02 October 2020
logistics optimisation today and tomorrow”
Gordon Hyland, Sales Director (Touchstar Technologies – Bulk Logistics Division) is interviewed ahead of gasworld’s 'Bulk Distribution & Asset Management' (October 2020) issue published later this month to understand his views on the future of bulk logistics and the role of digitisation.
Touchstar, people are our biggest asset. We strive to find the brightest minds
in data capture, logistics optimisation and mobile computing; people who can
support our bulk logistics clients in implementing enterprise-ready solutions
for greater operational performance. This includes our Business Development
Director, Gordon Hyland. With decades of industry experience and specialising
in mobile EPOS / EPOD solutions, Gordon brings a keen technical perspective to
our bulk logistics division.
management systems continue to evolve, Gordon shares his thoughts with gasworld on the latest
developments at Touchstar and the wider bulk logistics market.
the biggest challenges facing the bulk logistics industry right now?
logistics industry has always been a hard business in the sense that there’s
always been a lot of competition out there. Operators can start up at very low
cost; they just need a truck and a carrier and they’re on the road, competing
against companies that are much more structured. I think the biggest threat to
this marketplace is also its biggest benefit – and that’s digitisation. It’s
what we do at Touchstar; we digitise the bulk logistics paper trail all the way
from the order hitting the system, to dispatch and delivery at the customer,
with every process of the job stored.
is a threat for those that don’t invest in the technology. Surprisingly, a lot
of haulage companies, even the larger ones, still use paper-based systems,
while others are able to commission very bespoke, very expensive digitised
systems. Custom-designed solutions are out of reach for most small and
medium-sized companies, those running between 50 and 150 vehicles, so they may
question whether any digitised system is right for them.
about bulk logistics digitisation often mean companies miss out on the
tremendous value it adds – it’s seen as too costly, too problematic for drivers
to adopt and too time-consuming and disruptive to implement. Not only are these
perceptions false, once you get a system in place and live, it’s nothing but a
The COVID-19 pandemic has seen the logistics sector suddenly in the
spotlight as a ‘key’ industry, notably those operating in food and fuel
distribution. These companies have been able to optimise their fleet operations
rapidly, largely due to their prior investment in digitised fleet management
Why is a
paperless environment so important for bulk logistics companies?
of having a paperless digitised system is legislative; a company has all the
data it needs to prove compliance with industry regulations. The other side of
it is all the practical operational benefits, like instantly sending a driver a
digital manifest in the morning, updating it in real-time if plans change, and
not having to worry about lost, incomplete or damaged POD slips, without which
a company won’t get paid.
digitised solution, drivers can capture a client e-signature on the glass of a
connected handheld, along with the geo-coordinates of the driver at the time of
delivery, for complete POD. An invoice can then be generated within minutes of
POD for improved cash flow. Or, say a driver has a minor accident in the field,
they can photograph the damage straight away, write a statement and send it
back to the office in seconds, substantiating the incident.
logistics office that doesn’t work with digitisation is nothing but piles and
piles of paperwork, job sheets, PODs, drivers’ expenses. It’s a nightmare to
keep on top of. Where drivers don’t fill in details, office staff have to spend
time tracking down missing info to ensure records are complete.
Touchstar apart from its competitors in bulk logistics?
our systems are cloud-based. Many of our competitors are working very hard to
go cloud-based. The advent of cloud technology has dramatically cut the cost of
data storage and backup, improved security and made systems vastly more
accessible. Touchstar’s solutions are based on Microsoft Azure cloud
technology, which means that key issues such as system reliability and
redundancy, OS backward compatibility and upgrade paths are all addressed
automatically. They’re also accessible anywhere in the world on any connected Windows-based mobile computer, or Android device, as long as you’ve got a Wi-Fi / mobile
systems are also really innovative and based on real experience of the bulk
logistics sector. We’ve developed our solutions from the back end to the front,
applying our practical knowledge on the nuances of bulk and fuel delivery and what
it actually requires. While some bigger companies go to software developers for
bespoke systems, they often just take what they already do and put it into a
software system - they’re not improving operational efficiency or adding value.
