Sometimes called the breadbasket of the world, California’s San Joaquin Valley may be the most productive unnatural environment on Earth, says historian Kevin Starr, accounting for roughly 13% of the agricultural production in the U.S. The region is home to the world’s single largest cotton farm and produces a host of other crops—from grapes and tangerines to asparagus and alfalfa.
In 1948, Albert Britz founded a company to meet the needs of the valley’s many farmers, and today Britz-Simplot Grower Solutions, Inc. (BSGS), is a retailer and wholesaler of fertilizers, pesticides, seed, and on-farm services with locations and warehouses throughout the state. The company’s truck drivers deliver products throughout the 11,000-square-mile valley, and when the BSGS’ fleet swelled to about 264 half-ton pickup trucks, two-ton trucks, and tractor-trailers, it was time to investigate technology solutions to improve driver efficiency and reduce costs.
Searching for a solution
Tim Stone, BSGS’ geographic information supervisor, says the company researched just about every fleet tracking solution on the market before deciding Networkfleet provided the best value. “What it came down to was the service end: no one else could service our account as cost-effectively,” says Stone. “We’re spread out from Sacramento to Bakersfield. If a GPS unit breaks, who’s going to come fix it? If we need a unit installed, who’s going to come do it?”
Networkfleet combines GPS data with vehicle engine diagnostics and cost-efficient wireless coverage, which enables users to pinpoint vehicle location and gain insight into fuel consumption, among other things. All data is highly customizable and easily accessible via a Web-based dashboard.
BSGS spent roughly $400 per GPS unit and about $11 or $12 per hour in labor costs to outfit the 264-vehicle fleet, which took approximately one month, Stone says. The early results of the deployment were eye-opening.
As is often the case with many new technology deployments, Stone says the drivers were strongly opposed to implementing Networkfleet, technology that he ironically calls “the biggest tattletale there ever was.”
“We found out who was taking vehicles home at night and who was going out driving, which is a no-no for insurance purposes. About 20 to 25 percent of drivers were doing that,” explains Stone. “One or twice a year there would be an [after-hours] incident—an accident, or someone would spot them out driving when they shouldn’t be.”
Speeding was a problem among drivers, Stone says, and Networkfleet helped managers see which employees were engaging in the riskiest behavior on the road. As a result, the company’s insurance costs dropped by about one-third. “We had been paying about $1 million per year for insurance, so that’s a substantial savings,” says Stone.
Trimming idle time
Stone configured the Networkfleet solution to automatically generate 65 reports daily, in addition to weekly reports. Monitoring the vehicle idle time reports, in particular, showed a big opportunity to reduce unnecessary fuel consumption. “Idle time is one of the areas that we’ve started beating on our drivers about,” says Stone. “That’s an educational issue. The trucks burn about 2.6 gallons per hour when idling and when you multiply it out, it doesn’t take long for them to understand.”
BSGS has reduced idle time by about 30% and lowered greenhouse gas emissions, too, which is a big issue in eco-conscious California.
BSGS’s 18 dispatchers now use Networkfleet’s daily and weekly activity reports showing vehicle location and start/stop information. They’re also notified via e-mail about vehicle arrival time and length of stay at specific locations. Prior to the deployment, drivers were often making multiple trips each day to the same location; now, with the ability to pinpoint each vehicle’s location, dispatchers can more efficiently direct drivers, who will often haul two or three loads per trip instead of just one, servicing more customers in less time.
“It’s not uncommon for us to load a two-ton truck and do three or four drops before the driver is finished,” says Stone. That kind of efficiency and productivity would have been unthinkable before implementing the GPS solution. What’s more, dispatchers can give the driver precise information on where the trailers are located in vast farm fields, saving time and reducing fuel consumption.
The Networkfleet deployment has saved the day—in terms of customer accountability—on more than one occasion. “It’s been great to be able to track our guys, see where they’re going and where they’ve been,” explains Stone. “We had a supplier that said, ‘this vehicle picked up this product from our facility.’ And we’re talking about $100,000 in product.
“We had no paperwork on the transaction, so we went back into the Networkfleet system and found that we never picked up the product,” Stone continues. “We didn’t even have a vehicle anywhere near the area that day. They realized they messed up. It’s a good way to be accountable.”