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Transport management

Monday, 11. November 2019

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ETA calculation for truck fleets

In recent years, the calculation of the estimated time of arrival (ETA) of vehicles has increasingly become the focus of the entire supply chain. Accordingly, there are countless solutions and services on the market, many of which are not worth the money.

When it comes to providing the customer, the client or oneself with rough information on the ETA in the first place, the importance of reliable calculation usually takes a back seat. But the more extensive the dependencies of transports within a supply chain are, the more important a reliable ETA is.

Inaccurate information increases the frustration of the person (group) who is called the ETA. Thus, with an inaccurate ETA, one achieves the exact opposite of what one actually wanted to achieve with the ETA sooner than one thinks.

A reliable ETA means, among other things:

  • Increasing the quality of service
  • Increased speed of response to unexpected incidents
  • Better planning of current and subsequent tours and thus reduction of logistics costs

An inaccurate ETA means:

  • Reduction in customer/client confidence due to communicated service quality that is then not met
  • Dispatchers and drivers ignoring the information and falling back into processes that were supposed to be improved
  • Unnecessary consumption of time due to reactions to incidents that would ultimately not have been relevant for the tour or due to lack of reactions because the incident was not known

From inaccurate to reliable

Inaccurate and reliable cannot, of course, be clearly defined in road traffic. Ultimately, it depends on the probability with which the calculated times correspond to reality. The less data is used for the calculation, the less likely it is that an ETA will be calculated exactly – referred to below as an “inaccurate ETA”. If, on the other hand, a lot of additional data is taken into account, the ETA information becomes more and more probable and thus reliable.

OSM and Google – nothing for truck fleets

The ETA calculation in its simplest form is almost as old as the calculation of a route from A to B. A represents the position of the vehicle and B the destination. If you now calculate the time required for the journey from A to B, the ETA results from the start time of the calculation plus the journey time from A to B.

If this calculation is made on the basis of map material from OpenStreetMap or Google, the time is calculated on an unsuitable vehicle profile (passenger car or at best slowed down passenger car). Vehicle restrictions such as gross vehicle weight, axle load, width, height, hazardous goods class, etc. are not taken into account. This can lead to a completely different route calculation for the journey from A to B and thus to an ETA that deviates grossly from reality. Shockingly, this method of calculation is currently the most widespread method.

Bild: iStock

More reliable with ‘truck cards’

If the aforementioned method is based on HERE or TomTom map material or on HERE or TomTom maps from PTV that have been specially refined for logistics, it is important whether the provider of the ETA solution also includes the corresponding additional data (truck attributes). If this is done, at least correct routes are calculated. The ETA is thus more accurate, but still far from reliable.

Notes on map material: Of course, there are several other providers of map material and services besides those mentioned above. However, these are usually all based on the provider mentioned and build their own services around this map material. In addition, there are several regional map data providers that do not play a relevant role in the European market and are therefore not mentioned here.

It gets even better

In order to further improve the prediction of the ETA, traffic information (current and/or historical, incl. relevant delays due to weather events) can be taken into account in the calculation. Here, care must be taken to ensure that the traffic information is intelligently integrated. In long-distance traffic, for example, a traffic jam near Frankfurt is not relevant if the vehicle is not travelling until it reaches Hanover. By the time the vehicle reaches Frankfurt, the traffic jam has usually long since dissipated. If distant events such as traffic jams or similar are nevertheless immediately taken into account in the ETA, an ETA that is very likely to be incorrect is calculated for the duration of the event.

Driving and rest times – a knock-out criterion in many cases

Are driving and rest times relevant for you? In most cases they probably are. In this case, the methods described above are of little use to you if they do not have a tachograph connection and/or the telematics (or telematics app) used does not provide the driving and rest times for calculating an ETA. If this connection is not available, it can quickly happen that the vehicle only needs 30 minutes to reach its destination, but due to a necessary break by the driver, it is actually 1 hour and 15 minutes on the road.

After the duty comes the freedom – ETA beyond the individual stop

The points presented so far describe the ETA to the next stop. The calculation of the ETA of an entire tour is somewhat more complex, but ultimately requires “only” the intelligent stringing together of reliable journey times of the next stops, supplemented by loading, unloading and service times.

However, ETA solutions are only really good – for those who use the corresponding transports – if the following points are also taken into account.

Bild: iStock

Vehicle re-use – the tour after the tour

In many areas of logistics, vehicles are used several times a day. If delays occur on one tour, these naturally also have an impact on the subsequent tours. Only ETA solutions that know all tours can warn correctly and enable cost-saving interventions, corrections and optimisations at an early stage or inform subsequent participants in the supply chain.

Encounter traffic / trailer exchange

When swapping trailers, it is also important whether the ETA solution used knows the tour(s) of both tractor units. If this is the case, the delay of one exchange partner can be communicated to the other exchange partner and the resulting effect on both tours can be taken into account and minimised. A real cost advantage – but only if the ETA is reliably calculated on both sides.

Cross Docking

Due to the high cost pressure and the expectations of the recipients for a fast delivery time, there are more and more cross docking transports. Similar to the exchange of trailers, the delay of the incoming transports has a high influence on the subsequent supply chain. However, this is exacerbated by the fact that several continuing vehicles/tours can be affected by the delay of a delivering vehicle. A reliable ETA that leads to early detection of a delay is therefore particularly important for cross-docking transports.

How accurate does it have to be?

How accurate an ETA needs to be for you should be defined by the nature of your transports. The less you are affected by driving and rest times, reuse of vehicles, encounter traffic, trailer swaps, etc., the less relevant the calculation of these factors will be. However, if you are affected by most of these factors, you should look for a solution that takes into account as many of the methods mentioned as possible. The corresponding solutions usually cost a little more than simple solutions, but are definitely worth your money. Because only with a reliable ETA that is relevant to you will you achieve the goal of increasing your service quality, faster reaction times to unforeseen influences and thus better plannability of your current and subsequent tours. This significantly saves money, time and nerves.

This post was originally published on LinkedIn Pulse in October 2019.