in mind, ours is also a multi-level application. Many other systems are
designed for particular applications, say service work. Our system has been
developed with a broad application across all logistics sectors, which is
really beneficial for the logistics operator who’s trying to grow their
business. Today, their business is delivering pallets, but if a contract comes
along for a tender that’s delivering oil, they would have to buy another
management system because theirs is only set up to deliver pallets. If they acquire
the Touchstar software, they could do both within the same system.”
next for the software in terms of new features or functionality?
logistics solutions are never ‘finished’, we’re always looking for ways to
refine things and improve operational efficiency for our clients. On the fuel
side, we’re just about to launch VMI – Vendor Managed Inventory. This will
enable our fuel clients to keep their customers’ stocks topped up to the
perfect level; between min and max stock so that they won’t run out or hold too
much product. We’ve developed an artificially intelligent (AI) algorithm that
reads a fuel tank’s gauges every hour, building a picture of sales of a
particular product, say super-unleaded, over a 24-hour period, a weekly period,
a monthly period and so on.
algorithm works out average sales from each tank over time, and then triggers
an automatic replenishment order when their customer’s super-unleaded stock
reaches a set min level, say three days’ worth. What’s more, the system takes
into account when the next super-unleaded drop will be made - it could be two
days away, for example - what the levels of each tank will be at that time, and
the best way to balance the stock across the customer’s super-unleaded tanks
for the most efficient delivery.
really exciting new capability for Touchstar, and one that should allow our
fuel logistics customers to make and pass on real time and cost savings.
works conversely too, so for waste management companies who need to get rid of
product, rather than top it up.”
you think the future of bulk logistics will look like, and how will Touchstar
continue to support its clients as the industry develops?
has devastated many industry sectors. As it stands, there’s no alternative
solution to existing bulk logistics models, so the industry will need to
continue to evolve and seek constant optimisation of processes and minimisation
of costs. What Touchstar brings to the logistics industry is the ability to manage
and optimise load capacity through digitisation, so that haulage companies can
maximise return on every series of drops.
Our systems already warn our clients
if vehicles are underloaded or overloaded, enabling them to load more vehicles
correctly and cut the number of journeys they need to make.
working on shift and planning optimisation using predictive analytics and AI,
which will enable fleet managers to make the best possible use of time on the
road. Traditionally, logistics companies lose driving hours through static
shift patterns, as once a driver has completed his planned jobs, he clocks off.
If a driver makes their scheduled drops quicker than anticipated, there may be
time left in a 10 hour shift that’s wasted.
developing our systems to not only predict journey times for future shifts, but
to take into account loading times and discharge times too, all based on
historical traffic and statistical data.
The software our solutions use
analyses huge amounts of historical traffic data, so it can accurately predict
how long a journey will take for a vehicle that’s going to leave at 8.00am on a
Monday to drive across London and around the M25, for example, and plans that
time into the shift. This way, as a fleet manager plans routes by dragging and
dropping loads on to a vehicle, the system will calculate the time it’ll take
to load the vehicle, travel to each location and complete each drop, and will
alert them if there’s any spare time on the shift to fill. They can look down
the list of loads for a job to fill an extra two hours a driver may have spare
– that’s shift optimisation.
with AI behind it, our software will be able to monitor real-time shift
progress and automatically move jobs around between drivers if one is
experiencing problems or delays, and another is working through drops quicker
than expected, and send them both updated digital manifests. It’s still a way
off, but I think one day we’ll see AI transform every part of the distribution chain,
from the point of drivers accepting their daily workload, to monitoring
journeys, deliveries, time estimations, and automatically updating customers of
a driver’s ETA. Whatever happens, Touchstar will continue to provide
market-leading bulk logistics solutions that streamline operations and boost
efficiency for our clients.”
logistics optimisation systems have been developed to excel in the complex and
demanding fuel market. We’ve applied everything we’ve learned about the oil and
gas tanker sector on the ground and in the field, making our management
solutions a formidable digital infrastructure for any bulk logistics supplier.
About the author – Gordon Hyland
Gordon (50) has 25+ years’
experience supporting customers with complex, field based, technology
solutions. He has been with Touchstar Group for 2.5 years and started
with the Fuels Division in 2019. In his spare time he enjoys
family life and his main passions are travel and skiing whenever possible.
Contact Gordon at Gordon.firstname.lastname@example.org