centre that manages your fleet compliance in real-time and responds to exceptions in real-time by contacting the drivers or fleet managers when certain events occur; such as a PBS truck entering an unauthorized area, driving with diff-lock on, speeding, excessive idling, parked too long. Repeat offenders are immediately escalated to fleet controllers or managers.
The latest trend in fleet is to fit a dual-facing, in-cab video camera connected to the telematics device to record trip information in the event of an accident and to reduce other risks like texting whilst driving, driving when fatigued, driving without a seat belt etc. The challenge that fleet managers face is that they don’t have the time and sufficient resources to mine through hours of videos to find the exceptions that will make a difference.
Trucks can have two to four on-board cameras. The in-cab dual-facing camera focuses into the cab as well as forward on the road ahead. It is programmed to trigger ‘record’ when there is harsh braking, swerving or impact.
Additional external cameras can be focused on the load or sides of the truck.
In conjunction with Track and React, MiX launched the MIX Vision Video Bureau as a value-added service to help clients maximize the benefits derived from on-board hardware. The MIX Bureau has trained video analysts that use specially developed software to review and categorize each event triggered video on behalf of the clients. This information is used to build a driver profile and risk rating.
The analyst will review the video and flag exceptions such as texting while driving, eating while driving, cooking while driving, driving too fast for the conditions, driving without monitoring the road ahead, through a stop street or red robot, picking up passengers etc.
The client needs to appoint their own in-house coaches to engage with drivers to help them reduce the exceptions and become better drivers with a lower risk profile.
The increasing integration of information from key points along the supply chain is providing useful management tools for wood yards, as well as logistics and transport managers, enhancing trip scheduling and the flow of trucks.
While improving driving style can reduce fuel consumption by 2-10%, bigger benefits can be reaped from upping productivity by reducing turnaround times and wasted time.
An inbound supply chain dashboard developed for the Timber and Sugar Industry monitors trucks parked at the transporters’ depot, trucks en-route to the mill, queuing outside the mill gates, as well as in the yard waiting to offload, and can predict turnaround times and queue lengths at the mill.
“We can design a new dashboard specifically to meet client’s needs, integrating information from all along the supply chain,” said Ken. “Real-time information makes all the difference as it enables managers to be proactive – not just reactive.”
What does the future hold in this exciting field: more integration of information and the development of artificial intelligence which will drive the next wave of innovation.
*First published in SA Forestry magazine, March 2019
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