Wallace du Plessis
You could save your business lots of time and money if you plan your delivery routes better.
The science behind route planning is called operational research, with most big companies using route planning to cut costs.
You can, too, if you have a business involving delivery or transport.
Much of it is common sense, but beware. Sometimes the obvious route is not the best one.
Many factors need to be considered.
First, you need to establish if there is an item that is more urgent than the rest, or if an item must be delivered by a certain time. This will dictate how you plan your day – known as ‘vehicle routing problem with time windows’.
Here are some handy tips to assist you with route planning:
Arrange for promised delivery times that match your capabilities. The first and easiest thing to do is to wait until you have all the items that need to be delivered so that you only do one trip. Unfortunately, this is not always possible.
Study traffic patterns and when it is best to deliver to your clients. Being delayed at a delivery point throws your planned schedule into disarray. Avoid rush hours and slow traffic.
Find out if there are quicker routes or even short cuts. It may be better to go straight to the furthest point and work your way back rather than vice versa.
Keep looking for better ways. Speak to your drivers to hear what they say. Find out what their problems are.
Your drivers are the biggest factor in any plan to save money or increase efficiency, but you may also use a computer-based vehicle routing solution. There are several available. Some are based on Google Maps, for instance. You can even use Google Maps without any add-ons by merely typing in all the destinations and looking at the map it draws. Visually, you will be able to improve the order of your deliveries.
When you want to use technology to help design your routes, you may want to look at the solutions offered by TomTom and Garmin. Both have ways to reduce time in traffic.
Several tracking companies offer additional services you can use to improve your efficiency. Check with your tracking company what it offers. One such offering is a “fence around” where your vehicle is expected to go. If it goes out of that area, an alarm will go off. It can also tell you when and where your vehicle stopped and for how long.
Another way to cut costs is to use the right vehicle for the job. It’s no use doing all the above and then sending a five-ton truck to deliver four bags of cement site that is 3 km away.
As a general rule, a petrol vehicle will be more cost-effective in stop-start traffic. For stretches of open road, a diesel vehicle will be better. Mostly, a smaller diesel vehicle will be more efficient than a large petrol engine vehicle. Route planning can also apply to your sales staff who are constantly on the road. They can be much more effective if they plan properly.