Road haulage is the bedrock of goods transport in Ireland and it is a competitive business. These days, companies operate on strict delivery schedules and expect their transport providers to stick to them. Delays in deliveries can often mean lost business and managing your fleet well is key to maintaining a successful business.
A growing trend among companies with vehicle fleets is to install vehicle management information (VMI) systems. These systems allow the company to keep track of their vehicles to ensure that schedules are being met and the fleet is being used in the most efficient manner possible. One company that has gone down this route is New Ross-based Breen International Logistics. A family-run business, it has been in existence for 12 years and is managed by brothers Gerard and Andrew Breen. At present, the company has a fleet of 23 trucks and 65 trailers. It employs 31 people and has a number of major multinational clients.
The company installed a VMI system around three and a half years ago. The system was provided by VMI specialists Minorplanet Ireland. According to Gerard Breen, a system such as this was a necessity for them in order to better control the business. “We had big plans in terms of getting new business and this would have provided a selling point for us when talking to clients,” he said. “These days, if a client wants something delivered at 11 o’clock, the don’t mean 10 o’clock or 12 o’clock. They want it delivered on the dot. This means we have to know where vehicles are at all times and keep them on schedule. Delays can mean that drivers may have to get a faster or earlier boat,” he added.
Prior to the installation, the company had to rely on phone calls in order to track its vehicles. This was both costly, time consuming and less effective. With drivers travelling to the continent, mobile roaming charges were a big expense and the company also had to rely upon the driver to provide an accurate report of the situation.
According to Breen, installation of the system was relatively straightforward. Vehicles were fitted with a small black box that could collate location information and relay it back to base. At the company’s headquarters, a base station is connected to a PC interface.
The system has a number of uses. Breen International Logistics’s prime utilisation of the system is in vehicle tracking. Within five minutes, it is able to locate all of its vehicles, down to street level at any location across Europe. The system works via a combination of GPS (global positioning system) and SMS (short messaging service). Each vehicle unit can gauge its position via GPS and then relay this position back to base via SMS. Given the average work patterns, locations are usually checked around three times a day. Most drivers usually have a delivery in the morning and then reload to come home in the evening.
The system also provides a wide range of reporting functions, several of which Breen International Logistics use. Customer premises can be entered into the system and reports can then confirm at what time a driver arrived on location and how long he or she was there for. The company has found these reports useful in resolving any customer queries relating to the timing of deliveries.
But, what about the drivers themselves? Breen says that he experienced some resistance from one or two in the initial stages. However, on the whole the system has gone down very well and every driver now working for the company is happy with it. For the driver, it removes another burden from their workload. They now longer have to worry about communicating with the base and instead can concentrate on the job in hand.
Minorplanet, the providers of the system, are a global company with offices in the US, Australia, the UK and continental Europe. Minorplanet Ireland has been in existence since November 1999. Starting life as a one-man operation, the company has since grown to 22 employees under the stewardship of managing director John Goggin. It now has over 300 clients with around 3,000 vehicles fitted.
Minorplanet is operating in something of a growth area. According to analysts Frost & Sullivan, the European commercial vehicle telematics market is expected to grow from €169.5m in 2001 to revenues of around €4.7bn by 2009, representing 5.4 million mobile-enabled vehicles.