Printer Seals The Deal

By Susan Nunziata — March 18, 2009

Gasoline delivery company McMahon Cartage has 32 drivers delivering some 5.5 million gallons of gas to 300 gas stations a week out of 18 different terminals in the Chicago metropolitan area.

The manual, paper-based process of tracking those deliveries was fraught with costly errors. "My drivers would write out a receipt for a customer for 8,700 gallons," says John McMahon, VP of McMahon Cartage. When gas cost around $4 in mid-2008, such an order was worth just under $35,000. "If [the driver] put down [the gas station name as] Joe's Marathon when it should be Frank's Marathon, Joe's Marathon gets $35,000 drafted out of his account, and he's going nuts," says McMahon. "It was a nightmare."

Drivers were getting their delivery schedules via phone, which took three hours per shift per day, says McMahon. "Then, they'd have 10% of them screwed up."

McMahon developed a proprietary web-based software, Digital Fuel Solutions, to streamline the process. He worked with ADSI, an integrator of wireless, barcode and mobile solutions, to establish the online ordering system for scheduling deliveries to gas stations and customize it for mobile devices. At first, McMahon tried deploying the solution on $79 touchscreen PDAs he bought as part of cellular contract with Sprint.

But the keypad wasn't user friendly, and the devices weren't designed to withstand the harsh environments in which the drivers were working, including the temperature extremes common to the Chicago area. "So, I stepped up to the plate and dropped $1,700 a piece" on Motorola MC90 rugged handheld computers, which run Windows Mobile 5.0, says McMahon.

He also equipped drivers with the Zebra RW 420 printer, which meets stringent IP54 dust and water resistance ratings and can also handle the temperature extremes.

Stations now place their orders online, and those are now sent to drivers on the handhelds. Once the order is delivered, the drivers print out receipts on-site, providing accurate proof of delivery.

Connectivity is in real-time via a $15.99-a-month high-speed cellular data plan from Sprint, says McMahon.

Digital Fuel Solutions also does forecasting for McMahon's customers. With record gas prices earlier this year, it was a huge help to better forecast how much gas to sell. McMahon notes, "This is inventory at its best."

Transitioning from the PDAs to the MC90s was painless, says McMahon. "I made it user friendly and it was faster than what they were currently using," he says.

But there was also a secret sauce: "What I added was their pay," he says. "I have an icon they hit that tells them exactly what they made up to the minute. Because they're paid by percentage, and as soon as they entered that data, I could tell them what they made."

In fact, McMahon says his payroll and customer billing is done 93%faster than was previously possible. "It used to take me close to two days to complete payroll. Now, it's taking me around 12 minutes. With 100 percent accuracy," says McMahon.

With the new system, McMahon Cartage was able to eliminate a whole shift, resulting in savings of $3,500 per week and a 55% reduction in the number of dispatchers. //

For more use cases and trends around rugged devices in the field, see our Field Service Central Report, Real-World Rugged.

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