THE WAY FORWARD
E-BUSINESS Exel is beginning to realise the efficiencies that in-cab automation can bring. With the help of retailer Morrisons, it is leveraging the power of GPS to streamline fuel deliveries and accounting procedures, saving money for its partner and maximising its own asset use.
Drivers working for Exel Special Products on its contract to deliver gasoline and diesel to UK supermarket retailer Morrisons have recently been presented with a new machine in their cabs. Seeing a small computer unit in the cab is nothing new, but the Touchstar TouchPC™ CEagle screen in the Exel cabs is something different – it is linked via GPS with the Isotrak hub in Milton Keynes, which is in communication with a server in Houston operated by Gilbarco Veeder Root (GVR). This server is continually collecting ullage data from tanks at service stations operated by Morrisons, allowing the driver access to real-time information on the sites he is delivering to.
The function brings with it two significant advantages. Taking advantage of the approved code of practice (ACOP) recently agreed by the petroleum industry, drivers can make unattended deliveries to properly equipped sites without the need to install driver-controlled delivery (DCD) equipment at each site. In addition, the driver can check that there is sufficient space in the tanks to take the delivery before he arrives, cutting down the number of aborted deliveries. If the delivery volumes have to be changed, the driver only has to make the necessary adjustments and print out a new delivery note from the in-cab printer, avoiding the need to generate a replacement fire certificate.
At the start of each shift, the driver logs onto the Isotrak network from the in-cab screen. After inserting a personal identification number (PIN), he is presented with his instructions for the day, beginning with the first loading. Exel’s schedulers, working from the 24-hour Wakefield office, will have established his route for the day. Exel’s inhouse Exel Petroleum Inventory Control System (EPICS) allots products to the vehicle’s compartments. On the way to the first delivery, the vehicle is tracked by the Isotrak system via GPS; at a point 8km from the delivery point, it polls the GVR server for a live ullage reading, which is sent to the vehicle. The in-cab screen tells the driver which compartments to discharge to which tanks as well as alerting him to problems if a tank has insufficient room.
Behind the scenes, other aspects of the system are now coming into play. Delivery data is transmitted automatically to Morrisons, allowing it to undertake reconciliation within 24 hours instead of a few days. This means the retailer can process payment to the fuel supplier much more rapidly and so can negotiate better terms.
COMMITMENT AND PARTNERSHIPS
Several elements had to be in place to allow Exel to develop this service, explains Les Bargh, General Manager of the Morrisons Fuels contract at Exel. To start with, Exel and Morrisons had the platform of a long-term cooperative relationship that gave them the confidence to invest time and resources in the development of the system. The EPICS system is a key element, Bargh says; it is this in-house IT capability that has allowed Exel to lead in the development of ‘live’ in-cab technology.
It also required the commitment of Morrisons, which brought its own e-business relationships to the deal. Morrisons had to be prepared to hand over control of service station inventory to Exel, using agreed criteria for stockholding and deliveries.
There have been costs involved – although Bargh says these are minimal in pence per litre terms – but these have been outweighed by the savings that Morrisons has been able to make in its supply chain and the efficiencies created with Exel. Having the Isotrak system linked to the GVR server means that Exel can deliver more litres of product from each vehicle over its lifetime. In this way, Bargh explains, Exel adds value to its customer's business – "that’s what gives us a competitive edge".
There are other benefits, too. Keith Copley, Exel’s lead driver trainer on the Morrisons contract, highlights the physical security offered by the system. The in-cab unit has a ‘panic button’ in case of an attempted hijack or theft, and this is something that drivers appreciate. Indeed, working for Exel on the Morrisons contract is seen as one of the best jobs available for ADR drivers and when vacancies come up they are typically over-subscribed.
Exel's drivers are given a lot of autonomy when they are out on the road and the Isotrak unit gives them access to information needed to exercise authority. If the planned delivery is not 'safe and proper', Bargh says, then the driver will not make it. Exel also keeps its vehicles up to date with a renewal programme tailored to the intensity of the service and, together with a competitive and flexible employment package, this helps it retain its drivers. Turnover is "negligible", Bargh says.
The Immingham depot acts as a centre of excellence for driver skills. All new recruits are trained at the site and assessed after a period of time in work. This provides continuity and consistent standards, Bargh says. Training is further supported by an annual assessment and by unannounced spot checks.
MORE TO COME?
Exel is applying the Isotrak to other contracts, including a contract for jet fuel deliveries, and chlorine and acrylonitrile shipments. However, these do not replicate the connectivity with the GVR server. Bargh says that the system can be tailored to the requirements of each particular customer, but he definitely sees the Morrisons contract as representing the way forward.
There is much more that can be drawn from the data provided by the Isotrak/GVR system, Bargh says. For instance, by analysing data on actual vehicle road speeds, schedulers can identify what are the most efficient times of the day or week for making deliveries to a particular site, helping drivers avoid periods of congestion and thus further enhancing the efficiency of asset utilisation. There is no reason why the system cannot in the future also tie into an operator’s payroll database. While the initial development of the system was undertaken in association with a large and established customer, it is equally applicable to smaller retailers and even to home deliveries.
But many of these advantages are available now. From Exel’s point of view, the application of e-business tools helps it to maximise asset utilisation and, as commercial director David Whitbread says, “Keep the pipeline moving”. This is underpinned by Exel Special Products' extensive 'white fleet' of vehicles able to respond to changing demand patterns, something that Bargh says came in particularly handy during the recent spate of panic buying by UK drivers. The application of the Isotrak/GVR system, however, allows Exel to "offer something no-one else can", Bargh says. At least until the rest of the industry catches up with what Copley says is "definitely the way forward".