Innovators: The heart of efficiency

Shane Faulkner, project engineer for Shaw Transport, designed a tool for fleet managers to evaluate the efficiency of all drivers, customers and routes on a daily basis.

Analyze this. Two drivers work out of the same facility. One makes 20 stops, works 9.5 hours and travels 180 miles. Driver number two makes 15 stops, works 9.5 hours and drives the same number of miles. Which is more efficient? Based on the information presented, you probably would choose the first driver. Or consider two other drivers. One drives 150 miles and makes 20 stops, while the other drives 300 miles and makes the same number of stops. Is the second driver really more productive?

The number of stops and total miles traveled aren’t necessarily the best metrics. What’s missing is the quantity and type of products the driver delivered at each stop. After all, a trucking operation – especially a private fleet – is really in the business of delivering goods.

Until about five years ago, Dalton, Ga.-based Shaw Transport – a private fleet serving Shaw Industries, the world’s largest carpet and flooring manufacturer – lacked the tools to do that analysis. With a fleet today totaling about 900 trucks, Shaw Transport was and is organized into three principal operations – interplant, line haul and regional. The need for better efficiency analysis especially was apparent in the large regional operation, where routes and product deliveries changed each day.

So in 1999, Shaw Transport began to standardize performance measurements with a driver/route analysis report that compared drivers, routes, loads and many other key variables in a spreadsheet application, says Bill Forthman, manager of special projects for Shaw’s regional operations. Each day, drivers reported through paper forms and voice mail the number of hours worked, miles traveled, square yards and pounds delivered and the number of stops. Drivers also logged start and stop times, which was helpful in route analysis.

Administrative clerks at each of Shaw’s 31 regional distribution centers entered the data, which was reported in Lotus spreadsheets.

The driver/route analysis report represented a significant improvement for Shaw Transport and its parent company. Managers now could drill down to a measurement appropriate to corporate objectives – cost per pound – as Shaw Industries expanded its flooring products to include tile and hardwood flooring. Now, Shaw Transport had a key performance indicator that could be used for all types of products, drivers and routes, regardless of the number of stops or miles, Forthman says.

This common unit helps isolate deviations from averages and either correct them or model them, as the case may be, says Randy Black, E-business manager for Shaw Transport. A high cost per pound on a route would lead to an investigation, which might reveal, for example, that drivers were delivering more carpet pad than average, thus reducing the pounds hauled. This might lead to a decision to change how pad is transported on certain routes, perhaps by using vans rather than trucks, Black says. On the other hand, a low cost per pound might yield a discovery of a new best practice being used by a driver or manager.

The tools evolve
The driver/route analysis improved management’s visibility into the trucking operation, but it was far from perfect. Shane Faulkner saw opportunities for improvements. Several years ago, Faulkner – an industrial engineer by training and a project engineer for Shaw’s regional operations – was tasked with chairing a committee to lead a technology upgrade.

One of Faulkner’s first projects was improving how the driver/route analysis was reported to the managers of Shaw’s 31 regional distribution centers. Using Visual Basic and Microsoft Excel, he replaced the antiquated Lotus spreadsheets with reports that allowed managers to sort data more quickly and to isolate deviations from the norm more readily.

But there were other, more systemic drawbacks to the original approach taken in the driver/route analysis. The data entry required 30 minutes each day for each terminal. Plus, with a two-stage approach – driver reporting and data entry by clerks – the opportunities for error rose. And of particular concern was the fact that many drivers were on the honor system. About 70 percent of the 500 drivers working in the regional division begin and end their work shifts from a domicile location, such as a Penske or Ryder yard. These drivers did not clock in and out at a company facility but rather reported their work by telephone, often through voicemail.

“We knew we had some exposure there, and we needed to bring accountability to drivers,” Faulkner says.

Management wanted a way to verify drivers’ hours and activities, such as detention times at each location, and time spent along the routes. That focus already had led Shaw Transport to consider mobile communications. During a beta test of a wireless system in 2002, Faulkner designed a way to populate data in the driver/route analysis report without the data entry. Administrative personnel at Shaw Transport now can obtain a “raw data” CSV file from its communications system and import it into Shaw’s various reports on a daily basis, Faulkner says.

With wireless data, the speed and accuracy of reporting has improved, but it remains a work in progress. Today, 18 of the 31 regional distribution centers still use a paper-based End of Shift form to capture the data Shaw needs for its driver/route analysis and other reporting tools. However, all 31 locations can obtain start/stop data from Shaw’s onboard communication system.

Grappling with complexity
Another challenge in reporting relates to the sheer scale of Shaw Industries’ operation, which serves some 30,000 customers. “It’s hard to set standards based on routes,” Faulkner says, adding that routes change daily based on customer orders. In addition, drivers often stop at customer locations that are not entered into the database.

To begin capturing this data, Shaw Transport sends a driver using mobile communications a “customer GPS location” form when he arrives at an unmarked stop. The driver enters his location, the number of the plant where he is employed, customer name and the customer’s Shaw account number. Back at the office, a clerk establishes the customer as a landmark in its mobile communications system. Currently, Shaw Transport has 75 percent of its 30,000 customers landmarked, Faulkner says. Landmarks allow Shaw to analyze start/stop data not just by driver but also by customer, which significantly improves the value and usability of Shaw’s reporting tools.

“One customer may have a lot of volume, but on average drivers are spending 1 to 1.5 hours at that stop when it should only be 20 to 25 minutes,” Faulkner says. Using the data, discussions can then take place with the customer in an effort to get drivers in and out faster, he says.

But internal management remains the heart of Shaw Transport’s reporting. With improvements in technology, Faulkner has been able to create for each driver a standard efficiency report that gives a basis to compare all drivers on stops-per-hour, average speed and cost information, such as cost per pound and cost per stop. Managers quickly can catch performance that is under standard and take corrective action on variables that really drive the business – customer service and delivery cost.

Says Faulkner, “From all the analysis we have done, the more information we can get to the driver level, the better off we are.”

Innovators profiles carriers and fleets that have found innovative ways to overcome trucking’s challenges.

If you know a carrier that has displayed innovation, contact Avery Vise at or (800) 633-5953.