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Maximizing trailer capacity: Time is the crucial factor

For delivery fleets that make multi-stop runs, a constant challenge is to meet all daily delivery requirements while making the least number of trips possible—a benefit that keeps costs low and customer satisfaction high. Trailer utilization is, of course, key to achieving this goal, but an unfortunate reality is that fleet managers often underestimate the importance of time when trying to maximize trailer capacity.

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This is why advanced route optimization software is not only useful, it’s essential.

Space and weight are the easy calculations. What’s trickier is predicting what’s possible in terms of time. If a planner is using manual or rudimentary methods to arrive at a multi-stop delivery route plan, they can fairly easily figure out how much to load onto a trailer before weighing or cubing out. But, the unknown is whether they’ve created a realistic route plan that allows the driver to complete all scheduled deliveries within the allotted timeframe, while adhering to the tight schedule.

Precise calculation of delivery times must take into account dozens of variables leading to thousands and thousands of route permutations—a task that is well beyond what the human brain can handle. Without the right software, the number of deliveries that can be completed ends up being an educated guess, at best.

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Empty space equals lost profit

If wrong assumptions unnecessarily leave significant room in the trailer, profits quickly suffer. Let’s say your vehicles are 10% under-utilized. For a 30-truck fleet, that could mean three more trucks and three more drivers than needed—an extra $700,000 in annual expenses, based on average tractor-trailer and driver costs calculated by the American Transportation Research Institute’s 2019 Analysis of the Operational Costs of Trucking.

What’s needed is software that factors time into the trailer loading process so that planners can create route plans and driver schedules with precise accuracy. Advanced route optimization software looks at dozens of factors that have an impact on the time it takes to complete deliveries—including traffic restrictions, unloading and loading times per stop and average road speeds. Savvy fleet operators can use route optimization software to maximize trailer capacity by gaining certainty about how many deliveries can be made per trip. Overall, deploying this technology reduces fleet operating costs by 10% to 30%.

Here’s an illustrative example of the downside of manual route planning that relies on the subjective judgment of planners. Let’s say the plan assumes an average stop time of 20 minutes for each of 18 deliveries, but the actual average stop time—gathered from a simple integration between the telematics and route planning systems—is 15 minutes. With good processes and the right routing software, this actual data gets incorporated into the algorithm, adding 90 minutes of drive time, and increasing the number of deliveries per route, creating fuller trucks and a more profitable operation.

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When you automate route planning, subjective judgments about what a driver can and can’t do are replaced by data-driven plans that maximize trailer capacity, while ensuring that all routes meet customers’ ETA requirements, and that drivers stay within their hours of service limits.

Cut out the guesswork

Fleet management gets a lot easier when you apply the right technology. If your planners are saying: “Well, 15 deliveries are probably all the driver can handle during the shift, so let’s cap it there,” then chances are you’re running your fleet inefficiently and incurring unnecessary costs. Without the necessary tools, you’re making expensive guesses. Fortunately, there’s an app for that.

The ROI on route optimization software is fast—typically within three to 12 months. Further, for small and medium-sized businesses, sophisticated route planning offers performance efficiencies and visibility of transportation costs and operations that look a lot like those enjoyed by much larger companies. For maximum utilization of trailer capacity, it’s time to think about time, and to implement good route optimization practices.

Mark Massey is the support manager at Aptean, a global provider of ERP and supply chain software, including Paragon route optimization.

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