Off the Map

A range of technologies are expanding the promise of route optimization.

September 1, 2011

9 Min Read
Off the Map

By Mike Fickes, Contributing Writer

Automated route optimization is the next big thing for the waste industry,” says Tony Esposito, president and CEO of Odessa, Fla.-based C2Logix, a route optimization software vendor.
True, route optimization software has been around for years, but Esposito believes that most of the waste industry has yet to discover how regular, automated optimization can boost productivity and cut costs.

While there are no hard numbers to indicate exactly how deeply route optimization software has penetrated the waste industry, Esposito has a habit of asking for a show of hands when addressing groups. “Early this year, I participated in a webinar and polled the audience,” he says. “Thirteen percent — from companies in a variety of industries including waste — were using automated route optimization packages. Seventy-five percent were still routing manually.”

Many waste companies using automated route optimization haven’t taken the next step of auditing how drivers run the routes, says Richard Pearlman, product manager, logistics and network products, with Redlands, Calif.-based Esri, which markets a route optimization package called ArcLogistics.

This raises several questions. Are these companies running the optimized routes, or have they altered them in some way? If so, why? Is there something wrong with the optimization? Fleet management software packages can automate these audits.

“Companies that don’t track trucks and compare the optimized routes with the routes drivers are following aren’t realizing the full benefits of route optimization,” says Pearlman.

It also is true that experienced drivers can enhance the results of a route optimization effort. “You need to add a human point of view,” says Erica Bartlett, corporate training director with Advanced Disposal Services in Jacksonville, Fla. “Drivers will know which residential areas are near schools that will have to be serviced later in the day. Drivers will also be able to point out routes that will be delayed by morning and afternoon rush hour traffic.

“On the commercial side, drivers will know that the containers in this or that shopping center are located near restaurants that create a lot of lunch hour traffic. Maybe we’ll schedule these for service first thing in the morning.”

Most haulers ask their drivers to review software-optimized routes. Haulers that use global positioning system (GPS) software to track the actual routes followed by drivers can learn even more. After all, a driver covering residential routes with 1,000 stops or commercial routes with several hundred stops won’t remember everything when looking over a route sheet. If a GPS tracking system audits the route, the dispatcher can question the driver about each exception and fine tune the optimization, ensuring that the new route makes sense.

Tracking software will also highlight drivers who continually deviate from optimized routes, for whatever reason.

Comprehensive fleet management systems such as those made by Routeware of Beaverton, Ore., and Trimble Navigation Limited of Sunnyvale, Calif., track a host of other data points, supervising drivers in real time as they go about their work.

Routes change regularly. As residents move into and out of communities, some routes will expand with new stops while others will shrink. Commercial routes follow a similar pattern as businesses close one location and open another. Haulers must keep an eye on routes and rebalance or re-tune them periodically.

Advanced Route Optimization

Some companies, like Advanced Disposal, continually optimize both residential and commercial routes.

“Every six months, or when we get a new contract or make an acquisition, we look at the big picture and reroute,” says Bartlett, who trains Advanced Disposal personnel to use the company’s route optimization system — RouteSmart from Columbia, Md.-based RouteSmart Technologies. “Every time we optimize our routes, we improve something.”

Sometimes the company’s optimization efforts produce major productivity gains by eliminating routes and taking trucks off the road, which in turn cuts costs.

Other gains are more modest, such as the elimination of a couple of route days. Refusing to turn up her nose at these small improvements, Bartlett recalls one rerouting effort that pared 20 minutes from a single route. “Over the course of six months, even 20 minutes will add up in saved fuel, tires, and wear and tear on a truck,” she says.

The company tracks residential and commercial driver data in a software application from TRUX Route Management Systems. headquartered in Cambridge, Ont. “We key data about route start times, end times and times on disposal tickets,” Bartlett says. “We calculate average times between stops and manage drivers by comparing their actual numbers with what we have in TRUX.”

Like many collection companies, Advanced Disposal relies on experienced dispatchers to optimize its roll-off routes. The company offers same-day roll-off service for calls that come in before noon and tries to provide same-day service for calls that come in between noon and 3:00 p.m. “Our dispatchers make up next-day route sheets for drivers with work orders that come in after 3:00 p.m.,” Bartlett says. “The following day, as calls come in, the dispatcher assigns pick-ups and drop-offs to available drivers closest to the customer.”

A Gracious Host

Waste Connections, headquartered in Folsom, Calif., employs eRouteLogistics, a hosted route optimization program from the Magnolia, Texas-based Institute of Information Technology (IIT).

As a hosted program, eRouteLogistics runs on a computer at an IIT location. The hauler accesses the application over the Internet via a Web browser. The advantage: IIT maintains and updates the software instead of Waste Connections. In addition, the software uses a subscription pay model, eliminating the need for a capital investment to start optimizing.

Waste Connections regularly uses the hosted application to optimize its residential and commercial routes. “Recently, we re-routed a residential location and pulled two of 36 routes off the street, cutting truck costs by almost 10 percent for that location,” says Darrell Chambliss, executive vice president and chief operating officer with Waste Connections.

