Handhelds and routing

January 1, 2006 By    

The propane industry is one that can greatly benefit from computerized routing systems to help manage vehicle deliveries in remote areas.

Today's routing systems enable marketers to keep track of deliveries, driver productivity and vehicle location. More importantly, they help maximize the gallons delivered in the fewest miles driven, thus increasing efficiency.
Today’s routing systems enable marketers to keep track of deliveries, driver productivity and vehicle location. More importantly, they help maximize the gallons delivered in the fewest miles driven, thus increasing efficiency.

Current routing programs enable companies to keep track of deliveries, driver productivity and vehicle location and interface with in-truck systems or a handheld device.

Automation can not only provide information about what drivers are doing, but also the potential to save the them a significant amount of time during the day.

Handheld computers enable deliverymen to get accurate, timely customer information that appears on the screen andcan be transfered to other computer applications.
Handheld computers enable deliverymen to get accurate, timely customer information that appears on the screen andcan be transfered to other computer applications.

The routing systems feature easy to use screens with accessibility to all business data. The handhelds can be used to automatically generate a driver’s delivery route and optimize the order of deliveries, minimizing the distance traveled by each delivery truck – a huge advantage when considering rising fuel costs.

Drivers can also record delivery information on handhelds and generate invoices onsite. By eliminating paperwork and giving the driver all the sales information while he’s making deliveries, non-payments and delivery mistakes can be avoided.

At the end of each day, delivery and invoice information is downloaded from the handheld to the office computer, keeping everything in order and making it easier to balance the books.

The Fuel Distribution System from Rural Computer Consultant Inc. provides a software system to handle accounting and fuel distribution needs.

Its Fuel module offers a long list of functions: statements, invoice, discounts, budgets, contracts, installments, account security deposit, customer history, credit management and dunning letters, inquiry, service work orders, equipment file with production and maintenance history, driver/employee records and tax reporting.

Its Fuel Distribution module includes fuel functions such as scheduling by degree days, fill by days, weeks or calendar days and scheduled will-call of any of the previous options.

The delivery/dispatch report allows users to specify a route, route range or a random selection of routes. Selecting a date or date range drives all scheduling, including degree days, as the system will look at a several year averages of degree days for the dates specified.

Delivery/dispatch reporting also allows the option to include manual deliveries (will call delivery requests taken) and include scheduled will calls. This list is displayed on-screen for editing, with extensive customer account data, enabling the dispatcher to make management decisions such as removing a delivery or adding a note for the driver.

If a marketer is utilizing remote tank sensor systems, the system can go to the Internet to identify customers whose tank monitoring sensors indicate it is time for a refill.

Eliminating the guess work can keep sales humming while minimizing unnecessary delivery trips.

Report can be listed by order of need, sequence within route or in an order that requires the least number of miles. The approved deliveries can then be printed or downloaded to an electric truck device system to generate an electronic delivery ticket number.

Routing systems can also be interfaced with handheld devices or industry specific devices (electronic truck systems/registers, pumps, mapping, remote tank sensors, etc.), offering companies additional technology options to meet their needs.

The data downloaded to the truck system will provide the driver with information on customer location, directions, tank serial numbers, price, tax, discount and contracts data, enabling the truck system to extend and complete the transaction and print the ticket.

This data is uploaded electronically, eliminating the manual keying of tickets. The truck system or handheld may also have the option of capturing the GPS coordinates, which can be used for mapping.

TouchStar has a range of handhelds, such as the TouchPC Falcon, TouchPC CEagle, TouchPC Eagle and TouchPC Voyager II. They can custom-build communication packages that firmly install the hand-held into any network.

They also have a variety of software systems for routing, monitoring, communication and tracking such as FuelStar, AvStar, GasStar, VanStar, Navigate and TouchNet+, plus peripherals such as cradles, printers and scanners.

Advanced Digital Data Inc. (ADD Systems) also offers a variety of software programs and handheld devices. The company has integrated their software systems with Resource In Motion Management System, a mapping and routing software package from the Descarte Company.

This product uses maps – including geo codes – to calculate the most efficient routes. When used for fuel deliveries, the program also calculates truck size, anticipated gallons to deliver, loading points and various customer factors.

The software program ADD Energy, in conjunction with ADD handhelds, features a document viewer, driver positioning system, mapping and geocoding, service billing, additional customer contact information, location cancel/reinstate action and context sensitive help.

In summary, routing systems enable the scheduling of deliveries to maximize the gallons delivered in the fewest miles driven, thus increasing bobtail delivery efficiency.

Users praise this technology as a marketing tool by being able to view the customer base in an interactive and visual manner. Handheld devices and onboard computers enable automatic pricing and the automated capture of data at the point of sale, eliminating driver or office error.

How well do handhelds and routing systems work, and how much are they really used in the industry?

“We use the TouchStar handhelds with our K & K Computer Solutions software, called Energy Force,” says Charles Hutchins of Sagamore Gas & Appliances Inc. in Colfax, Ind.

“We have also coordinated the use of the SkyTracker tank monitoring system from NASCorp with our temporary heat contractor customer, three of which take a bobtail full per day, at this place or that. The two work very well together, the software and handhelds handling the routine and the SkyTracker telling us where to go for the out-of-the-ordinary user.”

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