Equipment
Technology

How Bots Transform Route Planning and Delivery Scheduling

Advanced RPA-based route planning and scheduling technology enables building suppliers to optimize delivery performance. With the required materials delivered quickly and consistently, contractors can manage schedules more effectively, control costs and boost jobsite productivity.
By Chris Jones
February 22, 2021
Topics
Equipment
Technology

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, the construction sector is feeling the impact of supply shortages that can wreak havoc on construction costs and schedules. In fact, recent data from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Commercial Construction Index - 2020 Q4 found that 71% of contractors are experiencing a shortage of at least one material.

With supply chain disruptions affecting the flow of materials, expedient delivery of building supplies becomes even more critical for managing construction timelines and controlling projects costs. On the supplier side, delivery optimization is integral to providing a consistently high level of customer service while minimizing operational expenses.

GOING PAPERLESS

In response to the need for efficient, reliable delivery of building materials, many suppliers are replacing their paper-based, manual route planning practices with an automated routing and scheduling solution that can keep pace with the highly-variable construction environment.

Real-time routing software helps building suppliers generate delivery plans that lower costs, better use resources, and provide the best customer service in the face of unpredictable weather, short lead times, tight delivery windows or any other complexity—pandemic-related or otherwise—that suppliers must contend with when delivering materials to the jobsite.

ROUTE OPTIMIZATION: MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE

Creating the best routing plan is not as simple as loading data and hitting the “optimize” button, which is why some companies, despite replacing their paper-based route planning processes with an automated solution, are experiencing discrepancies in the results their planners produce.

To optimize routes, planners may deploy time-consuming multi-step planning approaches, such as filtering and assigning complex deliveries to the limited set of resources able to handle them before assigning the rest of the deliveries.

Alternatively, planners may use multiple optimization techniques sequentially to squeeze out the best results. As a result, too much time is spent manually executing the planning process. This is where robotic process automation (RPA) changes the game.

RPA: ACE UP THE SLEEVE

While RPA may not be top-of-mind when suppliers think about route planning and scheduling, this valuable optimization tool can be the difference between good routing plans and exceptional ones that further reduce costs, increase delivery speed and enhance customer service.

RPA technology creates “bots” that can learn, mimic and execute manual, rules-based business processes, helping every planner perform at the highest level. Bots can automate processes, manipulate data, invoke optimization technologies, and interact with current and legacy applications and systems. In a nutshell, RPA models the steps that the best planners take, leveling the playing field to produce optimized routes across the entire transportation team to ensure contractors receive their deliveries as swiftly and consistently as possible.

HYPER-EFFICIENT ROUTE PLANNING

Routing processes performed by bots are completed in a fraction of the time taken by humans. By automating complex planning tasks, RPA streamlines the routing process for suppliers to reduce their overall planning cycle, decrease planning latency, and generate a more responsive and agile logistics operation.

Bots are “always on,” operating every day, around the clock. As a result, they can plan continuously and over a longer horizon to maximize planning results and boost operational efficiency. In addition, fewer planning resources are required because planners are presented with an optimal plan and only need to focus on exceptions.

Automated RPA-based routing and scheduling technology transforms distribution operations to better manage deliveries of building materials, improve on-time delivery performance, and boost contractor satisfaction. Plus, fully-optimized routes reduce transportation costs by minimizing mileage, fuel consumption and vehicle idle time.

COMPLEX PLANNING SCENARIOS, SIMPLIFIED

In the midst of COVID-19 material shortages, building suppliers are faced with the challenge of servicing multiple customers and projects, all with their own deadlines and scheduling complexities. In addition, delivery performance is impacted by the nature of the delivery: Different materials require certain types of vehicles and/or off-loading equipment and need specific loading and unloading times.

Bots allows planners to configure complex planning and coordination tasks across multiple planning schedules. For example, RPA can examine the loads that need to be delivered, determine which loads are time-sensitive and which can be pulled out of the queue for optimization at a later time, and automatically move plans from planning to execution without any intervention. Plus, multiple bots can be deployed simultaneously to easily scale to large, complex planning environments.

CONSISTENCY KEEPS CUSTOMERS HAPPY

Standardization of the planning process across planners is critical to ensure consistency and accuracy and provide an exceptional delivery experience for contractors. RPA standardizes and optimizes processes to improve planning consistency; with RPA, every planner becomes as effective as the best planner.

Bots also foster centralized route planning, which not only improves overall transportation consistency and productivity, but can help focus planning resources on higher-value problems and continuous improvement.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Through the speed and efficiency of bots, advanced RPA-based route planning and scheduling technology enables building suppliers to fully optimize their delivery performance. And with the materials they require delivered quickly and consistently, when and where they need them, contractors can manage schedules more effectively, control costs, and boost jobsite productivity.

by Chris Jones
As Executive Vice President, Marketing and Services, Chris is primarily responsible for Descartes’ marketing and professional services organizations. With over 30 years of experience in the supply chain market, Chris has held a variety of senior management positions including Senior Vice President at The Aberdeen Group’s Value Chain Research practice, Executive Vice President of Marketing and Corporate Development for SynQuest, Vice President and Research Director for Enterprise Resource Planning Solutions at The Gartner Group, and Associate Director Operations & Technology at Kraft General Foods.

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