At another location, optimization enabled the elimination of three out of nine commercial routes, reducing truck costs by 30 percent.  Acquired from an independent hauler, the routes had required rear- and front-loading trucks to double back to pick up compatible containers. “The optimization enabled us to see how we could switch the kinds of containers customers were using to maximize productivity and eliminate routes,” says Chambliss.

Like Advanced Disposal, Waste Connections also verifies optimized routes by talking to drivers, tracking their work and making sensible modifications.

Waste Connections tracks drivers using the IIT system and GPS–enabled cameras mounted on all company trucks, says Chambliss. Made by San Diego-based DriveCam, the cameras document events such as collisions and help to improve driver safety. The built-in GPS system tracks the route followed by the truck. “We can take data from the DriveCam GPS and lay it over the IIT route, see where the routes diverge, [talk to] the driver and alter the routes if necessary,” Chambliss says. “We also re-tune routes that have fallen out of balance with the IIT application.”

Optimizing Lexington

The Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government, a combined city-county government in Kentucky, serves a population of 300,000 people. The Lexington-Fayette Division of Waste Management collects trash from 85,000 households and recycling from 50,000 to 60,000 households that voluntarily put out recycling. The Division also collects yard waste from about 45,000 households as well as small roll-off boxes a homeowner might use during a renovation. The Division runs fully automated side-loaders and rear loaders with cart flippers. Households set out 96-gallon carts. Commercial, institutional and multifamily trash is collected with front-end loaders.

Late last year, Lexington-Fayette solicited proposals for what it called the Waste Management Routing Solution (WMRS). It sought technology that would automate all information-sensitive tasks, from optimizing routes to pre- and post-trip inspections. Gershman, Brickner & Bratton (GBB), a solid waste management consulting firm, was contracted to lead the project, which is now entering the final phases.

Supporting players include Fairfax, Va.-based C2Logix, which supplies the optimization system, and Routeware, which provides the on-board computers, the GPS and the fleet management software. Seattle-based Zonar provides a handheld pre- and post-trip inspection device that prompts drivers for information, records their answers and enters the data into a master database.

“Our assignment was to put computers into 125 residential and commercial trucks,” says Robert Brickner, executive vice president of GBB. “About 70 of those vehicles were running residential, commercial, institutional and multifamily routes. The rest are backup collection trucks and support vehicles.”

According to Brickner, the assignment also included a host of technical tasks:

  • Monitoring drivers and truck operations using GPS

  • Optimizing routes

  • Enabling drivers to download route sheets to the on-board computers and submit route updates from the road

  • Provide management with the ability to track trucks and pickups

  • Record weight information from transfer stations, composting sites, material recovery facilities and landfills.

GBB collected verified location data for all residential, commercial, institutional and multifamily customers and optimized the routes using two C2Logix tools: FleetRoute for the residential routes and C2RouteApp, an Internet-accessible, hosted application for the commercial, institutional and multifamily routes.

“We started by optimizing routes and managed to knock out 10 to 12 routes and achieved a 10 to 15 percent reduction in vehicles on the road,” Brickner says.

The system will also optimize roll-off style routes for bulk, dead animal and other requested pick-ups via the municipality’s Lex-Call line.

Suppose 50 Lex-Calls come in during the day. Those requests go to the dispatcher, who uploads the addresses and the requests to C2RouteApp, which creates an optimized route for the 50 stops and pushes the route into the Routeware computer on the truck. The next day, the driver follows that route, detouring when necessary to accommodate same-day requests from nearby locations.

A major behind-the-scenes challenge for the Lexington project team lay in unifying interfaces between all of the technology pieces to facilitate seamless data transfer between systems as well as voice communications among customers, drivers and dispatchers.

“When we’re finished, this will be the most fully integrated combination of hardware and software of any municipal system I’m aware of in the country,” Brickner says.

At the heart of the this advanced system lies route optimization technology that maps out the most efficient routes, ships route data and maps to drivers’ computers in the trucks, tracks the movements of the trucks and rebalances routes as they grow and shrink.

Haulers have always worked to cut costs by optimizing routes. Most still do it with wall maps, thumbtacks and string. Today’s route optimization applications can do the job better, faster and easier. Using those tools to knit together a major technological platform such as the one in Lexington may indeed be the next big thing.

Michael Fickes is a Westminster, Md.-based contributing writer.

SIDEBAR: Enhancing Optimization

Each year, route optimization applications add new features. This year, for instance, Columbia, Md.-based RouteSmart Technologies improved existing RouteSmart features and added new capabilities.

“We’re making improvements for streamlining the user experience for multi-day commercial routing,” says Chris Walz, a vice president with RouteSmart.

A recent enhancement added a new reporting module that enables haulers to calculate fuel costs and carbon dioxide emissions for current routes and optimized routes, to prove the effectiveness of the optimization. “This has been a big hit, especially now that the federal government is establishing new targets for carbon dioxide emissions,” Walz says.

He adds that RouteSmart also plans to debut in-vehicle technology that will talk the driver through residential and commercial routes — just like the GPS box in your car. --MF

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